International Women’s day Message from Commissioner William Marlin

Today is International Women’s Day all over the world. It is a day of reflection, of celebration and I may add, of action. 

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The idea of an International Women’s Day was born a century ago today in Copenhagen, where women had gathered at an International Conference of Working Women. At that conference in 1910, a woman named Clara Zetkin launched the idea of holding one day of celebration in every country to help women in their efforts to achieve their demands of equality especially in the workplace. The idea was carried unanimously by participants representing trade unions, socialist parties and workers from 17 countries.

The following year, the day was officially proclaimed in Europe, with resounding success, however, it was not until 1975 that the United Nations granted it official recognition.

Today, in places such as China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday. We may not have reached that far yet here on St. Maarten, but there is no doubt that women have made some tremendous strides in our community compared to a century ago.

St Maarten women, like their Caribbean sisters, have always been the pillars of their societies, holding up the men, caring for their children, and working both at home and outside, to make ends meet and provide for their families. The old-fashioned notion that the place of the woman is in the kitchen is no longer tenable in our times. I’m sure you are all aware of my passion for cooking. I feel quite at home in the kitchen as I do behind a desk, and can therefore attest to the work that women do, even in the kitchens of their homes, without pay!

We have come a long way from the days when women did not have the right to vote to a long period of women Prime Ministers in the Netherlands Antilles and women occupying the most important political positions here on our island, as well as around the region and the world. It is no longer "a first" for a woman to head a political party, a church, or a trade union, even right here on St. Maarten. Leadership has become gender-neutral, thanks to the gallant efforts of women who refused to be branded as the weaker sex, and have gone out there to fight for their rights. In fact, women’s rights are universal rights and consequently, human rights as well. We men therefore have a big stake in ensuring that these rights are not denied, trampled upon, or otherwise watered down.

It is just a couple of weeks ago when I sat between two St. Maarten women who deserve the respect and admiration of all of us for their contributions in the political field. It was during the AVS Political Debate for the Parliamentary Elections and I could not but reflect on what sacrifices have been made and continue to be made for that to have been possible.

Political empowerment alone is, however, not enough to further advance women’s rights. As we move forward with determination and conviction towards a new St. Maarten, economic empowerment must become the new terrain to conquer if the potential of our women is to be fully tapped for the development of our island nation.

Perhaps it is in recognition of this that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is "Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All." There can be no progress for us as a people until that day when women indeed can enjoy equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal pay for equal work. As a proud father of two daughters, I cannot think of ANY reason why they should receive less pay for the same work as their brothers, if they have similar qualifications.

It is important to highlight certain characteristics of our St. Maarten (and by extension, Caribbean women) which have been the main reason why we have survived as a people to this day. Our women are among the most resourceful in the world; they can turn left-overs into the most delicious meal! Our women are very hardworking and resilient – they endure hardship without grumbling, knowing that they are sacrificing for their children to do better. Our women are women of faith, their abiding faith in God, and hope for the future of their children, constitute the cornerstone of our march towards a brighter day for all. If you ask me, our women are living proof that beside – NOT BEHIND – every successful man stands a strong and courageous woman. I’m sure you know in your very own neighborhood, women with the characteristics I’ve just described. They are housewives, mothers, companions, union leaders, teachers, preachers, bankers, tellers, secretaries and politicians. They are nurses, doctors, vendors, seamstresses, dancers, hoteliers, policewomen and businesswomen. They are culture-bearers, and historians; architects and gardeners. There is simply no area of activity where they have not made their presence felt. What a man can do, a woman can do, sometimes, even better.

If we understand this, then we should understand that in today’s world, there is no room for gender discrimination. In fact, anything we do to hamper a woman’s progress is an act of sabotage against the progress of all.

Let me, therefore, join in celebrating our women – their dreams and aspirations should be our dreams and aspirations: a world of equal opportunities, equal rights and progress for all, or as one of our region’s most famous musicians sang: equal rights and justice for all.