Glenda P. Simms, a longtime advocate for women’s rights and a motivational speaker from Jamaica, told it “like it is” to Cayman women – and a few men – at the islands’ first National Conference on Women on Saturday.
As a keynote speaker on the topic “How can we become architects of change,” Ms. Simms addressed a packed ballroom at the Westin resort.
On her first visit to Cayman, she said she was here to tell the women of the Cayman Islands that they have the right to be free and the right to gender equality and empowerment.
“It’s not about charity, it’s about human rights,” she said.
She added that it is important for young people to recognize that her message was also for them.
“If we do not speak to the young women, nothing will change,” she said. “It’s the young women of the next generation that must make a difference because many of us have messed up the system a long time ago.”
She also noted that equal rights must be extended to boys as well as to girls.
A roundtable discussion brought enthusiastic participation, and Ms. Simms said she had not witnessed such an impressive interaction in all her travels to many lectures.
“I think that the model they have set up here to deal with the issues, the rest of the world should adopt. Here they had groups of women around the table thrashing out issues, coming up with their ideas and getting an understanding of the whole picture.
“You were passionate, insightful, and I feel you are very committed,” she told the audience. “There can be no turning back – can you tell that to your government? This is a perfect model that can be packaged and sent all over the world, including the United Nations.”
Ms. Simms also said island women must recapture the essence of their ancestors, who knew that women were essential to development and change.
“If we have forgotten those ancestors and pretend they do not belong to us, we are on the wrong train to hell,” she said, adding that if it was not for them, “we would still be on the plantation, and that is why we must learn the lessons of courage, determination, equality, commitment, justice and true freedom and pass it on to the young people so they would not have to face what we did.
“I think that every Caymanian woman and girl must be reminded that the days of your experience over time must not be taken for granted,” she said. “It is in this vision that I encourage the government of the Cayman Islands to be reminded.”
Ms. Simms also stated that women and girls must exercise choice over their sexual and productive integrity. “Our body belongs to us,” she said. “It doesn’t belong to no man, whether husband, father or brother…”
Ms. Simms noted the Cayman Islands government’s effort to encourage the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. In December 2013, the government requested that the United Kingdom extend the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to the Cayman Islands (CEDAW).
Ms. Simms, who served on the United Nations CEDAW Committee for four years, travels widely to talk on various topics related to women’s rights. The conference was hosted by the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs as part of Honoring Women Month, which is observed annually in March.
Under the theme “Inspiring Change,” the conference organizers aimed to bring together women and men of different ages and cultural backgrounds to address the social, cultural, economic and political challenges that girls and women experience in the Cayman Islands and to encourage positive changes in individuals and society as a whole.
Lady Rabia, a local performer and advocate for gender equality, delivered a spoken word performance at the forum.
Education Minister Tara Rivers also addressed attendees on government’s commitments to empowering women and promoting gender equality.