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I welcome the opportunity to share in this very important consultation with you this morning.This gathering of women’s groups and individuals is a gathering of leaders and change agents – change agents in your families, in your communities and in our nation.
When I became Prime Minister of Jamaica, my first pledge to the Jamaican people was to advance human rights and individual liberty.
By extension, this includes the human rights of our women and girls which must be guaranteed and protected in a framework of justice, peace and true equality of opportunity.
A consultation such as this, which brings together a broad cross section of Jamaican women is part of the strategy in ensuring that every citizen feels that he or she has a stake in the social, economic and political transformation that is needed in the society at this time.
In this audience and in the wider society, there are many individuals and groups who have been analysing and articulating the needs of women over a long period of time.
Jamaica participated in the Nairobi Conference in 1985 and endorsed the Forward Looking Strategies that emanated from the most important gathering of women of the world on the African continent.
Ten years later, we are again gathered with thousands in China and came away with the Beijing Platform of Action.
Five years later we assembled in New York for the Beijing Plus Five Assessment of the Status of Women Worldwide.
Many programmes have been implemented over the years to translate the spirit and possibilities of these landmark gatherings into real changes for women.
Using these landmark developments, we have, here in Jamaica, built on the positive contributions and visions of our ‘foremothers’ and many contemporary leaders.
Our women have endured hardships at every level; some still do. We have successfully rid ourselves of the uncharted waters of slavery, colonialism and patriarchy.
It is therefore no wonder that Jamaican women have seen significant changes in their lives, overtime.
It should also not be surprising that, as women, we are able to clearly pin-point the remaining systemic barriers that still prevent us from enjoying the full realisation of our human rights and our God-given freedoms.
We come together today, not just to talk about the voyage of the Jamaican woman over the long period of our history.
We have come together to consolidate the gains that have been made in the social, economic and political arenas and to confront the remaining challenges that still threaten the full equality rights of women and girls.
I am therefore encouraged by the fact that you have chosen as part of this consultation to deliberate on issues such as:. Violence against Women and Girls. Economic Empowerment of Women. Governance, and . Women, Men and the Family.
These are some of the most important issues that need our attention if women and girls are to gain equality rights and empowerment in our society.
In fact, we are very aware of the reality that gender equality and the empowerment of women are important pre-requisites to the achievement and sustainability of the Millennium Development Goals to which Jamaica is fully committed.
The issue of gender-based violence remains one of the most enduring systemic barriers against the full equality of our women. It is a phenomenon that is deeply rooted in our socialisation processes and our cultural belief systems.
It is these lingering inequalities that have resulted in many women living in situations of poverty and dependence on men.
Such violence affects women in all social classes and age groups and is found in both our rural and urban communities.
In another three days, on the 25th of November, the majority of the world’s women will observe another International Day Against Violence Against Women. Far too many of our women and girls are still experiencing unacceptable levels of sexual and other forms of violence.
I would like to suggest that we move beyond the analysis of the causes of such inhumane activities and develop a multi-sectoral action plan that will ensure the reduction of this social problem.
Such an initiative would be in line with the emphasis that I place on partnership at all levels of the society.
The idea of true and equal partnership should come easily to women because we are the ones who are called upon to care and nurture children, the elderly and the most disadvantaged in the society.
Of course, we are very aware that men should play their rightful role in the caring, sharing and nurturing of all members of the society.
That is why I am very pleased to see that you will be discussing “Women, Men and the Family” as an issue in this consultation.
I look forward to the discussions and recommendations that will come out of the session on the “Economic Empowerment of Women”.
The fact is that despite the higher education attainment among women and more women in tertiary institutions, the rate of female unemployment is twice that of males.
At the same time, historical, social and cultural forces continue to place undue pressure on women in our society resulting in a continuing rise in Jamaica, of female headed households.
Many of these households are falling below the poverty line and we have begun to see a real cycle in which two or three generations of women and children are trapped in the ranks of the inner-city and rural poor.
As the first Jamaican woman to become Prime Minister of this country, I want to encourage all of you to unite and support each other to deal with some of these most serious, deep-seated and entrenched negative cultural attitudes and ideas which still serve to deny our women their full and equal rights.
I implore you to support the values and attitudes that will transform the society and move every woman and every man into a state of decency, respect for others and for self.
The guarantee of the rights of all our children, tolerance for our religious beliefs and convictions and dignity for everyone irrespective of class, race, shade or gender are indispensable to our progress as a nation.
It is within this framework that we must aspire to a system of governance based on fair-play, transparency and respect for individuals and communities.
The old order that is closed, distant and authoritarian must give way to new structures which are inclusive, responsive and accountable.
I am convinced that this type of governance is only possible when all gender inequalities are removed from our society.
That is why I have emphasised the need to work together in a partnership that will restore the centrality of the values that must nurture the family in all its forms, and bring a high level of participation and democracy to every community in this country.
Within this framework, women, who make up fifty percent of the population, would find their voices, assert their inherent dignity and abilities and contribute their best to the development of a modern Jamaica that can survive both the positive and negative challenges of a globalised world. We women of Jamaica must take our responsibility to this country very seriously.
We need to move beyond the talk, to action and ensure that we make a difference wherever we are.
This is my vision of my role in this capacity as a Jamaican woman at the highest level of decision-making in my country.
Once again, I encourage you to share this vision and help every other woman to get a glimpse of a transformed society that is translated into meaningful change in her day to day life.
Nelson Mandela, one of history’s greatest freedom fighters, said in one of his many speeches that: “Vision without action achieves nothing;
Action without vision just passes the time Vision with action can change the world”
I take this common-sense statement very seriously and I hope you do too.
I thank you, not only for being here today, but for your dedication and commitment to maintaining and defending the human rights of every woman and girl in our society.
May God continue to bless each and every one of you.