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Kamla to women: Embrace self confidence, family life

The Opposition Leader has several strong messages as the globe observes International Women’s Day 2024

As the world observes International Women’s Day 2024, in an exclusive interview, Loop News spoke with this country’s first female Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar about what this year’s theme, ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’ means to her.

According to Persad-Bissessar, it’s a rallying call to invest in humanity, particularly marginalized persons, regardless of gender.

“In some societies, the reality is that women are automatically the major group of marginalized persons. I do not believe that is true, however, of our country. So I see it as a call to invest in all persons equally, regardless of gender. Men and women are not created physically equal but are complementary. There are some tasks that women are better at, some that men are better at, and some that they are equally good at,” Persad Bissessar said.

And for the politician who has been active for close to four decades, Persad-Bissessar explained that from her point of view, ‘accelerating progress’ means encouraging the society to create equal opportunities for males and females and judging applicants fairly on criteria, not identity.

“Whoever is more qualified for any particular task, regardless of gender, should be chosen. I don’t believe either gender should receive special treatment, I believe in equality of opportunity with fair judging criteria and not equality of outcome. Any individual would like to look back at their life and know that they fairly outcompeted others and earned their achievements,” she said.

The campaign theme for this year encourages to inspire inclusion, but according to the opposition leader, the reality is the structural concepts of the modern women’s movement seem rooted exclusively in American and European values;

“Many times the cultural, religious, social, and familial values of other parts of the world are not taken into consideration to be included in women’s rights messaging. It is quite unfair for an educated woman who independently chooses to follow cultural, religious, social, and familial values other than American and European values to then be judged as oppressed.”

For Persad-Bissessar, inclusion means expanding the concepts of the modern women’s movement to include a wider consideration of the world’s customs, values, and beliefs.

“Of course, some countries have repressive policies towards women, but the Caribbean and Trinidad and Tobago, in particular, are very progressive regarding women’s rights. In our country, women are included in all fields. On any given day, you see women in politics, media, management, equipment operators, engineering, medicine, agriculture and protective services. Naturally, some fields will be dominated by men and others by women because of our biological differences, but there is overall inclusion in all fields in T&T,” she said.

Persad Bissessar noted therefore as a result of that inclusiveness, gender equality does in fact exist in T&T.

Asked by Loop News what areas she believes that organisations and groups can ‘inspire inclusion’ throughout, the Siparia Member of Parliament said it can be done by simply by providing equal opportunities and judging all applicants fairly based on proper criteria.

She noted further that inclusion should not be about special treatment, but rather about allowing people to elevate themselves based on the merit of their work.

“The best person should get the opportunity irrespective of gender. Men and women should be paid equally per unit of work. If a woman does twice the amount of work per hour at the exact same job as a man, she should be paid twice the amount as him. If a man does twice the amount of work per hour at the exact same job as a woman, he should be paid twice the amount as her,” Persad-Bissessar explained.

Despite the positivity, there are some things that the opposition leader said she would hope to see improve, particularly as it relates to the personal development of both girls and women.

“I would like to see our women and girls ignore the false lifestyles and misleading social standards put out on social media platforms because these wrongly make some females feel inadequate in their own lives and affect their self-esteem. The fake lifestyles and appearances that some social media influencers portray are not what create and sustain a meaningful life,” the opposition leader said.

“I want to see all women and girls take back control of their self-confidence, create their own standards for happiness, and have a resurgence of self-worth based on their own feelings and emotions and not on what they believe others want them to be,” she added.

The wife, mother, grandmother, sister and accomplished attorney at law is also encouraging women not to be ‘misled’ by “those pushing an exaggerated and divisive gender bias agenda based on American and European values” into believing that most Caribbean males are oppressive to women;

“The majority of Caribbean men are good, supportive, and loving. Caribbean women have grandfathers, fathers, brothers, sons, and grandsons who love and support us every day in our endeavors to achieve our goals. In the Caribbean region, female presidents, prime ministers, ministers, and parliamentarians have been elected, which could only have happened with the votes of Caribbean men,” Persad-Bissessar emphasised.

With that, the active politician is also encouraging women to embrace the idea of love and family life, regardless of their career path.

“Don’t pass up on getting married and having a family. The most beautiful thing in life is the happiness and joy when you return home from work to a loving husband and happy children. Humans need love and companionship to achieve their fullest potential; women, in particular, have an inherent drive to nurture and care. It is very possible to have a career and raise a family at the same time, you don’t have to choose between them,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Asked whether she believed that one day was enough to celebrate women and their accomplishments, Persad-Bissessar noted that people should not expect to be celebrated simply because of their gender, race, religion or creed but rather through their behavior towards others and work to improve lives, that they will earn acclaim and be celebrated.

“There is also only one International Men’s Day, so it’s equal. If an individual, man, or woman wants to be celebrated, that person must earn those accolades. The more good things a person does, the more he or she will be celebrated. If a woman is excellent in any field, she will be celebrated,” she said.

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