Women Step Forward
(15 June 1979)
The speech was given at the evening opening ceremonies of the National Conference of Women, sponsored by the Progressive Women's Association. The conference was held at Marryshow House, University of the West Indies Library Extension.
Sister Chairperson; Ministers of Government; Ambassador Dessima Williams; Ambassador Kenrick Radix; Comrade Rizo, Cuban Charge d’affaires; Ministers of Religion; Distinguished Guests on the Platform; Sisters and Brothers, Comrades:
It is my very great pleasure and privilege this evening to open this conference hosted by the St. George’s Progressive Women’s Association.
It is a pleasure to welcome to our country so many distinguished people from different islands and countries in the Caribbean. We are very happy in particular to have with us Sister Ingrid Kirkwood, because the country she comes from Jamaica — has been one of the most outstanding countries in coming to our support and assistance in the first few days and weeks of our Revolution. I do ask that you recognise her.
At the same time, it is unfortunate that invited sisters from some other countries have been unable to come. In particular, I think at this point of Guyana, another country that has rendered valuable assistance to our Revolution.
I think of Cuba for the same reason and I think also of Dominica because of the suffering that is going on there right now and the struggle against oppression and suppression being waged by the freedom-loving people of Dominica at this very moment in time.
It is also gratifying to note that there are so many persons in this audience from different parts of our country, because I think that the combination of overseas representation and local representation is a very clear indication that the organisation of all the working people of our country, including women, is proceeding at a good pace.
It is also an indication, I feel, that the women of our country are beginning the serious task of raising their political consciousness, their political level and understanding and of seeing the importance of being here, of hosting in our country a conference to which they have invited people from the Caribbean and indeed from parts of North America; and I believe this is also a reflection of the internationalist approach that our country will increasingly be taking over the next few months and years.
The programme, as I look at it, indicates that there are a number of very important subjects that will be discussed over the next few days — subjects that will have relevance to helping the women of our country and of the Caribbean to better identify their role in society, to better identify the problems which as women they face and to begin to pose solutions to those problems.
We know that historically there have been many reasons for the exploitation of the women. The domination by the make started from fairly early times and was a product of the fact that the man at a very early period of history looked round him and said: “this is my cow, this is my goat, this is my pig”.
In other words, he began to identify property for himself and in no time at all he also turned around and said: “this is my woman”.
And of course, the reason for that was to ensure that an heir to whom he could pass his property was produced. In other words, the woman was essentially meant to serve the interests of the generation that he was fathering and the main significance during that early period of the woman was as an instrument; if I may use such a crude term, of child-bearing for the purpose of ensuring that property was passed on.
The exploitation of the woman which can be seen from these early days was evident indeed with all states and all epochs of history; all the great modes of production known to mankind have seen the exploitation of women continuing.
Just as in the days of slavery, the women’s main function was to produce children so that the slave master would have more human labour that he could exploit; so today in some parts of the world that situation continues.
And just as in the period of feudalism that woman continued to be an object and symbol of exploitation, this time of sexual exploitation in that the Lord of the Manor had the first right to sleep with any new wife before the husband himself had this right.
Today, we can see this level of exploitation of the woman continuing in different parts of the world. Again, under the system of capitalism where the interests of capital and profit demand that there is always a large army of unemployed people to act as a reserve pool of labour for business and for capital, the woman is always at the bottom of that ladder being the last to be hired and the first to be fired.
This historical exploitation, Sisters, Brothers and Comrades, has both a subjective aspect and an objective aspect.
In the subjective side, it has to do with the habits, the values, the ideas, the culture that has been handed down right from the earliest days. We look at the Bible, for example, and it speaks of the Trinity, and the Trinity is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, all presumably being members of the same sex.
The woman herself in the Bible is said to have come from the body of man and therefore even in the Bible, perhaps unconsciously, there was the beginning of the characterisation of the woman in an inferior role. But we have it further. The Church today is still a little slow in accepting the idea that woman can also be priests and indeed perhaps be good priests.
The woman continues to take the man’s name; only in few societies do you have a situation where the first surname of a child is the name of the father and the second surname if the name of the mother.
In most societies around the world only the man’s name is relevant. The child indeed, can only inherit from the mother if he is born out of wedlock and the reason for that is to ensure that the father’s precious property is not passed on to apparent undesirables.
In the realm of the monarch there is always a preference for the male so even if the queen or king had six girls first they had to wait for the seventh child, a male to take the precedence before they could hope to have a successor to the crown.
The woman’s right to vote is equally circumscribed in many countries. Indeed in Grenada, up until last year you had a situation where juries were unequally made up — a man could become a juror at age 21, but a woman had to wait until age 30.
The presumptions apparently being that the woman was too underdeveloped and too fickle to pass serious judgement on a curse case or in a case where somebody cuts somebody else. That fortunately has been changed.
You should observe also, that if a woman has to travel she must first of all get permission from her husband before she can take up permanent residence; but I have never heard of a case where a man has to apply to his wife for permission to migrate.
Separation agreements are something that lawyers know a lot about. There is a clause in these separation agreements which in Latin is referred to as the Dumcasta Clause.
Dumcasta Sola and what this means is that the wife can continue to receive alimony and maintenance and payments for as long as she remains chaste, but I have never heard of a man having to remain chaste in order to meet his own obligations.
The very language that we speak on a day-to-day basis reflects the unequal status of the woman. We speak of a ‘Chairman’ and a ‘Foreman’ and such like and usually it is to the exclusion again of the women in our society.
The women indeed is generally regarded as being inferior by many men and unfortunately by many women themselves who have also not learnt of the importance of fighting these bad cultural values, bad habits and prejudices and allow themselves to be abused.
They allow themselves to be molested by men without showing sufficient respect for themselves so as to call up the man when he makes mistakes like for example comparing her to a Coca Cola bottle; you know, she looks good, figure 8, the sex mechanic business; the kitchen business; the so-called housewife where the housewife is supposedly to be an unimportant person in society but essentially is supposed to be somebody who stays at home to wash the wares; to make up the bed and to wait for the husband when he come in late at nights.
Indeed, most men do not even reward that function with a housekeeping allowance and if the women is fortunate enough to have a job at the same time but unable to hire help, when she comes home from work the housekeeping is hers to do without any sharing whatsoever from the husband.
But apart from these subjective factors there are very serious objective factors that have limited the development and the growth of the woman in class society, in the social system that we have where everyone is exploited for profits.
We find for example, that there are no day care centres so, even if the woman is lucky enough to find a job, there is no place where she can leave the children at home on order to go out to do that job and at the same time feel reasonably confident that, when she gets back home after work, the child would have been well looked after. The business of day care centres therefore is a serious objective factor in limiting the mobility of our women in countries like Grenada. The business also of nursery schools is a serious limiting factor.
The business of educational qualifications among many of the women in our country and indeed most of the countries of the exploited Third World is another cause for alarm because it means that if you are not suitable qualified for particular jobs you are going to be sorted always into a particular kind of mould.
There are some figures which I came across a few days ago indicating that among the member states of UNESCO there are something like 740 million people around the world who are illiterate and something like 70% of that figure is made up of women.
The vast majority of these women come from Africa, and other parts of the Third World. This indicates two very important facts; one, that the woman continues to be dominated and exploited and two secondly, that the Third World continues in particular to be ravaged and exploited to be raped of all its resources while those who take those resources away continue to develop their own countries; their own culture; their own educational standards without leaving anything behind.
The lack of community boundaries, the lack of pipe-borne water, all these too are the very serious limiting objective factors in ensuring that our women have time to do more things.
Obviously if you have to spend half day washing by hand when there are things called washing machines and they can be provided for the use of the community, then a lot of your time is going to be wasted.
If you have to spend the whole day sweeping when you could perhaps use a vacuum cleaner or if you have to cook on a coalpot when there are things called pressure cookers and gas stoves which would mean that you can cook a lot more quickly, much invaluable time is wasted.
All of these factors do reduce the amount of time that women find for developing themselves, for developing their undoubted skills and talents, for further educating and qualifying themselves in order to serve a more relevant role in society.
The question of maternity leave is another serious problem. I am ashamed to say that in the Civil Service in Grenada the women are not allowed maternity leave with pay. Indeed, the International Labour Organization [ILO], one of the treaties that we are about to sign requires that women are given three months leave with full pay, one month before the expected birth of the child and two months afterwards.
But, in our country apparently that is totally unimportant, totally disregarded and the women who find themselves bearing children would have to take a week or so off and then perhaps another few weeks off and rush back out with all the attendant disadvantages that child raising involves.
There is also the question of equal pay for equal work and we find that in Grenada up to three months ago it was not even proclaimed that the woman had the right to equality of pay.
Once she was going the same work as the man she has a right to receive the same pay. Of course, it suited everybody in the system not to challenge that because wherever you look round you find that women are engaged in an occupation.
Whether it is in the banks, whether it is on the roads, whether it is on the estates or food farms, you find that the same practice obtains. For doing exactly the same work as her male counterpart, she has to receive perhaps 50 or 60 percent of the pay.
Precisely because it is well known that most of our people are unemployed many employers have chosen to exploit that situation and to take women from out of the country areas, bring them into the towns, offer them jobs in stores, tell them they will get $150,00 or $160.00 a month, and at the end of the month give them in fact $80.00.
If they choose to complain what they turn around and say to them is that: “there are many more like you outside there so I don’t care”. That sort of exploitation has continued.
The combination of the lack of technological facilities and other amenities together with the economic dependence of the woman has led to a certain insecurity, a certain frustration, has led to a certain destruction of the personality of the women.
This, of course, has also meant that many women have been forced to suffer from unhappy relationships because the man will always turn around and say: “well you could go if you want”.
But, of course, the question is if you go, where is the money going to come from? If you go, where is the housing going to come from? Is you go, where are the jobs going to come from?
In other words, by denying the woman the right to jobs, the right to decent pay, the right to equality in many of the economic areas of activity it has also confined the woman almost to a perpetual state of insecurity.
It is only when we move to change these subjective and objective conditions that the condition of the woman in our society is going to improve. The reason for these problems is the particular social system which exploits all of us, man and woman.
Because of this system, we find this exploitation continuing and therefore the real answer in the final analysis is that we must move, we must organise — united as men and women — organise to change the social system and to create a new social system that would indeed ensure freedom and equality for all of us.
Any serious society and any serious government must move to begin that change and we feel that the most important beginning is when conscious, organised, and united women themselves take the initiative in beginning to identify their problems.
You think of it, there is no uniformity, there is no homogeneity when you speak of the woman; you could be talking about the young woman; you could e talking about the student woman; you could be talking about the peasant woman; you could be talking about the agricultural estate workers; you could be talking about the urban workers; you could be talking about the professional woman; you could be talking about the unemployed woman; you could be talking about the housewife; you could be talking about the domestic who is a woman.
In that kind of situation, it is obvious that the best people to begin the process of thinking about what are the problems and their possible solutions must be the women themselves.
Therefore, we are particularly happy that the women of our country united with their Caribbean counterparts and their international counterparts have begun this very important process of trying to identify what are the problems facing our women in Grenada; of trying to identify a serious and relevant role for the women in our country and of beginning to pose solutions to those problems.
It is clear, however, that having found the problems and having identified the solutions that these solutions can only come into effect, can only be brought about if there is unity of man and woman in the attempt to try to solve the problems that have been identified.
The woman cannot do it by herself; the man cannot do it by himself. It is by the combination of men and women together attempting to build a new process; to build a new society; to build a new civilization; attempting to produce more; attempting to find the new value systems to identify ideas and new ways of pushing our country forward, it is only if we achieve this unity of the man and the woman that we would be able to move forward.
I know there are some women, particularly in North America, who feel that the enemy is the man and some of them have begun to go around half naked, calling that liberation, and others have begun to say that to liberate themselves it is necessary for them to stamp on the man.
I do not believe that the women of our country will accept this solution. I do not believe that the women who are going to be speaking here for the next few days, and Sister Kirkwood who would be speaking here tonight, will accept that solution, because it is clear that there is a common enemy that faces both man and woman.
That common enemy is identifiable and we can fight that common enemy together and it is only when we have fought and smashed the common enemy that we are going to have the liberation of the women. Without the liberation of the woman there cannot be the liberation of the man, so man also has the responsibility of pushing for the liberation of our women.
The People’s Revolutionary Government, Sisters and Brothers, since our coming into being (only three months ago) cannot pretend that we have done anything in a serious way at this point, to solve the objective problems facing the women in our society.
We have, however, done a number of things to assist in eradicating some of the subjective difficulties tied up with old habits and old culture and old prejudices that women and men have.
We have also begun to make certain proclamations. There are proclamations of intent which we intend to follow up and which we believe will go some way towards dealing with some of these problems.
First and foremost, we have proclaimed the principle of equal pay for equal work and we have made it clear that our position is going to be that whenever and at whatever level in our society where the woman does exactly the same work as the man, then she must receive the same pay as the man.
Secondly, we have proclaimed the principle of maternity leave. I cannot tonight give details of how we will legislate this principle. I cannot speak of whether it is going to be full salary or half salary or whether it might be two months only in the first instance with an option to take another month of unpaid leave or what, because these are economic questions in part and we are going to have to sit down with the experts to look to see what the costs of such a development might be.
What we have done and what we will not flinch from is the proclamation of the principle because we feel the principle itself is what is important and we can move from that to begin to identify possibilities existent in our situation for realistic implementation.
We have also issued directives that any minister or civil servant who chooses to engage in the old practice of the sexual exploitation of our women for work – you remember the old practice that used to exist up to a few months ago where the women were sent from hand to hand in exchange for a job? – we have made it clear that anyone caught engaging in that practice will be immediately dismissed and we are very serious about that.
In the Ministry of Education and Social Affairs, a Women’s Desk has been established and it is our hope that his Desk will be able to monitor and organise improved rights for our women.
I wish to suggest eight important functions that we expect the Women’s Desk to carry out in the interest of the women of our country.
1. We would expect the Women’s Desk to be involved in looking at the laws and constitutions, setting up committees which can do that with a view to seeing which laws can be amended, which laws can be improved, which laws must be changed so as to ensure equality at least on the Statute Book.
2. We would expect them to make sure that the Government adopts the 1969 Resolution of the United Nations on the discrimination of women and look seriously at other charters of the United Nations in which the question of women’s rights have been raised and discussed.
3. We would expect them to actively fight and struggle to get representation on all relevant planning bodies at the national and international level so that they will have a voice, they will have an input in every important area, so that they will be in a position to struggle t all times for the rights of women in our country.
4. We would expect them to continue to monitor the progress that the Government has made in its declarations of policy to ensure that the Law and its practice at all time approximate, to make sure that the Government itself at all times actively strives to implement those declarations and those proclamations that we have made with regard to the women in our society.
5. We would expect the Women’s Desk to also be involved in the organisation of the women in our country, to create different bodies, women’s bodies and other bodies that can help to set up guidelines and give advice and channel the energy and creativity of our women into productive work.
6. We would expect them to make sure that the women of our country are participating in decision-making at all levels in the Government and in society.
7. We would expect them to get the women around the country to organise themselves to make sure that certain basic social services and basic amenities are provided. I refer, of course, to pipe borne water. I refer to improving educational facilities. I refer to the question of housing, the question of child care, the question of day care centres. In all of these critical areas it would be the job of the Women’s Desk to make sure that that practice is not lagging too far behind promises and behind declarations and proclamations.
8. And finally, improving the area of community development. Community development is, of course, a job that is going to be very important for both our women and men to be involved in, given that the country has inherited a situation of bankruptcy, given that we are not going to be able overnight, to get many of the facilities and amenities that we would like to have.
It must mean that the job of the people of our country is going to have to include, in part, a great deal of self-reliant and independent activity. We are going to have to try to develop a new attitude that says that is a community building needs fixing that the answer is not to rush down to Bro. Strachan in the Ministry of Communications and Works and say that we need a community building in Maran.
The answer must first and foremost be to organise the people of that area to see what skills can be provided, to see what materials can be found, and then going down to Bro. Strachan and say:
well look, we are from Maran, we have this committee, we have found these materials, we have these human resources, what we want from you is some more cement, some more lumber and together we are going to be able to repair that Community Centre
That sort of development would be of the greatest importance.
So Sister Chairperson at the risk of having spoken too long, I want to thank you again for the opportunity of opening this Conference.
I want once again to particularly welcome our distinguished overseas guests and friends. We are happy to have them — we are happy to have them because we are always pleased when our neighbours from the Caribbean countries come to our shores in Grenada, because we are also always pleased when progressive women and men come to Grenada to help us to define a role for our Revolution, help us to define a role for the making of the new Caribbean man and woman.
We are also happy to have them here because we believe that once they have seen what is happening in our country, when they return to their respective countries, they will be able to assist us in smashing false rumours; in smashing the lies and slander being spread against the Revolutionary process taking place in our country because they have seen.
They will be in a position to say: “That is not true, we went to Grenada, we know what is happening in Grenada”.
And we believe that they will recognise it as their duty and responsibility to assist our Revolution in smashing these lies and exposing these people who are spreading lies, these people who are spreading rumours, these people who are out to destabilise and confuse our population and our people.
Therefore, Sisters and Brothers, once again, on your behalf I declare this conference formally open and I ask you to join me in a very solid round of applause for the St. George’s Progressive Women’s Association, and for our distinguished overseas guests.
LONG LIVE THE EQUALITY OF WOMEN!
LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTIONARY GRENADIAN AND CARIBBEAN WOMEN!
LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!
FORWARD EVER, BACKWARD NEVER!