Small island developing states are especially vulnerable to external economic and environmental shocks. At the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa, 1-4 September, the Commonwealth is partnering with the United Nations, governments and international organisations to help build the resilience of these countries.
Khadija Holder, 24, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad and Tobago, reflects on the ways that youth and women are affected – and can be helped – by changing social patterns that come with development.
I am woman. I am youth. I am a small islander.
In a world where we are often framed by our characteristics instead of our character, what do the elements of me that I see beauty in mean for my future? For other youths in small island developing states? Other women? Others vulnerable to social stigma and threats because of age, gender or birthplace – attributes not chosen but given?
Youths in SIDS are faced with one or a combination of poor access to quality education, unemployment, sexual abuse, drugs, suicide, and violence at home, school in the community. They must deal with poverty, illiteracy, incest, sexually transmitted diseases, human trafficking, malnutrition, and physical disabilities. They are exposed to poor security, substandard school and community buildings that are prone to flood, landslide and fire, barriers to free speech, and inadequate representation in national governance.
In Papua New Guinea there are an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year but only 10,000 secure, formal jobs. In Singapore, police reports show that for the first six months of 2014, about 44 per cent of the rape cases reported involved girls under the age of 14 and 67 per cent of arrested first-time drug users were under 30 years of age. In Trinidad, a video of a mother using a garden shovel to beat her young son now circulates social media. In Jamaica, a transgender teen was brutally murdered in July 2014. Youth suicide rates in Pacific islands like Samoa, Guam and Micronesia are some of the highest in the world, with contributory stressors found to include unemployment, social and cultural expectations, family and relationship problems, bullying, violence and abuse.
SIDS women are impacted by unemployment, sexual discrimination in executive organisational positions within the public and private sectors, under representation in parliament. They are burdened with an inability to meet and provide basic needs such as food and medicines, sexually transmitted and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), sexual and street harassment, and domestic violence. While this does not discredit the instances (reported and unreported) where men are the victims of such vile acts, the alarming rate of women and mothers subject to harsh treatment must be addressed, as the loss and underutilisation of productive female members of SIDS contributes to poverty, strains the national budgets and takes a toll on individuals and families.
Women in organisations in Singapore are vulnerable, as there are no laws protecting employees from sexual harassment in the workplace (as in Jamaica) and no non-discrimination clause covering gender or sex in the constitution. The number of charges in Trinidad and Tobago for sexual offenses against women – such as grievous assault, rape, incest and serious indecency – has increased during 2009-2013, with reports showing a sole court to have handled 17,748 domestic violence cases within the 2012-2013 period alone. NCDs also affect the health and pregnancy of women, and is now the leading cause of death for women. In Mauritius, for example, approximately 58.7 per cent of female deaths are NCD-related.
Health continues to be a threatening issue across the female demographic, and NCDs are the leading perpetrators. NCDs are responsible for alarming rates of morbidity, death and disability, and have also contributed to premature mortality, premature retirement and loss of productivity. Call it irony, label it a paradox of disastrous proportions: SIDS pursuit of Western levels of development has unfortunately also brought NCD-causing agents, such as poor nutrition, diminished agricultural and physical activities, and tobacco and alcohol abuse. Now, the epidemic numbers of persons with diabetes, heart diseases, cancers, vision problems, calcified veins, dermatological diseases, overweight, accelerated aging, cardiovascular diseases, insulin dependence, circulatory problems and amputations is enormous, and treatment costs more than 50 per cent of many islands’ total health budget. In the Pacific, NCDs account for approximately 70 per cent of all deaths. For example, cardiovascular disease and diabetes alone are responsible for 60 per cent and 58 per cent of all male and female deaths, respectively, in Tonga. In the Caribbean, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago show average NCD death rates of 1,391 and 1,402 respectively per 100,000 per year, rates susceptible to being worsened by the recent region-wide chikungunya outbreak. In the AIMS states, these NCD rates have been similarly alarming, with one fifth of children in Singapore affected by asthma and diabetes rates of 21.84 per cent in Bahrain.
We all hold an essential role in effecting change regarding SIDS social status. Youth training programs and coalitions and agriculture and import awareness workshops have had positive effects in their respective islands, as have female entrepreneurship forums and tax increases on tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods. Still, further action and implementation is indeed critical and timely.
Hence, a shift in cultural norms, partnerships and legislative amendment is needed. This requires wellness awareness and self-development programs that shape educated perceptions. It means having affordable access to cultivable land, research institutions geared towards locally grown gems, and removing alcohol and gambling advertisements from prime time broadcast schedules.
It requires strengthened calorie and nutritional labelling requirements, creation of safe and reliable institutions for all youths to openly talk about issues, and counselling for families and new mothers. It includes abolition of laws that discriminate against LGBT persons, accenting the elimination of social stigma, creation of free speech platforms, and inter-island youth exchanges that foster shared learning.
SIDS need business incubators that motivate innovation and entrepreneurship in value-added sectors and green business, healthy environmental practices, transparency, accountability and strengthened youth representation, along with women’s involvement in governance. They require national legislation that mandates gender equality in top organisational positions, affordable and accessible education, and an overarching multi-sector partnership.
Notwithstanding this, we must each take personal account of our lifestyles, as our future is reliant upon us.
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Discovering my great passion and ambition to advocate for global progress through research-writing stands as one of my most fulfilling attainments to date. I am currently a Research Fellow at the Caribbean Centre for Research on Trade and Development (CCRTD), a Research Consultant for JDR Research Solutions Barbados, a Researcher at Athens Development and am becoming internationally certified in Spanish and French. In my spare time I engage in volunteerism through organizations such as Junior Achievement.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response.
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/
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