A respected, social commentator once opined that ???half the world doesn’t know how the other lives, but that isn’t the half that’s made up of women’.

Most members of the fairer sex might argue, albeit subjectively, that is a self-evident truth; and conversely, the other gender might present the alternative view.

Whatever the reasoning, Barbados and the region may discover the validity of that theory within another three weeks or so. That is when scores of senior public officials, representatives of civil society, several non-government organisations and partner agencies from the Commonwealth converge here and put their collective minds together, as they aim to advance those issues that influence the development of women in the 54 member grouping.

Of course, the vast majority of those attending will be women, who would readily?? affirm that they know for sure how their counterparts live, function and cope in other parts of the world, particularly in the Commonwealth; and they would be pressing to ameliorate their lot.

So, as preparations for the Ninth Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (WAMM) continue in earnest, the eyes of the world will again be on Barbados, this time during the June 7 to 9 forum at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

Among the many issues which are expected to come to the fore are the impact of the current global financial crisis on women, and how new funding mechanisms can make females agents of change in the economic recovery effort.

According to the Commonwealth Secretariat, this meeting, with its theme "Gender Issues in Economic Crisis, Recovery and Beyond: Women as Agents of Transformation", will, for the first time in its 25 year history, attract major players in global funding. These will include a number of Finance Ministers, industry leaders and some ???movers and shakers’ in key sectors of the developed world.

Delegates are expected to assess critical gender concerns for these countries in the lead up to the G8 and G20 meetings later next month, and the high level summit on the Millennium Development Goals at the United Nations in September of this year.

They will also focus particularly on women’s leadership roles in various spheres of endeavour, as well as how social protection measures can ensure gender equality, protection and sustainability.

One may ask where do women fit into the whole scheme of economic recovery and why should they feature prominently and even be singled out as key players in the global endeavour to regain economic momentum and realise a return to strong growth. Well, the fact that women contribute significantly to the job market, and, in recent times, have assumed very senior leadership roles in industry, is testimony of their importance. Gone are the days when women were seen as mere numbers on the production line or as being inferior to their male labour counterparts.

Over and above that, women are said to account for some 54 per cent of the global workforce; and a large percentage of single-parent households are headed by women; ample testimony of their eminence, and more than enough justification for their ascendancy and the right to equal opportunities, freedoms and entitlements.

However, despite many countries’ successes in empowering their women, lots of issues still exist in quite a few areas of life, ranging from the cultural and religious, to the political and economic. An example is the greater work load carried by women over men in some societies, yet they are paid less than their male colleagues; and women are, more often than not, the ones who experience the most poverty.

They are often employed in sectors that are very sensitive to the vagaries of the global economy, such as the garment and electronic industries and services. Women, as is commonly the case, and particularly single ones, are said to bear the brunt of any economic downturn, as they are usually the first to lose their jobs, and perhaps the last to be rehired. Their vulnerability makes the case for urgent redress even more pressing.??

Added to this predicament, is the fact that many Commonwealth countries are still in the throes of the world economic crisis or gradually emerging from the unstable state of the past couple of years; and as such, they have had to relegate some female concerns to the back burner as other issues take precedence.

Nevertheless, many of these matters are expected to be addressed in agenda items at the summit. Indeed, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Shama,

has high expectations for the outcome. He reckons the meeting could break new ground by forging closer links between gender equity and economic development.

It will specifically focus on women’s leadership roles, including mitigating and managing community violence, and enforcing social protection measures.

Other key items down for deliberation include the body’s Gender Plan of Action, governance, and plans for the full integration of women into the economic life of their countries. Participants are also expected to exchange views on best practices, and formulate common positions and policies to assist women and advance their cause.

On the whole, the 9th WAMM aims to improve the standing of those persons whose interests it is championing; since the status of women around the world, particularly in developing states, is often an indication of the evolution of those societies.

Barbados has been fortunate, in that this country has, for years, promoted the rights and entitlements of its women; and they have done well in several fields, when compared to some other states. In fact, for many years, there was a department of government that catered exclusively to women’s affairs. That agency, now gender-neutral, looks after the affairs of both sexes.

In addition, enabling legislation by successive governments has provided the opportunity and framework for equal advancement, and our women have rubbed shoulders alongside their male colleagues for some time. Indeed, in a few areas they have even surpassed the men. One only has to look at a number of top professions,

from teaching, law, and medicine to banking, the clergy, business and the hierarchy of the public service, women in this country are well served.

However, there is still more to be done and more to be achieved; despite the fact that many of our women have long shattered the proverbial glass ceiling, which was a ??real barrier to accessing male-dominated positions. Many of them are now making great strides up the corporate ladder.

The welfare and general progress of our women must, therefore, be commensurate with the overall development of the respective 54 states that make up the Commonwealth. To the extent that this could be achieved within the time-frame that body sets itself, really augurs well for the future.

To date, planning for the meeting has gone like clockwork, and most targets are on schedule. This country’s new Minister with responsibility for Women’s Affairs, Stephen Lashley, and, of course, his predecessor, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, who did the initial groundwork for the conference, can feel justly proud and satisfied that Barbados has again risen to the occasion in hosting another international meet of considerable import.

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