Earlier this year I had the chance to speak to the Hon. Marcella Liburd, Minister of Health, Cultural Affairs, Gender Affairs, Social and Community Development for Saint Kitts and Nevis and the only woman member parliament. Minister Liburd exudes energy that I find it difficult not to be captivated by. Having heard her speak from afar many times, I was thrilled when the opportunity arose for me to speak with her one-on-one during my last trip home.
My goal in sitting down with her was to supplement my personal knowledge of the challenges facing women in my home country, with a more official opinion on the state of gender affairs and in what ways, if any we are making progress.
When asked to identify the key issues facing women in St Kitts and Nevis, without hesitation she named domestic violence and the lack of women in leadership positions. What followed were some candid insights into culture and gender relations in the twin island Federation:
On the barriers facing women in Saint Kitts and Nevis…
Covert discrimination: In the home and in the church, women are not trained to be leaders. The man is seen as the head of the home, the office etc. In certain professions, doctors for example, men are given immediate credibility while women have to work harder to continually prove themselves.
On the repercussions of serious income disparity…
Women are seen as wives and mothers [but] women take care of families; a woman in poverty means a man in poverty.
On how she is trying to remove the barriers facing women…
I don’t believe in quotas.
When job opportunities come up in areas not traditionally open to women – construction for example – they get left out because of a lack of training. It is important to provide women with training so that they can take advantage of all opportunities.
Banks don’t give women loans; the government should open up capital to be accessed by women without collateral at low interest rates. It is a risk worth taking.
There is a lack of vibrant women’s groups. They are either in the church or politically affiliated and so are limited to those spheres. They are not community groups. We are working towards establishing an umbrella women’s group in St Kitts and have been getting guidance from an established women’s group in Barbados.
When the role of men in the women’s movement came up, Minister Liburd discussed her support for including men, and her belief that you cannot achieve progress in women’s rights without men as part of the process. In the establishment of a federation-wide women’s organization, men are included at the grassroots level, with women holding all council seats at the national level.
Do not allow other people to define you.
– Hon. Marcella Liburd