[Opinion column written by Liana Hall]
This past Saturday, at the Bermuda Industrial Union’s International Women’s Day tea, I heard immense words of wisdom from the speakers.
One would imagine that such knowledge and insight would come from decades of personal experience in the Bermuda of old and extensive research of our island’s history. However, these speakers were all teenagers.
I must commend the BIU for reaching across the generational divide to allow these women a platform. The keynote speakers, Latifa Smith and Rakaya Simmons, were joined by Tae-Eje Bean at the podium.
These three are beyond inspiring; they had the courage to address a room of impressive women, all of whom have been active in the labour movement. They accepted the invitation to speak, not just allowing the torch to be passed to them, but to grasp it with fervour.
They spoke of their concerns for Bermuda, the issues facing Bermudian women and the need for Bermudian history to be a priority in the school curriculum.
They spoke of showing up and standing up and asked, no demanded, all women present to encourage their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to become activists. They put words into action and put the theme of this year’s women’s day into practice: they were and continue to be bold for change.
Their speeches solidified my enthusiasm for the Progressive Labour Party Women’s Caucus. At our launch event this Saturday at the BIU Building all women, no matter their age, race, economic status, or political affiliation are welcome.
We women are activists, not necessarily because we actively pursue this role, but because circumstances dictate that we must be. Women every day are fighting to be heard in the boardroom, in child custody and support cases, in prison, in their own homes, in parliament. We are fighting just by showing up. By showing up, day after day, in often very adverse conditions, we are standing up.
Our Women’s Caucus is grounded in the grassroots. This is where true activism occurs, because strength comes from adversity. In our healthcare system, a woman who gives birth without insurance is faced with a bill of over $5000 [provided there are no epidurals, no complications and no hospital stays beyond two days]. This is a burden men do not face.
The OBA pledged in 2012 to “reduce healthcare costs”. Over four years later, these costs have risen, squeezing employers and employees alike and forcing employers to reduce coverage or let employees go. Without employment, a woman likely has no health insurance. Without employment how does a mother feed her children?
As the Public Relations Officer for the PLP it is my duty to discuss what the next PLP Government will do about this. In our Reply to the Throne Speech last year we reintroduced our National Health Plan, a progressive way to reduce health care costs for Bermudians. A PLP government will revisit this plan and look to reintroducing it.
However, I want to be clear that the Women’s Caucus will not exist solely to push the current plans. We want to hear from women across the island, to discover their needs, their wishes, their hopes for Bermuda, and their proposed solutions.
In 2000, the PLP guaranteed eight weeks of paid maternity leave. Now, sixteen years later, we hope to extend this to thirteen weeks and make allowances for paternity leave. However, for an issue like this, women must be consulted. Statistics and numbers should not determine how and when a mother or father can bond with her child. A parent decides that.
A stereotype throughout the world shows an addict and alcoholic to be a street-dwelling, older man. Women are just as likely to fall victim to addiction as men. Addition does not discriminate based on age, sex or economic status. Yet, there is no drug treatment program at the co-ed prison which holds women, while they operate at Westgate [admittedly in a limited and intermittent capacity].
A comprehensive drug treatment program is required for all, not just the stereotype we see, but the mothers, the daughters, the aunts, those who are homeless, those who are not.
The next PLP government will re-evaluate the services available to persons who may be struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism. I am encouraged, as a person who struggles with mental illness personally, that my party will also provide dual diagnosis services for those persons who are affected both by addiction and alcoholism and by mental illness in prison and residential treatment. This cannot, however, end there.
In the community is where we begin and where we end. The Women’s Caucus recognises that the needs for women can differ from the needs of men and the PLP’s plan for a comprehensive review of inpatient and outpatient mental health services in Bermuda with a view towards making progressive reform will include these considerations.
The OBA cuts to financial assistance disproportionately affect women because women are far more likely to be the head of single parent households. Our families are more in need than ever and, while access to exact figures is difficult, the large exodus of Bermudians has included many single women and their children. They are Bermudians and belong in Bermuda. We must help them return.
Gulfstream has become a dirty word. The residents are the hidden and the forgotten and women suffer more. With the children’s playrooms closed for over a year, there is no indoor play area. The men’s facility includes washers and dryers, yet the women – most of whom must wash their children’s clothes – are provided one unit locked in a staffroom.
Why are women, who care for so many, not cared for? We stand behind our young black men, we stand beside other women who are discriminated in work by virtue of their sex, we stand for our children at T. N. Tatem when their health is being put at risk. Who stands for us? Well, we do for each other, because we must. We do not ask for permission to pave our own way.
With 2000 jobs lost over the last four years, we cannot ignore the fact that women are included in that number. There is much focus on the loss of construction jobs and young black men who are unemployed and rightly so.
But, in that drive to repair this, we cannot continue for women to be the forgotten. Our struggles are just as important. If we do not face the issues that affect women, we will continue to raise our girls and boys to be disenfranchised. A community of hurt is a community that will not thrive.
If you’re a woman and want to hear more or contribute ideas, I encourage you to attend the PLP Women’s Caucus launch event this Saturday, March 18th at the BIU Building at 11:00am. Children are most welcome.
- Liana Hall
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