A Vincentian academic and international public servant is questioning the number of women being appointed to prominent positions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Richard Byron-Cox, who holds a doctorate in public international law, questioned the message that this sends to the nation’s men, regarding their prospects, despite their qualification.
Byron-Cox, who is also head of the Capacity Development and Innovations Office at the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification raised the issue on radio on Sunday.
“I’m going to say something which is going to disturb all of you now. And you could stop me,” he said in a call to WE FM’s Issue at Hand.
“Now when you look, Ralph Gonsalves, he boasts about, ‘Oh, you know, 80% of our diplomatic forces are women.’ All of his recent appointments are all women save and except one or two men. What is his saying to our young men? Regardless of how much you’re trained and educated, you have no say? Is that what he’s saying?” Byron-Cox said.
The international public servant professed his love for Gonsalves, referring to him as “Comrade”, as the prime minister is popularly known.
“I know I make people uncomfortable. I know that. Listen to me. I love Comrade. I love Comrade as if he is my blood. That’s how I love comrade. But I’m an intelligent man. And Comrade himself said in his speech at the opening of this new institute, the political and governance Institute, he said, ‘You know what? I’m afraid of ignorance’,” Byron-Cox said.
“That was a wonderful statement,” Byron-Cox further stated, adding that he used to bash ignorance and does not like it, “but understand that I’m ignorant of many things”.
Byron-Cox, who said he has lectured at over 100 top universities in the world, said “behaviour of the type exhibited by the government “discourages our young men”.
Asked to elaborate, Byron-Cox said, “The behaviour where we have a situation in our country now where …a majority of the appointments being made by our prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, is of one gender.
“… And we wonder, I wonder … I, Richard, wonder, what does it mean for young men? How does that encourage them? In what way shape or form?”
Byron-Cox said the ground on which he based the argument might be flawed.
“I have said before. I’m not God, and I’m not Socrates. … So, I’m not claiming that I’m correct. What I’m claiming is this: that there needs to be a look into this and a discussion about it.”
Responding to Byron-Cox, programme co-host Joel Providence, an honorary consul and retired executive, noted that there was an assumption that Gonsalves, rather than the Cabinet, was making the appointments.
“But could it be from his perspective, a rebalancing act, where, for example, the ministerial realm is dominated by men, and those who represent the country outside and if we say, well let’s have a balance between male and female,” Providence said.
He said he was not saying that was the case, adding that the prime minister and his Cabinet “may have another purpose, motive, mission behind that.
“But maybe some people believe that there needs to be rebalancing, but 80% seems high. And the question is where are the men and that as we were talking before, about crime and what is happening. Yes, we need to focus on what in some instances seems to be a last group of people,” Providence said.
He said that is why he had raised on the previous week’s programme the question of fatherhood, saying it needs to be discussed in greater detail.
“But just maybe it’s a question of rebalancing taken to a particular level,” Providence further said of the appointments.
“I think you will agree with me that if you have a piece of steel, and you bend it one way, and to correct it, instead of pounding out that bend you bend it another way, all you have is two bends, not a straight piece of steel. All you have is two bends.”
Byron-Cox had begun his contribution to the programme by noting that the main host, Cecil Ryan, had said the programme began with serious issues that the nation needs to tackle.
“The fundamental question I have, Mr. Ryan and your panel, is this: Are we truly prepared for open discussion on the serious issues.”
He noted that Ryan had said at the beginning of the programme that listeners might not agree with him but they must be prepared to listen to each other.
“And in all honesty, I’ve looked at the space, the public space for discussion in our country, and you either have to hold a line going one way or the other, you carry a party line one way or the other or you’re not heard,” Byron-Cox said.
“Even when I call into your programme, and I mention things which are not necessarily in praise of the government, I could feel the uncomfortableness of the programme, I can feel that I’m raising things which you would prefer that I don’t speak about,” Byron-Cox said.
Commenting on the issue, Gonsalves, in a call to the programme noted that in 2020, his government appointed Keisal Peters as a senator and minister of foreign affairs, at which time Ashell Morgan was also appointed as senator and deputy speaker of the House of Assembly.
He noted that this year, the government appointed two new senators, Benarva Browne and Shackell Bobb, both of whom were assigned executive positions.
Gonsalves agreed that there is a need to have a balance in the Parliament, adding that among the proposed changes rejected in the referendum was to see if there can be one-third of the candidates being women.
He noted that none of the women offered to the electorate by both political parties in the 2020 general elections were elected to Parliament.
The prime minister pointed out that when his government was elected to office in 2001, two women, Girlyn Miguel and Rene Baptiste, were elected parliamentary representatives and his administration appointed Judith Jones-Morgan as attorney general, and president of the ULP’s Women’s Arm, Juliet George, as a senator.
Gonsalves said this is the first time since then that one the government side there are four female MPs.
“Which four out of 14 it is 28.5%,” he said, adding that on the opposition side, there is one woman among the eight MPs, or 12.5%.
“And therefore, on an average, we have 22.5% of those who sit, other than the speaker. Of course, when you add the speaker, the percentage goes up. So that’s what we have done. And what is very consistent in all the recent appointments is not so much the gender or the sex of the person … The constant among all the appointments is youth,” Gonsalves said.