Second Annual Student Conference For Young Women

Address By Her Excellency Reema Carmona
At The Second Annual Student Conference For Young Women
Hosted By The Junior Achievement of Trinidad and Tobago
At the Central Bank Auditorium – March 9, 2017

This unique and progressive initiative, championed by the Junior Achievement of Trinidad and Tobago is a forum with transformational and defining potential. Due credit, respect and commendation must be extended to our distinguished panellists. YOU, have taken time off to touch lives with your shared experiences and life lessons. We all live in eternal hope that when you young women leave, you would leave inspired, motivated and would have changed for the better by being more purposeful recognizing fully your sense of self-worth.

You young women, are our Nation’s future movers and shakers. Today, in this auditorium are future mothers, wives, homemakers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, Ministers of Government, CEOs, professors, farmers, entrepreneurs, innovators and even a President or Prime Minister.

The United Nations has declared the theme of International Women’s Day celebrated yesterday as, Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030″, a telling and relevant mandate to the world to aspire towards gender equality and parity in the society. This call to arms, you young women must pay heed to, if you are to contribute to the attainment of real social justice worldwide.

International Women’s Day is a celebration of the resilience and foresight of women folk who struggled and soldiered on to attain adult suffrage, social equality and fundamental human rights. It is because of the will and foresight of brave women, that today, we can enjoy rights that were once considered privileges. Despite the advances made, the journey towards real, genuine equity, equality and parity is a long way from over. As with most laudable missions, ALL hands must be on deck to effect progress and parity in the standard and quality of lives of women.  At the end of the day, young ladies, we are aspiring towards gender equality but the true fight lies in being treated consistent with our own worth. Sometimes it’s really less about the gender standard and more about our “human” standard.

Just as those gallant women of the past, fought for us all to have a better quality of life, it is your duty and responsibility, as young women, to use every opportunity to inspire and motivate each other to be good, to do good and become greater citizens of this Republic. There has been a growing phenomenon of insults, denigration and downright disrespect by women towards other women, plastered all over social media and even, in mainstream media. You see, in Trinidad and Tobago, we have forgotten that disagreement is part of life, where it is entirely possibleand dare I say, acceptable- to have opposing views, without personally attacking each other. Mutual respect must become a staple in our lives and your lives. Too often, we engage in wasted efforts at tearing each other down, when all it takes, is just one helping hand, to help a fallen or bruised runner in that race of life.

Experience the stages of your life as they happen. In other words, don’t get carried away by the lifestyle of the 21 year old while you are still 14 or 16. Enjoy every phase of your ONE life. Yes, social media is exciting and fun- so you post the cute selfie- no harm in that. But equally, be aware of dangerous, irresponsible posts on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. We live in a digital age and it is a beautiful form of self-expression but you must be aware of the responsibilities that come with that freedom. It is now the norm for potential employers, colleges and universities to screen you, not only through the traditional interviewing process, but as well, your social media presence. Your social media profile can very realistically stand between you getting that job or acceptance letter from a university, or a door being ajar or shut in your face. Be responsible and alert- once it’s in cyber space, it’s there forever, no matter how many times you press “delete, delete, delete”.

The support and endorsement of our male counterparts in this search for the attainment of gender equality, gender sensitivity and gender fairness are pivotal. Young ladies, speak to your brothers, your fathers, your friends and other male family members about the need to eradicate gender discrimination, to make the playing field even. Get them on board to fight this good and honourable fight with you. We need to change their mindset.  When women are standing up and being counted in their social struggles, men would say if I may use the vernacular, “Them same women again” when it should be, “Yes! Yes! Right on!”

Young women, on your path to adulthood, start now, building the total woman in you. Go to school you must, strive for excellence but you need to lead healthy lifestyles, and also engage in at least one Physical sporting activity. Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease are ravaging our young people brought on by our penchant for eating junk food, saturated fats and hugging up the Siamese twins, salt and sugar. Encourage your parents to eat healthy and tell them that the revolution for a better quality of life in Trinidad and Tobago begins in the kitchens and the lunch bag.

I am a strong proponent and supporter of the importance of the child advocate. I have advanced this concept locally, regionally and internationally. Every one of you here can be a child advocate, to change your home, if there is strife. You can be the mediator in your communities and in your classrooms and today’s lessons have made you a game changer. Do not underestimate your power to change the world as a 14, 15 or 16 year old. You are the change that we seek. Look at Malala Yousafzai , the young Pakistani activist, who was viciously attacked because she decided she wanted an education. As a 14 year old child advocate, she did not only make a difference, she made THE difference and she has done far more for education and the rights of young girls by her child advocacy, in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, than many Presidents and Prime Ministers worldwide. When you are on the right side, you are enlightened and you have the responsibility of bringing those on the wrong side, on your side. Children can lead the way. Consider for example, Our Calypso art form and our Mas, that are made secure by the quality of Calypsos sung at this year’s Junior Monarch Competition and the Children’s Mas displays, last year and the year before.  The Children’s Calypsos and Children’s Mas are motivational, insightful, deep and relevant to us as a Nation dealing with the fundamentals providing Solutions to the problems that affect us all.

And so, as I close, let me remind you of what my mother still says to me to this day, and of what I try to instill in my own teenaged daughter- You are worthy and powerful and precious.  You are to never settle for anything less than the best. Remind yourselves, in the mirror daily if need be; speak greatness into your lives. Say, “I am the head, and not the tail! I am above, and not below! I am blessed! I am healthy! I am a woman of power! I am the change that this country needs! I am to be loved and handled with care! I was not created to be someone else’s ‘punching bag’! Bright and prosperous are what my future looks like! I will stand up for what is right! I will look out for my fellow sisters and we will encourage each other! Falling only means that I need to get back up and try again! Failure is NOT an option in my life nor is it a word in my vocabulary! I KNOW that I am special therefore, I will shine. I will not only make a difference, I will be THE difference! I will care for my body, my mind and my soul! I am a young woman of worth! I am somebody, I am not a number and I will be nobody’s statistic” I want you to repeat, I am somebody, I am not a number and I will be nobody’s statistic.

I thank you.