March 2018

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Still pressing for progress

On March 8, we join the global community in recognizing International Women’s Day (IWD), which has been observed since 1911. While it is an occasion to honour the strides that women have made in many spheres, IWD also presents an opportunity for us to renew the resolve to achieve gender equality, globally acknowledged as one of those hallmarks of a truly civilized world.

Gender equality means that women and men have the right to enjoy equal status and have access to the same opportunities and reap the same rewards “without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices,” states the ILO’s ABC Of Women Worker's Rights And Gender Equality.

In essence, these are not to be denied purely on the basis of gender but on ability and competence. Reference is often made to gender equity which, on the other hand, addresses the various biases and imbalances – economic, social, traditional and political – that prevent people of different genders from being even considered in the first place. It recognizes the fact that true equality does not necessarily mean that all are afforded the same treatment, as people differ in their abilities, needs, aspirations, background and their resources. As an example, in a marathon race, gender equality can be likened to allowing people of all genders at the starting line. In the background, there would have been gender equity activities that ensure that all who are appropriately qualified to run actually make it to the starting line.

There is another interesting example that I stumbled upon. Not too long ago there was a discussion making the scientific circles that women generally make better fighter jet pilots than men. The claims then were that they were less susceptible to blackouts than their male counterparts when making tight high-speed maneuvers that deprive the brain of blood when it is most needed. Even in the midst of this conversation, which has now been generally abandoned, the US Air Force did not enforce gender equality policies until 1993, when it lifted its ban on female fighter pilots. Gender equity initiatives in education, social awareness and combat training, would have prepared the first women to qualify for cockpit assignment.

This brings me to my main point.

The gender equality thrust that then demands gender equity initiatives, is fully in keeping with the long-term vision of a sustainably developed, civilized society; one that is fully equipped and empowered for current and future survival. In this regard, it is no different than any initiative that seeks to provide equal opportunity and expand diversity across race, social and economic status. The ultimate goal in all of these initiatives for inclusiveness, should be the optimum development of human resources to prepare citizens for personal success and, more importantly, for societal survival. The survival factor cannot be more clear-cut than in those institutions purposed for national defence. Indeed, it is succinctly captured in the March 2013 comments of US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula in a Washington Times article, when he celebrated the tenth anniversary of the lifting of the ban on female fighter pilots. Deptula said, “combat skills are blind to rank, gender, race, color or creed – they are based on performance, pure and simple.”

This view is also reflected in the United Nations preamble to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 that observes that “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”

In that future society, only “performance, pure and simple,” will matter.

Universities across the world are embracing diversity in all its forms. The UWI is no different, having embraced the concept of Access in its new strategic plan, 2017-2022. Our current enrollment numbers on the Campus reflect a gender imbalance in which more females are enrolling than males, a result of similar imbalances in educational attainment at the primary and secondary levels. Such imbalances clearly need to be addressed if we want to truly achieve sustainable development and create the ultimate society I have called near-Utopia in my past articles. A major step in this direction would be to have a critical re-engineering of our national education system and tailor it to better take cognizance of, for example, the differing maturity levels and aspirations of young males and females. That would be a gender equity initiative of major proportions.

The SDGs also remind us that education is not divorced from either gender or development. SDG 4, for example, sets a target of 2030 by which we should “ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.” If that doesn’t speak to an education imperative then nothing else will!

As The UWI St. Augustine joins the rest of the world in recognising IWD 2018, let us be mindful of our core mission that requires us to be cognisant of who we are educating and for what purpose. We educate to strive for gender equality and equity, to build a better society and to continue to #pressforprogress, towards sustainable development for all citizens.

Professor Brian Copeland
Campus Principal


Campus Principal: Professor Brian Copeland
Director of Marketing and Communications: Dr. Dawn-Marie De Four-Gill
Editor: Vaneisa Baksh (Email: )

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