Extensive work remains to be done to increase female representation in Cayman Islands politics and across the British Commonwealth of Nations, according to post-election analysis by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
Three of the 19 members of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly are female.
Speaking on the floor of the Legislative Assembly Thursday, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Secretary-General Akbar Khan highlighted the political inroads made by pioneering Caymanian women like Sybil McLaughlin, the Caribbean’s first female speaker of the house.
“Five women speakers on since Sybil McLaughlin, we see a disappointing underrepresentation now of women in the Legislative Assembly. Although you had the largest number of women standing for election, this only made up 26 percent of all candidates,” Mr. Khan said during the first day of the Cayman Islands Post Election Seminar.
“There therefore remains an enormous amount of work to be done to reflect on how we can increase participation of women in the legislative chamber.”
The Cayman Islands does not stand alone in its political under-representation of women, Mr. Khan said. Despite notable improvements over the past 20 years, female representation in parliaments worldwide stands at 22 percent. Across the Commonwealth, only 18 percent of parliamentarians are women.
He said several Caribbean nations, including Grenada, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, have reached the recommended goal of 30 percent female representation established by Commonwealth heads of government in 1997.
“This is a floor, not a ceiling. Only a number of the branches in this region have managed to reach 30 percent,” Mr. Khan said.
Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush recalled the difficulty to establish the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians network to support elected women.
“It was not easy to get the acceptance to form the CWP. Many opposed it, including many women who thought there was no need for it,” Mr. Bush said.
When women run for office, they must still overcome the hurdle of election, Mr. Bush added.
A number of barriers stand in the way of female candidates, including issues of public perception, Mr. Khan said.
“We must look at the way media represents women. In some of our Commonwealth countries, the way media portrays a woman representative can be very negative at times compared to the way it portrays a male representative. That may have a chilling effect on women standing for election who feel they do not want to expose themselves to unjustified criticism based on gender,” Mr. Khan said.
Looking at the broader picture of the 2017 election, Mr. Khan praised the Cayman Islands for its commitment to democracy. The number of registered voters in the islands increased from 18,492 in 2013 to 21,227 in 2017.
“The increased turnout in the recent elections clearly demonstrates the commitment of the Cayman Islands to nurture democratic values and standards,” Mr. Khan said.
As public scrutiny on public officials grows, gender representation will be increasingly important to ensure public confidence.
“This not only ensures participatory decision-making, but it engenders legitimacy and public confidence in our democratic institutions. Without gender equality, greater inclusion and diversity, our democracy is incomplete,” Mr. Khan said.
Speaking in place of Premier Alden McLaughlin, Minister Roy McTaggart emphasized the educational importance of the Post-Election Seminar for legislative members.
“We have enough expertise here to get good lessons in what are essentially continuing professional education for the more senior MLAs,” Mr. McTaggart said.
“Nothing much can be learned if we are not open-minded, attentive and participatory. And as I have mentioned, there is much to be learned during these two short yet packed seminar days.”
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association will host students at the Town Hall in George Town Friday from 3:30-5 p.m. The event, hosted by the secretary-general, will provide students the opportunity to discuss democracy and meet local MLAs.