Redefining our male-centred culture
Dr Charmaine Crawford is head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies – Nita Barrow Unit at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
A graduate of York University in Toronto, Canada where she was enrolled in the Graduate Studies Women’s Programme, Dr Crawford over the years has written books, articles and reports dealing with various aspects of gender issues in the Caribbean.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I sat down with her to conduct an interview to gain insights into the history, background and thinking behind this special observance which seeks to draw global attention to issues affecting women.
According to Dr Crawford, International Women’s Day has its origins in protests staged by female garment workers in the United States during the previous two centuries for better wages and working conditions. She noted that, for her, “the history of International Women’s Day supplants the fact that women have always had to work to support their families but at the same time they were standing up [against] injustices that were happening to them around that period.”
She looks forward to International Women’s Day as it is a time to celebrate the achievements women have made in their society and households. However, it is also a time to protest in order to get across the message that more still needs to be done in terms of ensuring women are protected from violence.
Dr Crawford believes more can be done in Barbados to address women’s issues to bring about a “shrinkage of the gender gap” where wages are concerned and also to bring about change in how women are seen in relation to men.
She acknowledged that Government has been making strides to improve women’s rights as they have signed on to various international treaties. However, she contends more needs to be done at the national level. She points, for example, to the need for sexual harassment legislation not only here in Barbados but other CARICOM states as well.
She also called for more public education and awareness to advance women’s issues at the primary, secondary and tertiary level of the education system and also within the civil service, the Royal Barbados Police Force as well as the judiciary. She said our culture needs to be refined to remove what can be described as “the privilege [of males] to dictate a woman’s body with the remark that ‘it is our culture’.
“. . . It is not our culture. We have made it into our culture and we need to change this, especially the overt sexualization of our young women . . . where it has reached the point that young men now believe that engaging in sexual practices at a young age means that they have defined their masculinity,” she said.
The redefining of society is one of the things that the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the UWI, Cave Hill is spearheading through research on gender and sexual equality; gender-based violence as well as their outreach programmes. The institute has a significant role in policies that are implemented not only in Barbados but regionally as well.
When asked how she embraces the International Women’s Day theme of Be Bold, she mentioned that, for her, being bold means not being afraid to stand up for something that you believe in even if you are in a minority. She had some encouraging advice for young people, especially teens.
“Be aware of who you are as an individual, be aware of your social surroundings and involvement. In addition, also be passionate about what you are doing and also be adaptable and flexible. Also be comfortable in who you are as an individual,” she said, also emphasizing the importance of education.