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Catholic Commission criticises Government's Draft Gender Policy?Our opinion in a letter to the Prime Minister and Minister of Gender Affairs
Published in Trinidad Guardian "Big Issue"• Reported in Trinidad Express
30 November 2005 • 734 words
The Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association has noted with dismay the continued silence of the Government, and in particular the Ministry of Gender Affairs, on the present status of the Draft Gender Policy. Even on the occasion of World Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25), the Ministry did not see fit to tell the public when and how the Draft Policy will become official.
This silence is especially worrisome given the apparent cause of the Government's turnaround - to wit, the lobby of two Christian organisations. Even more worrisome is the fact that the Prime Minister appears to have been convinced by the arguments offered in particular by the Catholic Commission of Social Justice. The TT Humanist Association believes that the CCSJ's arguments do not have any empirical, ethical, or even political validity. The Government was therefore mistaken to allow this organisation to derail the Gender Policy.
The Empirical Factor
In a letter to Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Culture Minister Joan Yuille Williams, the CCSJ asserted that the Draft Gender Policy contains "a number of recommendations that are contrary to the teachings of Christianity and of other religions and which, if implemented, would irreparably damage the fabric of our society".
This is false. The CCSJ, presumably, is concerned about reform of the sodomy laws which would disallow legal bias against male homosexuals and reform of the abortion law that would allow doctors to perform abortions within three months of conception with no conditionalities. However, other societies, including Barbados and Guyana, have updated their abortion laws with no notable collapse.
International studies confirm that modern abortion laws, and laws which grant equal rights to persons irrespective of sexual orientation, are positively correlated with social advancement. (Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change around the World, Inglehart & Norris, 2003). Indeed, we find it quite ironic that the CCSJ describes the Draft Gender Policy as containing "Statistics...plucked out of the air [which] do not appear to be backed up by reference to any scientific evidence on which they are based" when their own arguments lack any empirical or even logical support.
The Moral Factor
Just as ironically, the CCSJ notes that the "TT Government has signed, ratified and/or acceded to a number of International Instruments", but argues that some of these provisions "are not in keeping with Christian teachings". Apart from T&T not being a Christian nation, the TT Humanist's position is that bigotry is a serious moral shortcoming whereas homosexuality is not a moral or immoral condition at all. There are many liberal Christians who would accept this argument.
The Political Factor
The perspective of the CCSJ is most clearly revealed when they claim that "God has a plan for His people. Therefore, the task of Christians and others who are opposed to some of the proposals contained in this draft document is to ensure that we raise our voices so that certain aspects of the draft does not become policy - contrary to God's plan - simply because we remained silent."
The TT Humanists would respectfully advise the Prime Minister that to give weight to organisations which believe they have inside knowledge of "God's plan" sets a dangerous political precedent in our plural society.
Indeed, our Association believes that the Prime Minister will lose nothing politically, and may even gain something, if he at least opens debate on abortion law reform and the removal of laws that discriminate against homosexuals. Many of the women who pay the price of our backward abortion law are poor and disadvantaged. Abortion law reform would improve their lot and that of their children. Additionally, such a move by the PNM regime would be seen as progressive by the floating middle-class vote whose support, as both political parties are well aware, is crucial for victory in the marginal constituencies. The Prime Minister has an opportunity here to demonstrate the difference between politics and statesmanship by ignoring possible, but by no means certain, loss of partisan support.
The TT Humanist Association thus urges the Government to put the recommendations of the Draft Gender Policy into force, or at the very least actively sponsor public debate on it. Following the dictates of lobby groups such as the CCSJ, who wish to retard the advancement of women, and which want to preserve legal force for their particular bigotry, will only keep back our attainment of developed-country status.