JIS News

Minister of Development with responsibility for gender affairs, Dr. Paul Robertson has announced that the Gender Advisory Committee to consider the framework in which a more developmental approach to the advancement of women can be achieved, will be officially launched next Wednesday.
The Minister was addressing a panel discussion to mark International Women’s Day 2005 held at the Holy Cross Church Hall in Kingston on Tuesday, March 8.
Minister Robertson explained that the Committee, whose mandate among other things was to “develop a strategic and comprehensive policy direction for achieving greater gender equality in the pursuit of social justice” had a broad-based membership, was bi-partisan and comprised both men and women.
He further disclosed that the international funding source for the Committee would be announced at the launch.
Dr. Robertson pointed out to the gathering of representatives of various women’s groups that while women valued education as evidenced by their high level of participation at the secondary and tertiary levels, this increased educational attainment had not significantly facilitated greater economic political and personal empowerment.
“The high level of participation at the tertiary level has not sufficiently translated into better jobs for women. While we acknowledge the advances made by women in the mid-managerial levels, they continue to be in the lowest sectors of the market and experience higher unemployment and poverty than men,” the Minister emphasized.
Turning to health issues, Dr. Robertson said that given the implications of the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and the negative impact it was likely to have on the development agenda, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs was working closely with the Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Committee to address the matter urgently.
In light of this, he said women needed to be given the power to negotiate sexual rights even in long term and legal relationships. “We need to educate our men to respect that a woman has sexual rights. It is at the heart of our struggle to reverse the incidence of HIV/AIDS in our populations,” Dr. Robertson said adding that even in the context of a marriage, a woman had the right to say no, especially to unprotected sex.
He noted that government was committed to women as equal partners in development and as such had endorsed the considerable contribution that women could and now made to national life. The Development Minister gave his assurance to lead a process that would further this commitment both with respect to strategies to address the gaps in equality, and by furthering the legislative agenda.
Based on this, Minister Robertson said a Sexual Harassment policy and legislation would be put before Parliament shortly.
As one of the priorities emerging from the Beijing Platform for Action, he noted, the government had agreed to a focus on the protection and promotion of human rights for women and the female child as an integral part of universal human rights.
In that context Minister Robertson said, Jamaican women had gained a number of rights including equal pay for equal work, right to own property, universal access to education and health care and recognition of the unpaid contribution to the household as articulated in the recently promulgated Family Property (Rights of Spouses) Act. “There is more to be done and there are a number of pieces of legislation including the Maintenance Act which are to go before the house shortly,” he stated.
In many cases, he said women continued to be discriminated against in the labour market because of their responsibilities in the household. “The government is cognizant of the need to identify those areas where the systemic barriers continue to discriminate and take action to address these imbalances,” he added.

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