Caribbean nations have played a leading role in all the major United Nations-organised conferences on women: In Mexico City in 1975; in Copenhagen in 1980; in Nairobi in 1985; and at the last conference—and perhaps the most significant—convened in September 1995 in China, which produced the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA): the globe’s current framework for gender equality.
‘As Small Island Developing States grappling with climate inaction, we naturally identified with Pacific Islanders and formed new alliances.’
The 25-year anniversary of the BPfA converges with the 12th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Minister’s Meeting (12WAMM), and it is therefore fitting that the Caribbean region, with the support of the Commonwealth Foundation, was represented in the first civil society roundtable to directly feed into the ministers meeting itself. I proudly represented the Caribbean as founder and convener of the CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago (CCoT), a body that reviews regional progress on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Woman (CEDAW).
As a member of the Caribbean team, I solicited inputs on the four pillars identified for the roundtable: Violence Against Women; Women’s Leadership; Gender and Climate Change; and Women’s Economic Empowerment; and assessments from experts, advocates, partners, and other non-state actors in Trinidad and Tobago. Building on those responses and my individual research, I worked with my colleagues from the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, who represented five additional Caribbean island nations to create a picture of these issues in the Caribbean and equally, if not more importantly, what recommendations we believe our region needs going forward.
‘Despite everyone’s best efforts to prepare for big international meetings, they carry the risk that some voices will drown out others.’
A good example of the preparation we undertook for 12WAMM is a working session that engaged Caribbean experts on the recommendations made by the United Nations CEDAW committee in Geneva on violence against women. Experts met to form a regional picture of five key factors that contribute to the problem: 1) violence committed by intimate partners and other forms of domestic violence 2) inadequate number of shelters 3) delay in adopting regulations for the Sexual Offences Act in order to introduce a sex offender registry 4) low number of arrests for breaches of protection orders and 5) law enforcement officials’ treatment of domestic violence cases. Later, at the CEDAW South to South Institute, we examined violence against women through the lens of human rights with a range of regional experts, activists, and advocates.
Despite everyone’s best efforts to prepare for big international meetings, they carry the risk that some voices will drown out others. I am pleased to report that every representative was heard in equal measure at the civil society roundtable at 12WAMM: this was achieved in part by permitting flexibility around time slots for working groups, to ensure all participants were able to provide input and arrive at a consensus.
Perspectives shared by representatives from each region of the Commonwealth highlighted what we share in common: the struggle to eradicate violence against women, achieve women’s leadership and economic empowerment, address climate change, and build coherent and sustainable movements. As Small Island Developing States grappling with climate inaction, we naturally identified with Pacific Islanders and formed new alliances. But we also benefited from local experience too: I won’t forget the rich experience of being welcomed at the Maasai community in Kajiado, 80 km south of Nairobi, where I saw, first-hand, the exceptional work being done by a local community organisation to address women’s economic empowerment and leadership. Salaam!
Terry Ince is Founder of the CEDAW Committee of Trinidad and Tobago.