An event to launch a parliamentary group for women legislators has ironically caused some controversy among female leaders.
Government Minister Camille Robinson-Regis knocked the “unpatriotic” and “disrespectful” United National Congress (UNC) women parliamentarians who did not attend the launch, which took place at the Red House, Port of Spain, on Thursday evening.
UNC deputy leader Jearlean John fired back, citing the “disregard” of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar not being invited to speak as she noted the event had Government and Independent participation, but nothing from the Opposition.
The launch took place at the Rotunda of the Red House where President Christine Kangaloo delivered the feature address.
House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George delivered opening remarks and the welcome address while Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye delivered the vote of thanks.
There was also a speech by Toni Brodber, representative of UN Women Multi-Country Office—Caribbean.
Speaking with the Express, Robinson-Regis said the Parliament issued the invitations to all women members of the House of Representatives and Senate.
“Unfortunately, they (UNC members) apparently chose not to come, and that is very disturbing because what this caucus is meant to do is bring the women of the Parliament together and also to ensure that we work in synergy, particularly on matters that deal with women’s issues, and so it is unfortunate they chose to boycott,” she said.
The Parliament has been working with the United Nations and other international organisations to ensure this becomes a reality, she said.
“I think it speaks to a level of disrespect to institutions and also to a lack of patriotism because these kinds of functions are not PNM or UNC, they are for Trinidad and Tobago, and I think it is important for young people to see all their leaders of either party attending national functions, and so that’s unfortunate,” Robinson-Regis said.
She said the PNM never boycotted events under the former People’s Partnership government as they saw the national importance of them.
Robinson-Regis, who is the leader of the Government benches in the House of Representatives, said that in T&T, women have excelled in leadership positions and she was proud to be one who has championed the cause of women.
On another note, she said the debate on the whistleblower legislation has to be restarted because it was carried from one parliamentary session to the next, but it will be debated at the earliest opportunity and will require a three-fifths majority for passage.
Why Kamla not asked to speak?
In response to questions as to their absence, John said that subsequent to receipt of a “save the date” invitation for the event, she was made aware of the programme and felt that the organisers of the event appeared not to be interested in a collaborative, non-partisan effort, given that speakers were from the Government and Independent benches.
John questioned how could there be disregard for Persad-Bissessar—the “pre-eminent female legislator” and how could she not be invited to speak.
John said she finds the omission “most unfortunate”, especially considering Persad-Bissessar’s exceptional career of legislative firsts—the first woman leader of a national political party, attorney general, prime minister and Opposition Leader.
“So maybe it is my misunderstanding, and this launch was probably to facilitate female legislators in Grenada or Antigua or, for that matter, the Maldives,” she said.
John dismissed Robinson-Regis’ criticisms, saying: “The Government believes they are large and in charge, and who they instruct to come must come and who to go must go. I am not one of their lackeys and have absolutely no interest in any of their contrived arrangements where I am expected to show up to make up their audience numbers, sit quietly and politely applaud on command.”
UNC Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial said there was no disrespect from the UNC.
She said yesterday it was “hypocritical” that ministers like Robinson-Regis, “who make nasty and disgusting remarks about women in the Lower House, inside and outside the Parliament, suddenly want to talk about a women’s caucus.
“When they learn to critique policy without being personal and nasty and mocking ethnic names, we can talk about women’s forum,” she said.
Lutchmedial said she did not attend because she had to prioritise her daughter who had end-of-term tests and school events.
Said Lutchmedial: “I prioritise my child over all else, and showing up on command to schmooze is certainly not a priority for me, especially when I have to drive to San Fernando after. I show up when it matters. I work hard in my Senate contributions and always bring a gender-sensitive approach and perspective in debates.
“I am also 95 per cent of the time in attendance at the three joint select committees I sit on and very prepared to ask probing and pertinent questions. That’s how I show respect to the citizens who are looking to us for representation, not by sipping free champagne at every opportunity.”
While current UNC legislators did not attend, former Oropouche West MP Stacy Roopnarine and former Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial attended.