A day to celebrate women, even as we acknowledge that more needs to be done
From left: CEO of GraceKennedy Financial Group, Grace Burnette; managing director at the Jamaica Stock Exchange, Dr Marlene Street Forrest; CEO of First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union, Roxann Linton; head of sales, marketing and communications at Lake Group of Companies, Sabrena Mcdonald Radcliff; CEO of Sagicor Bank, Chorvelle Cunningham Johnson; and Lake Group of Companies' Sharon Lake at the Pre-International Women's Day Conference on Sunday.

We note the sense of despair in United Nations Secretary General António Guterres' focus on gender equality ahead of today's observation of International Women's Day (IWD).

"Gender equality," he told the General Assembly on Monday, "is growing more distant. On the current track, UN Women puts it 300 years away.

"Women's rights are being abused, threatened, and violated around the world," he added while listing a litany of crises, namely maternal mortality, girls ousted from school, caregivers denied work, and children forced into early marriage.

"Progress won over decades is vanishing before our eyes," Mr Guterres lamented as he launched two weeks of discussions led by the Commission on the Status of Women.

Interestingly, the only country Mr Guterres named in his address was Afghanistan where, he pointed out, under Taliban rule "women and girls have been erased from public life".

Thankfully, the Taliban doctrine does not exist in Jamaica, and it is highly unlikely that it will ever be practised or sanctioned here. Indeed, Jamaica has achieved progress in fostering gender equality and the empowerment of women, and we can proudly uphold the fact that between March 2006 and September 2007, and again from January 5, 2012 to March 3, 2016, our prime minister was one of the increasing number of women heads of government in the global family.

However, we must acknowledge that there is need for more effort to institute additional programmes and policies that work to the greater benefit of the female population.

But even as we recognise that need we share the views expressed by women's rights advocate and political commentator Dr Nadeen Spence, in this newspaper on Monday, that too often International Women's Day discussions narrow topics down to women as a separate and isolated group.

Dr Spence quite correctly argued that the greater issue is equality and respect for the full human rights of all people.

"Never forget that women's rights are human rights," she told this newspaper. "So, please, don't say women-related causes. Speak to human rights and a recognition that women's advance is the advance of human rights."

Ms Mickel Jackson, executive director of Jamaicans For Justice, was equally on point as she noted that, while Jamaica has come a far way in advancing gender equality, there is still some way to go, particularly in relation to violence against women and inequality among others.

She argued that, "the Domestic Violence Act still does not offer sufficient protection for women who are abused within domestic settings", pointing out that if an abused woman obtains a protection order, a breach of that order is punishable by a fine of just $10,000 or up to three months in prison. That is hardly a deterrent and something we need to address as quickly as possible.

Amid all that needs to be done, we believe it is fitting to celebrate this day because, surely, no one can deny that women have contributed as much as, and in some cases more than men to the advancement of this, our beloved island home, as they have generally across the world.

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