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Minister with responsibility for women affairs, Dr. Paul Robertson, has cited the election of Portia Simpson-Miller as the country’s first female Prime Minister-designate and the recent passage of the Maintenance Bill in Parliament, as two significant developments, which could contribute to the advancement of women in Jamaica.
The Minister, who was addressing the official ceremony to mark International Women’s Day this morning (March 8) at the Jamaica Pegasus, pointed out that over the years, the government has embarked on a deliberate policy of gender mainstreaming. “We have sought to ensure that the number of women at the upper echelons of decision making, particularly at the political level, increases,” he stated.
Dr. Robertson, who is also Development Minister, noted that in 1990, women represented only 5 per cent of the members of Parliament but the figure has since grown to 13 per cent. “Undoubtedly, there is significant room for improvement. However, I believe that the policy of gender mainstreaming is beginning to show results in this particular area,” he stated.
Describing the passage of the Maintenance Bill into law as the “manifestation of the government’s gender mainstreaming policy,” Minister Robertson said, “it is our intention to ensure that issues of gender equity are at the core of our policy and legislative framework”.
The new Maintenance Bill is intended to be a companion legislation to the Property (Rights of Spouses) Act, which was passed in both Houses last year, and which focused on the division of property between spouses on the breakdown of a marriage or a qualifying common-law union.
In keeping with the policy of gender mainstreaming, the Minister said, the Act sought to place equal maintenance obligations on both sexes as spouses and parents.
“The changes are necessary as marriage is now viewed more as a partnership of equals than one in which the wife is the dependent partner. Maintenance however, will not be automatic but will be determined on the basis of financial need and liability”, he outlined.
According to Dr. Robertson, several pieces of legislation would be impacted by the changes to this Bill, including the Matrimonial Cause Act, the Status of Children Act and the Affiliation Act.
He reiterated, that the government fully endorses the concept of gender mainstreaming and “recognized that if all programmes became part of this mainstreaming, it would mean sharing equitability in the benefits of development”.
“We believe that mainstreaming gender will challenge the status quo and are prepared to implement policies and institutions that actively promote gender equality, ” Minister Robertson said, adding that this approach would also be applicable to the issues of disaster preparedness, management and mitigation.