Closer To Actualisation Than Mere Aspiration


Her Excellency Christine Carla Kangaloo ORTT, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, delivered the Featured Address at AMCHAM T&T’s 10th Anniversary Women’s Leadership Conference.

P resident Kangaloo announced that this year’s International Women’s Day theme, “Inspire Inclusion” was an invitation to consider how far we have come, from aspiration to actualisation, in the struggle for gender equity.

In her Feature Address, President Kangaloo said that she believed that Trinidad and Tobago had certainly moved a long way from merely ‘aspiring’ to gender equity. “In many areas of endeavour, statistics do give the appearance that women are not only closing the gap on gender inequity but that in some cases, are even doing disproportionately better than men.”

One area she pointed to was education, where girls outperform their male counterparts academically, with more females than boys writing examinations, and therefore accessing an education in the first place.

For example, of the 100 pupils who were awarded scholarships for the 2022 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE), over 70 percent were girls. In 2022, more girls than boys were registered to sit the CAPE Unit One and Unit Two examinations – just over 4,600 females, as opposed to just below 3,000 males. In the 2022 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations, roughly 11,500 girls wrote the exams, as compared to just over 9,000 boys. At the 2021 and 2022 President’s Medal Presentation Ceremony (which took place in 2024), 10 of the 13 awardees were girls. A female student topped the 2023 SEA exams.

The statistics paint a broadly similar picture concerning women’s involvement in the professions. In the legal profession, President Kangaloo said, there were more female Magistrates than male Magistrates in 2023; more female Masters than male Masters; and more female Judges than male Judges.

In other spheres of national life—including politics, business, higher learning, and culture—women have gained major ground in the struggle for gender equity. Trinidad and Tobago is recognised for having two women Presidents of the Republic and one female Prime Minister. Women have also served as President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Leader of the Opposition, and as Political Leaders and Chairpersons of two major political parties.

President Kangaloo said women’s representation in the Parliament has surpassed the 30% ‘critical mass’ benchmark set by the United Nations Economic and Social Council Resolution 1990/15. “The membership figures in both the House and the Senate exceed the 26.2% global average of women representation in national parliaments worldwide.”

She also highlighted the progress and achievements being made by women in business and academia. “We have female CEOs of two major banks. The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, has a female Principal; the Hugh Wooding Law School has had female Principals for quite some time now,” President Kangaloo said. “UWI St. Augustine also recently appointed its first female Professor of Science, Dr. Judith Gobin; and in 2021 AMCHAM T&T welcomed its third female President. Recently, Pan Trinbago elected its first female President.”

President Kangaloo said these encouraging statistics might well give the impression that the goal of gender equity was closer to actualisation than it was to mere aspiration. However, she maintained that there remained serious barriers to the actualisation of gender equity in Trinidad and Tobago.

“I fear that our country has been encountering difficulty in moving out of the stage of mere aspiration,” President Kangaloo said. “It is both lamentable and unforgivable that, even today—in the 21st century—decades after they have cemented themselves as a permanent part of the national landscape, women continue to be subjected to gender-based ridicule and contempt in their fields of endeavour and that they continue to be objectified and demeaned on the basis of their sex.”

P resident Kangaloo said that she can point to many unsavoury experiences in her own life in the public space. “When I was President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House—also a female—and I were made the subjects of a particularly vile and offensive gender-based attack by way of a meme that was circulated on social media. The attack never once addressed any particulars about our ability, but was based solely on our gender.”

Being President also does not afford her any insulation from being disrespected because of her gender. “I have had male commentators disparagingly referring to parts of my anatomy in describing actions that I have taken as President as having been caused by persons ’literally or figuratively‘ being ’in my bosom’.”

“My husband has had it suggested to him by a male member of the media that decisions which I have taken as President are ’because of him’—as if I have no mind of my own, but am dominated by or beholden to a male spouse in my decision-making.”

Regarding eliminating inequalities in access to health, education and economic opportunity based on gender, President Kangaloo said the statistics showed considerable improvement in the area of access to education, however, many inequalities still existed regarding women’s health.

According to the Crime and Problem Analysis Branch of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), there were over 15,000 reports of domestic violence between 2010 and 2016. Approximately 72 percent of these reports were of violence against women. Also, data suggests that 44% of women have experienced Intimate Partner Violence, a figure that surpasses the global average of 1 in 3 women, and between 2018 and 2022, there were 4,667 reports of women and girls who were victims of sexual violence. 92% of those reports related to women and girls who were under the age of 35.

In 2023, the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services reported that between 2020 and 2021, Trinidad and Tobago recorded a 62 percent increase in sexual violence against girls under the age of 15, and that up until September 2023, females accounted for 75 percent of the reports of domestic violence made to the TTPS. For the period January to September 2023, the Ministry reported that 972 calls were made to the domestic violence hotline with women being 95 percent of the callers seeking help. In 2017, the National Women’s Health Survey for Trinidad and Tobago showed that 13 percent of women experienced sexual harassment at work, in public transport and in public spaces. The data suggests that those numbers have been on the rise.

President Kangaloo said this data showed that despite all of the attempts that have been made to ’Inspire Inclusion’, women are routinely excluded from matters having to do with the general health of the population and even in healthcare research and clinical studies since medical research today is still male-led.

“The result is that, at the same time that they are disproportionately under-represented in healthcare research, women find themselves disproportionately represented in terms of the health risks that they face on the sole basis of their gender.”

President Kangaloo said these statistics showed the importance of identifying the root causes of the gender inequities that persist in our society and finding solutions.One root cause of these stubborn inequities is our antiquated attitudes and perceptions about women—attitudes and perceptions that denigrate and diminish them because of their gender.”

“For all of the advancements made at the surface of the statistics, outmoded attitudes and perceptions about women lie deeply entrenched in the Trinbagonian psyche,” President Kangaloo said. “If we are to complete the march towards gender equity, we have to confront these attitudes and perceptions and change them.”

President Kangaloo closed by reiterating the critical need to work on changing these negative attitudes and perceptions about women to engender healthy attitudes and perceptions about women among our nation’s children. “Today, I encourage all of civil society to explore ways by which safe spaces can be created for this kind of interaction between our young boys and girls. I do so because I firmly believe that it is in healthy and respectful interactions among our young people that we will find our efforts as a society the most likely to ’Inspire Inclusion.’