A strategic analysis of how regional laws empower women and ensure gender equality was high on the agenda for several influential women who gathered last week at the Wyndham Hotel in Kingston for the three-day Caribbean Colloquium on Gender, Culture and the Law.
Representatives of various ministries of law and justice and national women's groups in the Caribbean, as well as human rights advocates, police officers, lawyers and representatives from the United Nations, spent much time assessing the various legal barriers to addressing issues such as gender-based violence, sexual health and women's rights.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General Dorothy Lighbourne pointed out that while laws such as the Sexual Offences Act, the Child Pornography Prevention Act and the Human Trafficking Suppression and Punishment Act have been enacted to empower women, gender inequality was still a major issue.
"Gender inequality remains deeply entrenched in every society. Women lack access to decent work and face occupational segregation and gender wage gaps. They are too often denied access to basic education and health care," she said.
It is against this backdrop, the minister reasoned, that the third millennium development goal is perhaps the most important as it speaks specifically to the issue of gender disparity and calls for the promotion of gender equality and female empowerment.
"It holds the keys of success in eradicating poverty, combating HIV/AIDS, education and children's health," she said.
Lightbourne was particularly pleased with the fact that Jamaica had ratified the convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
"For the past 30 years, the convention with its attending plan of action has formed the basis for advocacy and reform in women's issues, internationally, regionally and locally," she said.
"As a region, the Caribbean has made a number of advancements towards women," she noted, while naming herself and other influential women in Jamaica as proof of this.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture with responsibility for Women's Affairs and Gender Issues, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, believes that the colloquium was relevant as it provided opportunities for regional women to share the advances their countries have made in providing access to justice.
"Sustained dialogue and action will foster an appreciation of the ways in which law reform reflects and/or promotes cultures of equality and diversity," she said.
The minister went on to emphasise the need to get more males involved in the discussion on socio-legal reform and the ongoing advocacy towards gender equality.
"Culturally, there is a high level of violence against women in the Caribbean (and) I know that we are actively working to address this scourge," she said.
Meanwhile, the featured presenter for the event, Justice Desiree Bernard from the Caribbean Court of Justice, pointed to the general issue of countries ratifying treaties and then not enforcing them.
"Some states, though ratifying the national treaties, take no steps to incorporate them into their domestic laws, hence they cannot be enforced in the national legal system unless incorporated by legislation," she said.
Notwithstanding this problematic issue, she lauded the establishment of the Charter of Civil Society by Caricom states in 2007.
"The laudable objectives of the charter mirror to a large extent provisions of universal declaration of human rights, with specific provisions for the promotion of policies and measures aimed at strengthening gender equality including equal opportunities for employment and equal remuneration and legal protection with effective remedies against domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual harassment," she explained.