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No epidural can ease the pain of diminished women’s rights

This past Saturday, at the Bermuda Industrial Union’s International Women’s Day tea, I heard immense words of wisdom from the speakers. One would imagine that such knowledge and insight would come from decades of personal experience in the Bermuda of old and extensive research of our island’s history. However, these speakers were all teenagers. I must commend the BIU for reaching across the generational divide to allow these women a platform. The keynote speakers, Latifa Smith and Rakaya Simmons, were joined by Tae-Eje Bean at the podium.

These three are beyond inspiring: they had the courage to address a room of impressive women, all of whom have been active in the labour movement. They accepted the invitation to speak, not just allowing the torch to be passed to them, but to grasp it with fervour. They spoke of their concerns for Bermuda, the issues facing Bermudian women and the need for Bermudian history to be a priority in the school curriculum. They spoke of showing up and standing up, and asked — no, demanded — all women present to encourage their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to become activists. They put words into action and put the theme of this year’s women’s day into practice: they were and continue to be bold for change.

Their speeches solidified my enthusiasm for the Progressive Labour Party Women’s Caucus. At our launch event on Saturday at the BIU Building, all women are welcome, no matter their age, race, economic status or political affiliation. We women are activists, not necessarily because we actively pursue this role, but because circumstances dictate that we must be. Women every day are fighting to be heard in the boardroom, in child custody and support cases, in prison, in their own homes, in Parliament. We are fighting just by showing up. By showing up, day after day, in often very adverse conditions, we are standing up.

Our Women’s Caucus is grounded in the grass roots. This is where true activism occurs because strength comes from adversity. In our healthcare system, a woman who gives birth without insurance is faced with a bill of more than $5,000 — provided there are no epidurals, complications and hospital stays beyond two days. This is a burden men do not face. The One Bermuda Alliance pledged in 2012 to reduce healthcare costs. More than four years later, these costs have risen, squeezing employers and employees alike, and forcing employers to reduce coverage or let employees go. Without employment, a woman likely has no health insurance. Without employment, how does a mother feed her children?

As the public relations officer for the PLP, it is my duty to discuss what the next PLP government will do about this. In our Reply to the Throne Speech last year, we reintroduced our National Health Plan, a progressive way to reduce healthcare costs for Bermudians. A PLP government would revisit this plan and look to reintroduce it.

However, I want to be clear that the Women’s Caucus will not exist solely to push the existing plans; we want to hear from women across the island to discover their needs, their wishes, their hopes for Bermuda, and their proposed solutions.

In 2000, the PLP guaranteed eight weeks of paid maternity leave. Now, 17 years later, we hope to extend this to 13 weeks and make allowances for paternity leave. However, for an issue such as this, women must be consulted. Statistics and numbers should not determine how and when a mother or father can bond with her child. A parent decides that.

A stereotype throughout the world shows an addict and alcoholic to be a street-dwelling, older man. Women are just as likely to fall victim to addiction as men. Addiction does not discriminate based on age, sex or economic status. Yet, there is no drug treatment programme at the co-ed prison that holds women, while they operate at Westgate — admittedly in a limited and intermittent capacity. A comprehensive drug treatment programme is required for all; not just the stereotype we see, but the mothers, the daughters, the aunts, those who are homeless, those who are not.

The next PLP government will re-evaluate the services available to persons who may be struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism. I am encouraged, as a person who struggles with mental illness, that my party will also provide dual-diagnosis services for those persons who are affected both by addiction and alcoholism, and by mental illness in prison and residential treatment. This cannot, however, end there. In the community is where we begin and where we end. The Women’s Caucus recognises that the needs for women can differ from the needs of men, and the PLP’s plan for a comprehensive review of inpatient and outpatient mental health services in Bermuda, with a view to making progressive reform, will include these considerations.

The OBA’s cuts to financial assistance disproportionately affect women because they are far more likely to be the head of single-parent households. Our families are more in need than ever and, while access to exact figures is difficult, the large exodus of Bermudians has included many single women and their children. They are Bermudians and belong in Bermuda. We must help them to return.

“Gulfstream” has become a dirty word. The residents are the hidden and the forgotten, and women suffer more from government policies. With the children’s playrooms closed for more than a year, there is no indoor play area. The men’s facility includes washers and dryers, yet the women — most of whom must wash their children’s clothes — are provided one unit locked in a staffroom.

Why are women, who care for so many, not cared for? We stand behind our young black men, we stand beside other women who are discriminated in work by virtue of their sex, we stand for our children at TN Tatem when their health is being put at risk. Who stands for us? Well, we do for each other because we must. We do not ask for permission to pave our own way.

With 2,000 jobs lost over the past four years, we cannot ignore that women are included in that number.

There is much focus on the loss of construction jobs and young black men who are unemployed, and rightly so.

But, in that drive to repair this, we cannot continue to allow for women to be the forgotten; our struggles are just as important.

If we do not face the issues that affect women, we will continue to raise our girls and boys to be disenfranchised. A community of hurt is a community that will not thrive.

Liana Hall, daughter of the late political and legal icon Julian Hall, is the public relations officer of the Progressive Labour Party, an accomplished actress, mental health activist and the author of The Little Cottage