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Address by Minister with Responsibility for Information in the Office of the Prime Minister, Senator, the Hon Sandrea Falconer, at Unesco Open Access Concultation, International Women’s Day, Mach 8, 2013, Wyndham Hotel “The Role of Women in the Building of Knowledge Societies”

May I extend special International Women’s Day greetings to all our women and thank the organizers of this Consultation for their kind invitation to address this august group.

You have been discussing the critical issue of open access, which UNESCO has quite wisely been championing.

It is a truism that knowledge is power therefore inequality in the access to knowledge translates into inequality in most areas and an obstacle to development. In an age that has been characterized by liberalization and openness—of trade, investment, finance, technology and contacts between peoples—it is ironic that there is still resistance in some quarters to liberalization and open access to information.

For years large numbers of people were denied access to certain medicines because certain people thought it was their inalienable right to patent that knowledge and make those vital medicines unavailable to those most in need. It took some lobbying and organizing for some to see that crucial scientific knowledge related to the health of people should be shared.

We have broken that barrier.

Today, there is still some resistance to the concept of open access to information on scientific and technical matters. There is still the tendency to lock in and lock out.

Organizations like UNESCO must be commended for the progressive work it has done on behalf of the marginalized and excluded, and for the intellectual rigor with which it has conducted its work. The information and communications revolution has vastly facilitated the diffusion of knowledge. Ordinary citizens now have access to an amazing store of information. Marginalized people can, with simple technological devices, open up a whole new world to themselves.

We have the platforms to foster our empowerment. Many doors have been opened and previously excluded persons have gone through those doors and have taken their seats at the table. But there is more to be done. There are more doors to be pried open, and more seats to be provided at the table.

This is why UNESCO’s work is so important and why it is crucial that states support UNESCO in its thrust for open access.

The Jamaican Government fully supports access to information and liberalization of information flows, particularly critical scientific and technical information. We believe that women stand to benefit more from this open access. Women are natural information carriers and facilitators. They play a pivotal, if sometimes unrecognized, role in building knowledge societies and fostering a thirst for information. The more opportunities are opened to them, the more impactful their role and influence will be.

First, we must acknowledge the fact that, certainly in our Caribbean societies, women are the primary teachers at home. It is the women who are doing the homework. It is the women who are checking the books, who are ensuring that the school lessons are being attended to. It is the women who are the first to recognize if there are learning difficulties or other challenges. Women are the primary motivators for learning.

Talk to the super-achieving men. They will tell you of the role their mothers and teachers played. I am not saying men don’t play their role but men and women agree that women are the primary motivators toward educational achievement, certainly in the early and formative years.

A woman’s patience with children with their homework,

her willingness to stay with that child who might not be grasping the point as readily;

her supervision at home;

careful management of the duties of the home and of their children’s time;

all of these activities give women a decisive role in building a knowledge society.

Talk to our men and they will tell you the role played by their mothers and grandmothers.

Women play an important role in not only exciting children’s intellectual curiosity and nurturing it, they are also important carriers of our cultural traditions. It is largely from women that we in the Caribbean have learned of our African and indigenous Caribbean proverbs and folklore.

When we needed that extra push, that extra motivation, that extra drive to get something accomplished; when we had all but given up and thrown in the towel, mother or grandmother has come with a proverb, some little saying or story from our rich cultural archive to press home an important point or lesson.

We would have heard a grandmother or a mother encouraging us to seize the first opportunity say “hag sey de fus dutty wata me ketch mi wash” or “if you want good u nose haffi run”… meaning that if you want success you have to work hard.

Knowledge societies are not built by technologies. They are facilitated by technologies. They are given greater scope and intensity by technologies. They are built essentially by a certain spirit of enquiry, an intellectual curiosity, a thirst for and appreciation of knowledge.

If people don’t develop a culture of learning, a culture of continuous improvement and innovation and a spirit of intellectual creativity, the technologies will be of no use. History is replete with examples of civilizations which had made remarkable inventions and discoveries, but which were eventually overtaken by other, less technologically advanced civilizations, which had a different approach to knowledge and knowledge creation.

It is that quest for knowledge, that mindset that is obsessively inquisitive and probing that is your best predictor of success.

We as women possess that natural curiosity. It is something we instill in our children from early. It is said that “women hold up half the sky”. They certainly hold up more than half of planet earth.

Women represent more than half of the world’s university students and in Jamaica the current rate of enrolment in tertiary institutions is two to one in favour of females. Females out-perform males at every level of the Jamaican education system.

The 2012 World Development Report of the World Bank which focused on “Gender Equality and Development” makes the point that, “Gender equality can have a great impact on productivity. Women now represent more than 40% of the global labour force and 43% of the agricultural workforce.

For an economy to be functioning at its potential, women’s skills and talents should be engaged in activities that make the best use of those abilities”. The Jamaican Government is firmly committed to this. Jamaica has been a leader in gender empowerment in the region.

Jamaica was the first English speaking country in the region to achieve universal adult suffrage and grant women the right to be elected to Parliament.

Today, Jamaica has a female Prime Minister who is serving her second term and, of course, a female Minister with responsibility for Information!

Nearly 40 years ago, Jamaica established a women’s desk to assist in promoting policies and programmes to integrate women’s concerns into national development. In 1972, we established the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, the first national women’s machinery in the Caribbean. By 1978 the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation was established to reintegrate adolescent mothers into the education system. The following year we established the Maternity Leave Act granting paid leave to expectant mothers.

Jamaica has some of the most progressive pieces of women’s rights legislation.

Enshrined in our Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms is the right to non-discrimination on the basis of gender. Our Government is committed to continue the empowerment of our women and girls so they can make meaningful choices and attain their full potential.

I don’t want to close on the role of women in building knowledge societies without addressing a fundamental matter which is sometimes overlooked.

On this International Women’s Day we must ask what type of knowledge society we are building. What is the purpose to which this knowledge will be put? In whose interest will this knowledge be developed?

Women cannot ignore the issue of philosophy and purpose. The world has witnessed to its horror on too many occasions the abuse of knowledge, the misuse of science.

We have developed weapons of warfare that can eradicate all life on this planet many times over. Our nuclear weapons stockpile is an affront to civilized humanity.

I am pleased and relieved that some world leaders have decided to drastically reduce this stockpile.

These weapons were not developed by women. We are by nature nurturers, not destroyers. In the 1970s a brilliant female scholar from Harvard, Carol Gilligan, did a famous study titled In a Different Voice in which she argued that men and women used distinctive styles of moral reasoning. Men, she asserted, found their identity by separation, women by attachment.

In the decades following the 1970s, an abundance of studies have been done in neuro-science which have brought respectability to the concept of intuitive knowledge. Intuition and emotion used to be dismissed as unreliable guides to knowledge. It was abstract reasoning which was glorified and classified as knowledge.

Yet studies in both psychology and in the philosophy of science have proven that in developing scientific theories, intuition, emotion and affective states have played an important role.

In building knowledge societies, women’s particular approach to knowledge creation has the potential to create a more peaceful, harmonious and empathetic world, where people, and not things, are at the centre; where values, and not stocks, are primary and where relationships and emotional intelligence trump one-upmanship and arrogance.

In his book, “The Great Partnership: Science,Religion and the Search for Meaning”, the Oxford and Cambridge educated Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, while drawing on the work of Harvard psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker says: “In every society, men are more likely to compete violently. Women tend to have more intimate social relationships. Women are more sensitive to sounds, smells and have better depth perception and are much better at reading facial perceptions and body language”.

In other words, women embrace a broader view of what constitutes knowledge and are hard-wired for more integrated learning.

Open access is what women need to fully exploit the role they are uniquely positioned to play.

I again commend UNESCO and its partners who have collaborated for this Consultation and it is my hope that it will contribute to moving us from “access denied” to “open access” as we seek to expand humanity’s store of knowledge.

I thank you.

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