Speech by the Prime Minister

Address By The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP Prime Minister At the International Women’s Day Function

International Women’s Day is acknowledged, sponsored, supported and endorsed by the United Nations and the Government of Jamaica sees it as an important event on our calendar of activities that the Prime Minister’s office should convene/ bring together a representative group of the power of women in our country and it is indeed my great privilege to host this breakfast and I want to thank you all for coming.

Some very important things were said and it has been very eye opening for me. There I was thinking that I was the head of the household by virtue of being the head of the household. Thank you my lady. I think what we can agree on is that strong women make strong men and as I reflect on my own experience I consider myself one of  the very fortunate Jamaicans to have grown up with my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and now my wife, so I’ve always had strong women in my life.

I believe that my decision to enter politics was driven by my great-grandmother. I got an opportunity to represent Jamaica at an international conference when I was about fifteen and when I was leaving I went to look for my great-grandmother to tell her that I was going on this trip and she said to me “Andrew, when you talk, you must talk strong.” That lasted with me. She passed when I was about seventeen and she had such a great impact on my life and then my grandmother, she took over the role of my  great-grandmother and she was very compassionate, very understanding; I guess I learnt from her a little bit more balance to balance the assertive aggressive nature to get a little bit more balance to balance the assertive aggressive nature to get a little bit more compassion and my mother at that time she was a single mother, it was very difficult and she was a civil servant at the time as well. See, what I learnt from her experience was frugality; to economize, to survive on very little and to do well and then of course I met my wife and she embodied all of that; the strength and aggression, the compassion and being very wise monetarily.

I grew up to respect strong independent women and I can understand that there are men who fear strong independent women and who probably just simply don’t understand and it does create sometimes an uncomfortable dynamic and it does also create an unspoken maybe unintended ecosystem that does not see when there are biases that prevent women from fully actualizing themselves.

I noted carefully that we need other men to speak up for women, not just a few but the entire male cohort of the government should speak up for women and that is the conversation that is happening internally and I’m certain that you will see more voices emerge.

We do try to get it right and the debate is whether or not we should be proactive in doing it or we should allow it to evolve. I think that we have to be proactive, we have to be instrumental. We didn’t do too much of a great job in ensuring that the selection on boards the last time around had the balance that we wanted.

Many of our boards are now up for renewal. I also take the point about committees and again we will be proactive in that regard to ensure that there are more women selected to be chairmen and to sit on the various committees.

Last year when I hosted a similar event, I believe it was a luncheon I spoke about violence and I have to raise it again because it is still in my mind one of the greatest challenges that women face in our society today. By the statistics that we see, women are by and large the victims of violence and I don’t believe that we have done enough to address this issue.

Government ministers, politicians, we have a duty to look above what might be the cultural practices, the institutional biases and even though we’re a party of the culture we have to separate ourselves from the culture and always do what is right and so we have been working. The Attorney General isn’t here with me today but we have been working to get the police to understand that they have a critical role in being proactive in addressing instances of intimate partner violence and domestic abuse that comes to their attention. That is why I support it and endorse the implementation of a policy for preventative detention and I’m not going to go too much into the legal and justice issues but we wanted to use that policy as a tool in addressing violence in particular domestic and intimate partner violence.

It has not been used as fully as we would like but we’re going to redouble our effort. We have made some resources available to put in place, places of shelters. Minister Grange reminded me how many we’ve done so far. We have made the allocation for three, we’ve actually purchased one and it’s a lovely facility. I haven’t visited the facility yet. We haven’t advertised where it is or anything and we can’t. We’re making the investments to ensure that as a government we’re being proactive in addressing the issue of violence in intimate relations and domestic abuse.

I’m still not happy that we are not close to wage equality in Jamaica. We still have a way to go but I’m pleased to say that female employment; female share of the labour force has increased by about 4% between 2016 October to 2017 October; twenty-two thousand more females are employed in the labour force so we are making progress. We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go.

Today it’s not just a symbol, it is a meaningful expression of the Government’s celebration of the role and achievement of women and an endorsement of all the actions for advocacy and support for the continued development of women in our society for the increased participation of women in the society and I say as a man thank you for making me a better person.