Women’s rights treaty ratified for Cayman

Minister of Gender Affairs Tara Rivers talks about the extension of CEDAW to the Cayman Islands during a press conference on Tuesday, Mar. 8, International Women's Day. - Photo: Alan Markoff

After more than a decade of working toward the goal, the Cayman Islands government announced Tuesday that the United Nations would extend the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – often referred to as CEDAW – to the Cayman Islands.

The request is a formality that will be accepted on March 16 when it is “deposited” with the secretary-general of the United Nations.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said the convention would commit the current and future governments to undertake a series of measures to end all forms of discrimination against women.

“While women in Cayman do not face many of the significant discriminatory challenges as women in other parts of the world, we recognize that problems still remain and must be addressed,” he said. Minister of Gender Affairs Tara Rivers said CEDAW, which was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations, has been described as “an international Bill of Rights for women.”

“As an administration, we are committed to addressing the most pressing barriers for women, issues such as increasing investment in gender equality, reaching parity for women at all levels of decision-making and disavowing and changing social norms that perpetuate discrimination and violence against women.”

She said the news of the decision, which was announced on International Women’s Day, was the culmination of a 12-year quest to have the treaty extended to the Cayman Islands and followed an application made under the current government through Governor Helen Kilpatrick in December 2013.

Ms. Rivers said the passage of the Gender Equality Law in 2011 was a major step toward meeting the U.K.’s requirements for requesting the convention be extended to the Cayman Islands because, among other things, it prohibits discrimination in employment and “serves as the local enabling legislation that upholds the principles of CEDAW.”

The Cayman Islands now joins the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands as British Overseas Territories over which CEDAW has been extended.

Countries that have ratified the treaty are legally obligated to work toward the implementations of its provisions.

Minister Rivers said the extension of the convention also means the Cayman Islands government has to submit information to be included in the U.K.’s country reports to the United Nations’s CEDAW committee “to document our progress in achieving the aspirational goals set out in the treaty.”

“Thereafter, at least every four years, the government will be provided with an opportunity to report on the legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures which we have adopted to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention and on progress made in respect to the priority areas of concern.”

CEDAW contains 16 core articles that provide a practical blueprint to promote basic human rights to women and girls and to overcome barriers of discrimination. Among other things, the articles call on countries to eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices; uphold women’s equality in the political, social, economic, and cultural fields; modify or eliminate practices based on assumptions about the inferiority or superiority of either sex; and take steps to suppress the exploitation of prostitution and trafficking in women.

CEDAW also affirms the equal rights of women to vote, hold public office, and participate in civil society; to work at the international level without discrimination; to acquire, change, or retain their nationality and that of their children; to have equal rights in education; to have equal rights in employment, including without discrimination on the basis of marital status or maternity; to have equal rights to affordable healthcare services; to have equal rights to family benefits, financial credit, and participation in recreational activities; to have equality before the law, including the legal right to enter contracts, own property, and choose their place of residence; and to have equal rights with men in matters related to marriage and family relations.

Premier McLaughlin said that although the current effort to have CEDAW extended to the Cayman Islands dates back 12 years, legislative efforts to provide women with equal rights here began back in 1995, when former George Town MLA Berna Thompson and former North Side MLA and Speaker of the House the late Edna Moyle brought a private members’ motion to the Legislative Assembly to give consideration to the establishment of an office for women’s affairs, rights and issues to form part of a government ministry.

Minister Rivers noted that she had strong female role models in her family heritage and said she was proud to be the Cabinet minister at the time CEDAW was extended to the Cayman Islands because it is a very big step for the country.

“The issue of gender equality affects us all,” she said. “If you’re a father to a daughter, you should be concerned about gender equality. If you’re a brother to a sister, you should be concerned about gender equality. If you’re an uncle to an niece, you should be concerned about gender equality.”