In February 1999, Mrs. Rita Gardiner was employed as the Coordinator of Women’s affairs, On October 26, 1999; the Coordinator along with Women in Development had the official launching of the Gender Desk. To highlight this event a book was compiled with profiles of women throughout the TCI who had made their outstanding contributions in the various areas of the country. These women were known as the ‘Trailblazers of the Turks and Caicos”.
Mrs. Gardiner continues to work with the government, other NGO’s, and local and international agencies to ensure that the 12 critical areas that emerged from the Begin Conference, dubbed today as ‘the Begin Plus 10” be realized. These are:
- Mechanisms to promote the advancement of women
- Inequality in power and decision making
- Education and training
- Women’s reproductive health
- Violence against women employment and economic empowerment
- The environment
- Women and the media
- The girl child
Of course, the women in the TCI are enjoying the rights of a number of these issues that other women and children are not privy to. For example the girl child in the TCI has the same privilege as the boy child; women are not deprived of any position because of their sex. This is not the case in every society.
In February 1999, the Turks and Caicos Islands established the Women’s Desk and the appointment of a Coordinator of Women’s Affairs. On October 26, 1999, the Coordinator along with WID had the official launching of the Women’s Desk The Gender Affairs Unit (formerly known as the Women’s Desk) now Gender Affairs, was established under the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in 1999. The Gender Affairs Unit, as the National Machinery for advancing the status of women and promoting the achievement of gender equality in the Turks and Caicos Islands, has played a pivotal role in raising awareness at the community level around issues such as poverty, domestic and gender based violence, health and women’s access to and participation in decision making. The Gender Affairs Unit has advocated for the human rights of women and has been facilitating the development of policy and legislation for the empowerment of gender equity and gender equality.
At present, the Department of Gender Affairs in the Turks and Caicos is the main mechanism through which the vision and institutional capacities for gender equality in the country is being built. The actions for achieving these objectives listed above involve advancing women’s issues, promoting the involvement of women, training and engaging with policy makers at all stages, and effectively coordinating activities relevant to gender equality and equity at various national levels.
In 1994 the need arouse to prepare a report for the 4th world conference on Women that was to be held in Beijing, China. By virtue of Turks and Caicos being a dependent territory of the United Kingdom, which had previously signed the convention on the rights of all Discrimination Against women (CEDAW), TCI was expected to present a report on the status of women in its territories.
With the financial and technical assistance from the British Development Division and CARICOM, the then Minister of Health, Youth and Sports, Arabella Smith, along with her permanent secretary, mr.oliver mills, the following ladies were asked to form a committee with the aim to prepare a report on the status of women, in the TCI.
- Mrs. Leila Robinson
- Miss Mahala Wynns
- Mrs. Cheryl Ann Jones
- Miss Jane Williams
- Ms Sandra Garland
- Miss Dianne Higgs
- Miss Elizabeth Fletcher
- Mrs. Myrtle Mills
Information was obtained from primary sources which included six (6) workshops conducted in the various islands, discussions, interviews and two national consultations. Secondary sources. Included government ministries and institutions, statutory boards, research reports and bilateral institutions. The public perspective was sought by way of having public meetings in each island conducting questionnaires and interviews. Mrs. Leila Robinson worked very closely with Mrs. Denis Taylor, the consultant who was assigned to TCI.
The report was finally completed on time and Mrs. Mahala Wynns and Cheryl Tull attended the conference.
Some interesting findings were revealed from the report amongst were the following:
Of the number of registered business (sole traders) in the TCI only 14% were women compared to 46% men and 40% joint ownership
Violence against women existed but was never reported because of “fear of embarrassment”:
- Lack of trust
- Lack of confidentiality and
- Lack of understanding of their rights
- The police on the other hand, were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes because women were reluctant to press charges
- Rape cases were rarely reported; again, because of rear and embarrassment
- Insufficient use of the media to promote women’s issues
- Lack of sufficient mechanism at all levels to promote the advancement of women.
Therefore the establishment of a Women’s Bureau was viewed as critical to advancing the status of women in the TCI.