Good morning, everyone.
Welcome to AMCHAM T&T’s 8th Women’s Leadership Conference and thank you for joining us virtually today as we seek to celebrate and elevate the voices of women in our society and around the world.
AMCHAM T&T has proudly hosted this conference every year in commemoration of International Women’s Day because we believe that by supporting and highlighting the barriers to the progress of women, we are doing our part towards creating a gender-equal world. Not only does this make good economic sense, but, more importantly, it is the right thing to do.
Before I go further, I want to take a moment to acknowledge this year’s exceptional and accomplished speakers. Each offers a wealth of knowledge and experience that I am sure will provide insights into many of the problems that hinder women’s progress and growth in society.
I also want to thank the companies and NGOs that are joining us today for all the work they have done to bring increased awareness to these issues and for their sponsorship and participation in this year's conference.
Today a lot of our conversations will be centred around this year’s IWD theme: “Break The Bias”. This refers to the many individual and institutional challenges that place a limit on the progress women can make, and the factors that restrict their right to fairness, justice, and equality in society.
Despite the gains we have made in recent years, there is still so much more work that needs to be done. Right now, issues such as the pandemic, climate change, and geopolitical conflicts are undermining the progress women have made and threatening their lives and livelihoods around the world.
Women on the frontlines of the pandemic have faced disproportionate impacts in employment, education, healthcare, and gender-based violence.
Women on the frontlines of climate change impacts face an increased risk of extreme poverty.
Women on the frontlines of escalating global tensions are displaced, disinherited, and impoverished as either widows or refugees and are easy targets for crimes such as rape, sexual torture, and sexual exploitation.
As women, we know these issues very well because this has been our reflection both in the rearview mirror as well as the vision we have for our futures every time we choose to speak up, challenge, and demand better for our lives.
The question is how are we going to achieve this?
Today we are asked to Break The Bias. So often when we are dealing with problems with marginalized groups, we fail to acknowledge their existence or their problems. We must change this! Therefore,
Breaking the Bias means rooting out negative stereotypes and prejudices against women.
Breaking the Bias means calling out sexism, protecting women from gender-based violence, and ending discrimination by both men and women.
Breaking the Bias means investing in diversity policies to create more inclusive and equitable spaces.
Breaking the Bias means reflecting on what may be our own unconscious bias and examining how this manifests so that we can prevent it from reoccurring.
Breaking the Bias means having honest conversations about these issues and working together to create a gender-equal world. And that is what today’s conference is all about.
Perhaps a starting point would be to look at how we address gender-based violence in our society. If the 1,757 cases of domestic violence reported by the Victim and Witness Support Unit during the period January 2020 to November 2021 can be used an an indicator – it tells us that this is a problem for us all. More than likely, we all know someone who is a victim of gender-based violence.
With one case being too many, we need to take ownership of this problem. No longer must this be seen as a job only for law enforcement and NGOs. Here’s where the private sector can lead.
AMCHAM T&T’s Anti-Gender Based Violence Initiative with our partners at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) is an initiative that seeks to prevent Gender Based Violence and abuse in the workplace by helping companies develop a workplace policy that supports employees who are survivors of Gender Based Violence. The initiative has proven worthwhile with
• 95% of participants indicating that the prevalence of violence against women affects workplace productivity and,
• 66% said they wanted their companies to do more to address gender-based violence against women in the workplace.
Yet, so far participation rates have been disappointing. We need more companies to step up and take the lead on this very important issue. Get in contact with us and let’s bring an end to Gender Based Violence!
Leadership on this issue from the private sector can also begin with addressing our workplace culture and strategy at tackling violence and harassment. We should also ensure we have clear reporting procedures and grievance mechanisms to take action when needed.
Additional steps would require us to align anti-Gender Based Violence policies with our core business objectives to change societal norms and behaviours on gender-based violence, sexual harassment and other unacceptable behavious.
That means stopping the sexualization and objectification of women in the workplace. This is where men can lead by holding each other accountable. When sexism occurs: See It, Name It, Stop It! It’s that simple!
Ultimately, what all of this comes down to is investing in better diversity and inclusion policies since so much of the disparity that women face are experienced in the workplace. It begins in our recruitment and hiring processes and goes all the way to the opportunities, or lack thereof, for the promotion and advancement of women. The limited options we provide send the message that women are inferior, undeserving, and powerless. Perhaps that’s why 50% or half of the total companies currently listed on the T&T Stock Exchange have a board consisting of less than 25% female directors. This has to change.
This is 2022! Surely you know competent women who can serve on boards. If you don’t, ask around. We can help. After all, there are more women currently on the AMCHAM T&T Board than men - all of whom are extremely competent.
But it’s not just about creating a space at the table and making women feel they should be grateful for this seat. It’s about investing in women’s potential that creates more opportunities. It’s about placing value on their contributions. So let’s look forward to seeing more of our country’s boards being comprised of multiple women and not just the token one!
Now is the time to lead if we really want to break the bias. The government has made progress through recent amendments to the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act, the creation of the Gender-Based Violence Unit (GBVU) in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and through ongoing debates to amend the Sexual Offences Act which will widen protections for women who are victims of digital-based offenses.
In this context of widening social and economic inequalities, we need to urge governments to use budgets as a tool to achieve social justice objectives concurrently with economic objectives. Therefore, we can promote gender equality by incorporating a gender perspective at all levels of our budgetary process, including restructuring revenues and expenditures. These objectives must be clearly defined and measurable with reporting on progress year on year. Imagine if we were doing this all along. We would have already started to enforce provisions that cater to the experience of women’s and men’s lives in national budgets to advance gender equity, rather than reinforce existing inequalities.
I am sure our expert speakers will be covering these issues in their discussions later today. Conferences like this are necessary but it’s just a start. What we need is a more sustained and coordinated effort by all interest groups to recognize that these problems not only exist but to acknowledge that they leave many victims.
So, let’s take what we have learned today back to our offices and to our leaders and let’s work together to create a gender-equal world that values, uplifts, and respects both women and men.
Let’s redefine leadership to make it more welcoming to more voices, more opinions, and more opportunities.
Let’s promote greater diversity and inclusion to fulfil the promise of equality.
Let’s celebrate our distinct differences so that we choose love over hate every time
Let’s break the bias to protect the freedoms and human rights of all our citizens.
I thank you very much and I really hope you enjoy and gain value out of today’s conference.
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