Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Tuesday, April 29, 2003  

Patrick Manning's already bloated cabinet is set to get even bigger with his announcement yesterday that a new minister, the 26th, will soon be appointed to government. Not only that, but the new minister will be a woman.

The prime minister made the announcement yesterday at a women's conference. Does he honestly believe such blatant politicking and tokenism will fool anyone, least of all women? Of course he does, and it probably will.

The new minister is set to take up some useless portfolio within the finance ministry, which is of course Manning's ministry - he'll be able to keep his eye on her, and make sure she doesn't get up to mischief. Not that he'd need to; any would-be minister in any T&T government these days is carefully screened to make sure they will toe the party line, which is the most important (sometimes only) qualification one needs.

Manning claims that women in T&T have access to the highest offices. Well of course they do, in the sense that gender discrimination is unconstitutional, and women have equal right to any office. But they certainly don't have equal opportunity. Manning knows this. And he is being disingenuous when he says women have equal access to political office as men.

A woman has never held any of the really substantial/lucrative government portfolios in this country: finance, energy, public utilities or trade. It's always been women's affairs (naturally), culture, sport, and of course education - the ministry where the PM's wife just happens to be.

But if Manning is being insincere when it comes to women and political office, he's just plain ignorant when it comes to the issue of abuse against women. "When women aspire and achieve some level of financial growth and independence, they become victims of physical and physiological abuses by insecure men," he said at yesterday's conference, repeating an assertion he made some time ago and for which he was taken to task by various commentators. He doesn't seemed to have listened. All the available data shows that by and large women who achieve levels of empowerment are able to get away from, or will not submit to, abusive relationships; it is the financially dependent woman who is more likely to remain in such a situation.

Manning's actions and his ignorance are nothing new, not for him, or the majority of our politicians. He certainly isn't to bear the blame for the disparity in gender equality in this country, not that he's doing anything truly effective about it. What is worrying though, is that many women - MPs, government senators and social activists of a certain political persuasion - who should be leading the charge to effect real change, won't and will be happy to allow themselves and those they claim to represent to be patronised by the prime minister; simply because, to put it politely, he is "one of them". Anyone who doubts this should have a look at the offensive photograph, from yesterday's conference, on the op-ed page of today's Express: a smiling Manning with his hand on the chin of feminist Hazel Brown, with this telling caption by the Express writer: "Ah could have you eating out of meh hand, anytime."

posted by Jonathan | 10:06 AM 0 comments


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