It is indeed a pleasure to be here this morning, to join you in this relevant and timely discussion, as we aim to empower women to “win the future, be the change-maker and make a positive difference” as leaders in every sphere, but more specifically, in sport.
Gender equality in sports has always been a sensitive and controversial topic.
From as early as …. History shows that athletes, activists, national sporting bodies and international organizations have been making contributions and even leading the charge in creating more opportunities for female participation in sport, enhancing the profile of females in sport, and improving sports policy and practice to promote a more inclusive environment for females in sport.
Ladies and gentlemen, permit me a moment to commend Mr. Brian Lewis and the staff of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC), for recognizing the importance of providing an unparalleled platform to discuss topics and issues that are unique to women, our leadership and our role in the organizational and administrative dynamics, especially in the context of sport. Brian and the TTOC continue to blaze the trail in this regard, and to be a leading and unifying force for sport development in Trinidad and Tobago.
I have always been passionate about the empowerment of young people, gender equality, and the advancement of women. My friends say that I’m a feminist, I simply say that I like to see women win.
It’s been (6) six months since I assumed duties as Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, and I’ve had the pleasure to witness our athletes excel and our female athletes advance in their respective disciplines, bringing pride, honor, glory and international recognition to Trinidad and Tobago. On my first day Michele lee Ahye won gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia,then, Cleopatra Borel won gold at the CAC games, the women’s Volley ball team flew our flag high as the only team from the English speaking Caribbean to participate in world championships, netball team, just last week I had the pleasure of a courtesy call from Teneille Campbell, first woman to medal at the CAC …. And hummingbird medal recipient.
We have made significant strides, but we have a long way to go. Women and girls still remain under-represented in sport – both on the field and off the field – in participation, media and leadership positions. This is compounded by the persistent disparity in pay, media coverage, social stigmatization and disenfranchisement in many areas.
The Future is Female….such a powerful campaign… I remember my first day on the job…not an athlete…stress on participation, and had no regard for my role as a leader, enabler, manager, it was like it wasn’t my place to be involved in sport or to lead….I cannot recall a male minister being questioned like that. But this is the world we still live in and we have a duty to change it. Women bring specific qualities to leadership roles.
It is well-documented that increased participation of women at the decision-making level provides for more diverse and well-balanced leadership. This too obtains within the sport sector, as women have proven, time and time again, that we do in fact have valuable contributions to make to the sporting fraternity.
There’s an old saying that goes, ‘if women ran the world, there would be no wars’. This statement says a lot about the effects of women in leadership positions. We have exercised our emotional intelligence to lead change, manage relationships and build networks, and as transformational leaders, we have brought that passion, persistence, drive, optimism and commitment to inspire others to succeed.
We wear so many hats…I guided, I have run, I’ve teed off at golf tournaments, and I have part fights.
You know how many fights I had to mash up in these 6 months?
A woman in leadership is indeed a force to be reckoned with.
Today, women have leadership roles as Presidents and CEOs, and more and more, women have taken up opportunities in other areas of sport, such as coaches, managers, and technical officials, as viable means of employment.
There is an African proverb which says, “If I stand tall, I’m standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.” As women in leadership positions within the sporting fraternity of Trinidad and Tobago, we stand tall on the shoulders of the forerunners like former Ministers of Sport - Muriel Donawa-McDavidson, Marilyn Gordon, Jennifer Johnson, Eugenia ‘Jean’ Pierre (who was also a national sporting hero and led the ‘calypso girls’ to world championship in 1979) and of course, fellow Tobagonian Pamela Nicholson, who all served in their capacity to the best of their ability.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the contributions of women like Lystra Lewis, who paved the way for those at the helm of some of our National Governing Bodies. Ms. Lewis wore several hats as former netballer, coach, umpire, tester and administrator, as well as President of West Indies Netball Board, President of the Caribbean Netball Association, President of the Americas Federation of Netball Associations and Vice President of the International Federation of Netball Associations.
This dynamism in women as Administrators, continue today with Dr. Patricia Butcher - President of the Trinidad and Tobago Netball Association and former President of the Americas Federation of Netball Associations, Nicole Selvon – President of the Trinidad and Tobago Volleyball Federation and Julia Baptiste – Chief Executive Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League, just to name a few, who led the charge in disciplines that were predominated by men.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the face of numerous barriers, including gender discrimination and gender inequality, these women overcame the many challenges and obstacles associated with being in leadership, particularly in an industry that is populated by men. They paved the way for other women and girls, in a sector that is oftentimes referred to as “a man’s world.”
So I am happy that this initiative seeks to create an enabling environment for nurturing and encouraging our women and girls to become powerful leaders, both on and off the field, from the ‘locker room to the boardroom’, and to continue to blaze the trail for women in sport, from participation to leadership, for generations to come.
The first World Conference on Women and Sport, organized in 1994 in Brighton, UK was a call to action for the development of ‘a sporting culture that enables and values the full involvement of women in every aspect of sport’. The Brighton Declaration, which was adopted then and updated to the Brighton Plus Helsinki 2014 Declaration on Women and Sport, sought a commitment from Governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as those institutions involved in sport, to apply the Principles set by developing appropriate policies, structures and mechanisms which, among others; ensure that all women and girls have the opportunity to participate in sport in a safe and supportive environment which preserves the rights, dignity and respect of the individual.
Ladies and gentlemen, consistent with the Brighton Declaration on Women in Sport, the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs launched the National Policy on Sport (2017 - 2027), which adopts a comprehensive and collaborative framework to encourage and provide for the fullest participation of women and girls in all areas of sport, while advocating and mandating the implementation of Gender Equality Initiatives within our National Governing Bodies (NGBs).
The Ministry anticipates the increased involvement of women and girls in sport, at all levels and in all functions and roles, to ensure that the knowledge, experiences and values of women are engrained in the development of sport in Trinidad and Tobago.
This year, as the Ministry intends to promote the advancement of women in sport, together with our NGBs and all other stakeholders, we will continue to encourage and support the implementation of such initiatives to get women, particularly working women, moving and more involved at the leadership level, and the TTOC would play a critical role in helping us to achieve this.
Government has its role to play, and so do you NGBs and Sporting fraternity- policies and practices to ensure inclusivity, and promote respect Change in culture is critical.
Sport is traditionally a male-dominated sector and progress in gender equality in this area is hindered by the social constructions of femininity and mas- culinity, which often associate sport with ‘mascu- line’ characteristics, such as physical strength and resilience, speed, and a highly competitive, some- times confrontational spirit. Women who engage in sports may be perceived as ‘masculine’, while men who are not interested in sports could be considered ‘unmanly’. Prevailing gender stereotypes affect not only women’s participation in decision-making within sporting organizations, but also their participation in sporting activities.
Traditional gender roles may dictate how many hours women spend on caring responsibilities, which can have a ripple effect on how much time is left over for sporting activities. While women spend more time on caring activities, compared with men, they participate less in other social activities, such as sporting, cultural or leisure activities.
In 1984, when women’s activist and writer Nora Frenkiel first coined the term “glass ceiling”, she believed that women were only ‘reaching a certain point - the top of middle-management and getting stuck’. .
We, collectively, men and women, need to do more about gender equality. We need to pave the way for or daughters, just as we do our sons. There should be no disparity in sports, nor in the workplace, nor in life. Women and men should be seen as, and treated as, equals in all respects.
We need to identify and dismantle the barriers, all the barriers that prevent girls from enjoying the benefits of and exceling in sport…the ones inflicted on us, and the ones that we’ve imposed on ourselves.
It is imperative that we get our young women and girls involved, let them learn, let them play, let them lead. We must to continue in our efforts to break that ‘glass ceiling’ and be the change that is so necessary for the continued development of women in leadership within sport, since this can be used to promote gender equality and to advance women and girls all over the world.
As an organization with women at the helm, the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs stands behind initiatives that are geared towards the inclusion of women in sport at all level. We stand in partnership, hand in hand. West and ready and willing to provide the required leadership, direction, and assistance as we work together to achieve this goal.
It is my hope that the discussions we will engage in today will motivate women and girls to follow in the footsteps of those who have broken the ‘glass ceiling’, those who have pushed the boundaries for women in leadership and those who have cleared the path so that our women and girls can positively impact the advancement of sport, holistic development of Trinidad and Tobago, change the face of sport, and change the world….
I thank you!