Trinidadian women gain ground at the ballot box
an article by UN Women
With support from UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, the
Network of NGOs in Trinidad and Tobago is training women to
be more effective in running for election. They seek to learn
the rules, use the rules and change the system.
Gloria Calliste, candidate for Councillor, local government, walking in her constituency. Photo: The Trinidad & Tobago Guardian
click on photo to enlarge
Like a DJ, she stands aboard the campaign truck, microphone
in hand, singing along “we’re ready” and dancing to soca,
calypso and dancehall rhythms, popular even during elections
in Trinidad and Tobago.
Campaigning isn’t always so much fun. “We go to every single
house. Sometimes we meet up with unfriendly dogs;
sometimes we have to cross ditches and have boots on to
make sure we don’t slip in the mud,” says 51-year-old dentist
and now local councillor Hilary Bernard.
All the hard work paid off last October, in her second bid for
public office, when she handily won the local election to
represent the Arima northeast electoral district (population
4,028), in the central northern part of Trinidad.
Having grown up in what she describes as a strict and
traditional “chauvinistic” household, Hilary is used to
shattering expectations. She went against her parents’ wishes
and struggled financially to pursue her goal of attending
dentistry school in the United States. “The worst thing that
you can tell me is that I can’t do something,” she chuckles.
With her dentistry degree in-hand, she returned to Trinidad
and Tobago and opened a private practice. She got involved in
her local church, and through helping others and seeking
justice, she started seeing local politics as the means to make
needed changes. After losing her first election in 2010, she
decided to try again, but be better-prepared.
Hilary is among the more than 100 women candidates who
have been trained by The Network of NGOs of Trinidad &
Tobago for the Advancement of Women, a national “umbrella”
organization for all women’s organizations in the country, and
a grantee of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality. Potential
candidates from across party lines go through a rigorous
eight-module training course, called “Train, Run, Win and
Lead”. They learn about the basic functions and
responsibilities of government, communications, leadership
and gender-responsive budgeting.
Arlene Ramdeo, 41, says the training gave her the confidence
to speak in public spontaneously and in any setting. She also
ran unsuccessfully in 2010 but was elected shortly after being
trained in 2013, beating out three male contenders for the
district of Erin, in the southwestern part of Trinidad.
“Before, I could not speak to the public but when I finished
that training, I was well versed,” says Arlene. “They also
showed us how to budget, how to listen to people first before
you make a decision. That was very useful advice.”
[Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.]
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Hilary also describes the training as an eye-opener. “It helped me see that it was quite OK and acceptable for a woman to put herself forward. Before that it seemed that to be a woman and aspire to leadership was being ‘pushy’.” Since the training involved women from all the political parties, she says they learned that women could be rivals without being enemies. “We learned to run a campaign without smearing anyone, no poison darts, or throwing stones. I was able to focus on the positive, what I could offer, and be sympathetic to what I saw as failings of my predecessor.”
Since January 2013, there have already been 40 training sessions, and the network keeps in touch with all its participantss thereafter, constantly offering specific sessions, such as a forum on financing for women in political parties that Hilary says she plans to attend.
The project aims to train and support at least 700 women by December 2014, including current and prospective women candidates in 14 municipalities and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), general elections candidates, and youth and activists.
It seeks to bring about a process of change towards inclusive and participatory local and national governance with expanded capacity in the municipalities and THA for gender-sensitive planning.
The ultimate goal is to develop women’s political capacity to learn the rules, use the rules and change the system. It seeks to raise awareness among women about their right to equal access to, and full participation in, power structures and decision-making, as guaranteed in conventions and declarations subscribed to by Caribbean governments, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which the Network witnessed take shape at the Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995.
“The training, forums, workshops and networking opportunities not only build individual capacities in participants but foster an atmosphere for collaboration that allows for solutions to be identified that is beneficial to all,” says Terry Ince, Project Manager of the Network’s Women's Leadership in Local Government Project.
“We also intend to create a nonpartisan women’s political caucus among women in parliament and local government,” adds Project Coordinator Hazel Brown.
Results are already visible. Half the training participants who opted to run in the 2013 local elections won seats, almost all formerly held by men. . ...more.