Trinidad and Tobago: Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development calls for legal abortion

By Mark Pouchet
Trinidad Express
May 16, 2012

Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Verna St Rose Greaves said the issues of sexuality and teenage pregnancy/abortion were two of the major stumbling blocks in the advancement of a national gender policy.

As a human rights activist, she said she personally supported the rights of all citizens, including homosexuals and those of women to choose whether to have an abortion or not.

But while she said while she would passionately plead the case at Cabinet level, she could not speak on behalf of the Government at this point.

"I am a human rights activist and I am in support of it (a law to make abortion legal)," she said.

But under section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 2000, buggery is classified as a criminal offence punishable by jail time on conviction.

At a Stakeholder Consultation on the National Gender Policy at Cascadia Hotel, St Ann's, yesterday, St Rose Greaves, said the these were two issues that the population was hesitant to deal with.

"But it makes no sense continuing the discussion if we don't face those issues head on...but it depends on the approach we take. If we take a public health approach, we 'll recognise the urgency we need to deal and treat with the issue," she said.

She said some people were afraid that if abortion becomes law that women and teenage girls would abuse it. But she said the country just had to look at the example of Barbados where abortion is legalised.

"For me, it is a question of not just legislation but rather education, support and awareness and putting protection in place so people would be able to understand why this (policy) is required," she said, adding that views on both sides of the issue needed to be heard respectfully so that the best decision for the country could be taken. She said a lot of people also had concerns with same-sex relationships and the rights of homosexuals.

"But it is a topic we must deal with. This is our society and we would be foolish to pretend there are not people among us who are homosexual...It's only when we deal with these issue would we be moving forward as a society that is on its way to being fully developed," St Rose Greaves said.

Earlier in her address to stakeholders, St Rose Greaves said the national gender policy was necessary because the country is suffering from an epidemic of gender-based violence. According to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) Crime and Problem Analysis Branch figures for 2010, 68.2 per cent of 940 murders were classified as assault by beating while police recorded 215 reports of rape, 22 reports of incest, 158 reports of grievous sexual assaults, and 278 reports of sex with minor females 14-16 years of age.

"These figures are the tip of the iceberg, as many incidents of violence against women are not reported," she said.

The senator added that T&T has a crisis of manhood and masculinity with only 35 per cent making up university entrants and graduates and a significant number of them involved in illegal firearms, gang violence, drug trafficking, drug use, rape, kidnapping and murder. She said T&T men also experience a high rate of suicide.

"A National Gender Policy would enable us to give our population the best information about sex and sexuality to allow them to make informed decisions," she said.

St Rose Greaves said the policy must include priorities like health and well-being; education and literacy; labour and employment; unwaged economic activities, domestic and family life; agriculture and food security; macro-economy and trade; and leadership and governance.