February 8, 2023

Tara Rivers: Extension of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women to the Cayman Islands

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cayman-islands-depositStatement to the Legislative Assembly
Second Meeting of 2016/2017 Session

By the Honourable Tara Rivers, JP, MLA

Minister of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs

Extension of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to the Cayman Islands

12 October 2016

Yesterday marked the observance of the UN International Day of Girls. “Gender inequality remains the most pervasive form of inequality around the world. Gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls, unacceptably high maternal mortality rates, wide gaps in women’s access to decent employment and financial and productive assets, significant underrepresentation of women in political and economic decision-making, and high levels of unpaid care and domestic work undertaken by women and girls all contribute to the inequalities that are not only detrimental to the health and well-being of those directly affected, but to societies as a whole.” This is taken from the “The Girl On Purpose Project”, and it succinctly captures the challenges that many women and girls around the world face on a daily basis. The Girl On Purpose Project is a campaign raising awareness about the importance of and urgency for improving gender equality. Many of our very own “daughters of the soil” here in the Cayman Islands have participated in the Project, and they should be commended. However, promoting gender quality is not just ‘a woman’s issue’. If you are a father to a daughter, brother to a sister, uncle to a niece, husband to a wife, or son of a mother – you should be concerned about gender equality.

In observance of the UN International Day of Girls, I rise today to make a statement in relation to a matter that has been a long time coming, a matter that had been pursued by multiple Government Administrations, and one which has finally been achieved under this Government. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, or “CEDAW”, was extended to the Cayman Islands by the United Kingdom on 16th March, 2016. I was honoured to be present in New York when Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Early Years, deposited the official instrument at the United Nations Treaty Section during the ministerial segment of the 60th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

On my appointment as Minister responsible for Gender Affairs three years ago, I gladly took up the mantle that had been passed on to successive Ministers since the Cayman Islands Government’s first official request to have this core human rights treaty extended to the Islands twelve years ago in August of 2004. However, prior to the Government’s first request for CEDAW to be extended to the Cayman Islands in 2004, several noteworthy Caymanian women had made other important strides to ensure that the Government of the day was doing its part to address issues affecting women. For example, in the mid-Eighties, MLA for West Bay, Mrs. Daphne Orrett, successfully brought Private Member’s Motions to raise the Age of Consent from 13 to 16 and addressing issues dealing with spousal and child abuse. In 1995 the late Hon. Edna Moyle, former Speaker of the House and MLA for North Side, advocated for the establishment of an Office of Women’s Affairs, and later on in her political career she brought a Private Member’s Motion which was the catalyst for the establishment of the RCIP’s Family Support Unit, which provides inter-agency liaison in areas of domestic violence, child protection and victim support. Also in 1995, a Permanent Secretary at the time and later an MLA for George Town, Ms. Lucille Seymour, represented the Cayman Islands as a part of the UK delegation to the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. As another example, in 2000, MLA for Bodden Town, Ms. Heather Bodden, successfully brought forward a Private Member’s Motion for the establishment of a safe house for abused women and children. And of course, Madame Speaker, while you were Minister for Youth at the time the first ever Cayman Islands National Youth Policy (CINYP) was developed and launched in 2000, which specifically addressed young women and young men as priority target groups, recognising the need to apply a gender perspective to addressing the concerns of youth. I had the privilege of spearheading the CINYP 18 month development project as a young civil servant working for the Ministry at that time. (This is certainly not an exhaustive list of noteworthy efforts by female legislators, but is used to illustrate the work done over the years to address a multitude of issues affecting women and girls.)

As a woman, and as a Minister in this Government, I am committed both personally and professionally to advocating for and achieving this Government’s strategic policy objective of equity and justice in a society that values the contributions of all. And I am delighted that this significant achievement for our women and girls has now been realised and can be added to the list of other important accomplishments that this Government has achieved in our quest to strive towards gender equality.

With the support of Cabinet – particularly the Honourable Premier, the Honourable Attorney General and his staff, and the Cabinet Secretary and his staff – the Ministry of Gender Affairs was able to clearly demonstrate to the United Kingdom that the Cayman Islands is already in substantial compliance with the CEDAW treaty’s expectations and well-positioned to advance from strength to strength in gender equity and equality and the empowerment of women and girls in our society.

Madam Speaker, when I addressed this Honourable House in October of 2014 on the outcome of the National Conference on Women, I stated my belief that the eventual extension of CEDAW would formally recognise the great strides we have made as a country to break down barriers and close gender gaps in various areas of our society that demonstrate the loss of achievement and negative outcomes. It is important that males and females are not only equal according to law but also in fact. Men and women and girls and boys must have equal protection and status under the law and also equal opportunity to achieve their highest potential in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil and all other fields. I am delighted – though of course not surprised – that the rigorous review by the United Kingdom Government Equalities Office and the decision to extend CEDAW to the Cayman Islands has confirmed our position as a leader in many areas and acknowledged our shared desire to achieve even more.

During the National Conference on Women we gathered qualitative data to establish priority issues and identify potential areas of concern in relation to CEDAW that will assist in developing Government’s implementation plan. I would also like to reiterate my gratitude to everyone who participated in the National Conference held in Grand Cayman, the Meeting in the Sister Islands, and subsequent public consultation process. Their frank contributions and solutions-based approach contributed significantly to our understanding of the status of women and girls in society and are highly valued by the Ministry. We heard their overwhelming cries for:
• public education and awareness at all levels, for all ages, in all areas of life;
• more national-level dialogue to reframe how we view these important issues;
• enforcement of legislation and championing of policies;
• development of more agents of change; and
• improved access to programming and services.
And we have ensured and will continue to ensure tangible action takes place, including within the framework provided by CEDAW to identify and eliminate lingering discrimination against women and inequity. However, gender issues cannot be viewed in isolation and mainstreaming a gender perspective throughout society will ensure these important concerns remain visible. Through the Gender Affairs Unit in the Ministry, we have organized various activities to ensure that gender mainstreaming is on the national agenda. These activities include the first National Conference on Women and Girls in the Cayman Islands in 2014; the first gender mainstreaming workshop presented to educators at the 2015 National Education Conference; and organising male parliamentarians and high level civil servants to participate in the 2015 #HeForShe Global Campaign, to name a few. We all benefit when greater equality increases workforce productivity, brings economic and social benefits, and promotes human development. But we also all have a role to play in this agenda.

Today, I would also like to speak about the vital role that all Members of this Honourable House play in order to ensure CEDAW’s effective implementation. I wish to lay on the table of this Honourable House and distribute to all Members the Inter-Parliamentary Union Handbook for Parliamentarians on CEDAW and its Optional Protocol: “Confronting Discrimination”. The Inter-Parliamentary Union, or “IPU”, is the focal point for world-wide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy.

Madam Speaker, the IPU has produced a series of such Handbooks for Parliamentarians on major issues on the international agenda. This Handbook is designed to familiarise Honourable Members with CEDAW, presenting the background to and content of the Convention, describing the role of the body established to secure implementation at the national level, and focusing on what parliamentarians can do to ensure effective implementation.

As a final note in relation to the Handbook, I wish to confirm that CEDAW has been extended to the Cayman Islands subject to certain reservations, declarations and understandings stated by the United Kingdom on its ratification of the treaty in 1986. Further, the Optional Protocol has not been extended to the Cayman Islands at this time. Therefore, national remedies such as the Gender Equality Tribunal and the Courts system continue to be available for those who seek redress for discrimination but the independent international Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women will not be empowered to hear local complaints or to make inquiries of its own volition.

In closing, Madam Speaker, I would like to say we cannot fully eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls without our partners in the private sector and unless we bring along all of our people in this endeavour. Employers, employees, community and business leaders, religious institutions, the media, non-governmental organisations, families, educational institutions, and individuals all have critical roles to play and must all take conscious positive action.

In furtherance of this goal, the Ministry of Gender Affairs is partnering with the Chamber of Commerce and the Cayman Islands Small Business Association to host an event on 30th November 2016 which will be the official recognition of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) in the Cayman Islands. Women’s Entrepreneurship Day has been celebrated in November annually since 2014, when 144 nations overall recognized the first WED, with simultaneous events in several countries. WED is a day to celebrate, support and empower women entrepreneurs worldwide, and the goal of the WED movement is to ignite women leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs to initiate startups, drive economic expansion, and advance communities worldwide.

Additionally, plans are in the works to produce a documentary to be released in 2017 on the Universal Suffrage movement in the Cayman Islands as a milestone of gender equality accomplishments, with a specific focus on the struggle for women’s right to vote in the Cayman Islands.

Today, I am grateful for the opportunity to address my fellow Members of this Honourable House on our own role as parliamentarians, entrusted with the power to bring about change. We have secured our people’s basic rights in law, created an ever more sophisticated legislative and policy framework, and developed effective programmes and services to meet our society’s needs. However, there remains much to be done. And I trust that each and every one will find this Handbook useful and that I will continue to receive your support as we work toward an even brighter future for our sons and daughters.

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