Ministerial Statement: International Women’s Day 2021
Mr. Speaker, as a woman and Minister responsible for Human Rights it is my privilege to stand before this Honourable House today, the 8th of March, to acknowledge the annual celebration of International Women’s Day. Historically this day is observed globally with the aim to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Mr. Speaker, throughout our 408 years of history Bermuda has been governed by 145 male Governors. On the 14th December 2020, history was made when the first woman, Her Excellency, Ms. Rena Lalgie was sworn in as Governor. As a country we must take this opportunity to reflect and give homage to the countless achievements made by numerous women in our community that have paved the path for all Bermudians.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize some of these women throughout our history who have been instrumental in our community in setting a precedent for gender equality. Firstly, I want to acknowledge the women who sit alongside me in this Honourable House as Members of the Legislature namely:
The Honorable Renee Ming, JP, MP, the first woman to hold the position of Minister of National Security.
The Honourable Kathy-Lynn Simmons, JP, MP, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform.
The Honourable Kim Wilson, JP, MP Minister of Health
Crystal Caesar, JP, MP
Lovitta Foggo, JP, MP and
Ianthia Simmons-Wade, JP, MP.
Susan Jackson, JP, MP is the only woman currently sitting as a Member of the Opposition.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to show appreciation to the women who sit as Members of the Senate namely:
The Honourable Joan E. Dillas-Wright, President of the Senate
Michelle Simmons, Vice President of the Senate
Arianna Hodgson, Junior Minister of Community Affairs and Sport and Labour
Lindsay Simmons, Junior Minister of Social Development and Seniors and Home Affairs
Robin Tucker, Shadow Minister for Social Development and Seniors.
Mr. Speaker, secondly we cannot forget about our political trailblazers who graced this Houourable House and provided a perspective that can only be seen from their life experiences as a woman:
Hilda Aitken and Edna Watson, (deceased) became the first women elected to the House of Assembly.
Dame Lois Browne-Evans, DEB, JP, (deceased) the first woman barrister, first black woman to be elected to the House of Assembly, first woman Leader of the Opposition in the British Commonwealth and Bermuda’s first Attorney-General.
Dr. Barbara Ball, MRCS, LRCP, OBE, (deceased) the first woman physician to practice in Bermuda, Member of Parliament, and social activist. During segregation Dr. Ball provided medical care for both black and white patients. She ignored the social norms and fought for the civil rights of black Bermudians.
Dame Pamela F. Gordon, DBE, served as Premier from March 1997 until November 1998.
Dame Jennifer Smith, DEB, JP, DHumL, first Progressive Labour Party Premier, the first woman to sit in Senate and the first woman to be the Deputy Speaker and the first PLP Education Minister.
Paula Cox, CBE, former Premier that served from October 28th 2010 to 21st December 2012.
Mr. Speaker, thirdly I give recognition to women within our community who are leaders in various professions outside of politics. Some of these women are no longer physically here with us today while others are amongst us on this 110th International Women’s Day. These women include:
Mary Prince (deceased), was the first black woman to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament and was author to the first slave narrative written by a black woman entitled, The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave.
Gladys Misick Morrell (deceased), leader of the women’s suffrage society and co-founder of the welfare society, which established the district nursing services. She advocated for women’s voting rights in Bermuda for over 30 years.
Dr. Eva Hodgson (deceased), activist, educator, writer and union leader who was the first president of the Amalgamated Bermuda Union of Teachers.
Ruth Thomas, MBE, a teacher and education administrator who helped create Bermuda’s first government preschools, the first cultural affairs officer who has strived over the years to preserve the history and traditions of Bermuda and the founding trustee of Bermuda National Gallery.
Laverne Furbert, JP (deceased), former Government Senator, stalwart of the Bermuda Industrial Union, and an advocate for social justice and equality.
Keeva Joel-Benjamin, the first woman to act as Commissioner of Prisons.
Jessica Lewis, the first Bermudian woman Paralympian who competes in wheelchair track. She has represented Bermuda in the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Cindy Clarke, the first Bermudian woman to be Director of Public Prosecutions, she has dedicated 21 years to the Department of Public Prosecutions making her the longest serving prosecutor.
Mr. Speaker, no matter what barriers these women faced, they all endeavored to make a change to the status-quo. As I speak of their achievements and reflect on the celebration of IWD it is important for me to acknowledge that much work remains to be done to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women within our community.
Mr. Speaker, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women referred to as CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 19th 1979, coming into force as a treaty on December 3rd 1981. CEDAW is the landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women globally. CEDAW is often referred to as the ‘women’s bill of rights’ which provides a comprehensive framework to address gender equality.
Mr. Speaker, today, CEDAW is one of the most widely endorsed human rights treaties and has been ratified or acceded to by 189 countries to date, including the United Kingdom (UK) who signed the treaty in July 1981 and ratified CEDAW in 1986. Three British Overseas Territories, namely British Virgin Islands; Turks & Caicos Islands; and the Falkland Islands, had the Convention extended in 1986. Two further Overseas Territories, Anguilla and Cayman Islands, had CEDAW extended in March 2016. On March 16th 2017, CEDAW was extended to Bermuda.
Mr. Speaker, the articles of the Convention fall into three main groups: the first set of articles explains the nature and scope of the state’s obligations; the second set of articles targets specific forms of discrimination and outlines measure that the state must undertake to eliminate discrimination in each of these areas; and the last set of articles governs procedural and administrative matters, including the CEDAW reporting process.
Mr. Speaker, the Convention defines discrimination against women as
“…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
Mr. Speaker, the CEDAW Committee recognizes sexual harassment as a form of violence against women. With this in mind the Government has taken appropriate measures under the Employment Amendment Act 2020, which will come into operation on June 1st to eliminate sexual harassment against women in the field of employment by proposing legislation that requires employers to provide a clear and written policy statement against bullying and sexual harassment in his place of employment.
Mr. Speaker, in order to assist organizations that provide support services to women the Government has allocated funding in the budget for fiscal year 2021/22. The Women’s Resource Centre whose mission is to be the leading resource and voice for women in Bermuda and for Bermuda to be a community free of inequality and sexism, where women are emotionally and physically healthy; safe; confident and able to realize their potential. A grant in the amount of $100,000 will assist this charity to continue to support women in all facets of their lives.
Mr. Speaker, the second grant allocation in the amount of $150,000 will be given to Centre Against Abuse to carry out their mission to provide crisis support services to male and female victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault; and to educate the community by providing building blocks for healthy relationships. This Government is pleased to support organizations that empower women and enhance their lives.
Mr. Speaker, this Government remains committed to improving the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women to ensure women and girls enjoy the same access to opportunities, benefits and protections in every aspect of life as their male counterparts do.
Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Social Development and Seniors and on behalf of the Government of Bermuda I would like to take this opportunity to wish the women within our community and globally a Happy International Women’s Day and I encourage them to #ChooseToChallenge.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.