Gender discrimination

| 12/09/2013

The most galling part of Minister Tara Rivers’ defence of her trip to South Africa and criticism of the media coverage surrounding it was the claim that the negative press was because she is a woman. As the minister responsible for gender affairs, she should be ashamed of herself. CNS, she should note, is run by women, and while we are are thrilled to see a woman in Cabinet, Rivers must understand that she is not an affirmative action minister.

Rivers is right that globally the media, like many other institutions, does discriminate against women, especially ones in leadership positions. It is not uncommon in the mainstream European and American media for stories about powerful women to be described in very different terms to men. News report about a man will not generally refer to his Gucci snakeskin loafers or make comments about how he wore his hair for a photo call, but where women are involved, appearance often becomes the focus of the story rather than any pressing political or socio-economic issue.

Family ties and children, sex lives and emotions are much more often the subject of news stories regarding female leaders than their male counterparts, and women everywhere have a much tougher time reaching their career goals than men because along the way they will almost certianly have to deal with both active and passive sexism. However, in order to challenge real chauvinism, we, as women, must be wary of those crying wolf.

In Rivers’ case, there was nothing in any of the reports in any media that singled her out because she was a woman; there were no references to her outfits or to her personal life. The reports had nothing to do with her gender and everything to do with her decision as a politician.

Shortly after taking up her cabinet position, Rivers was at the centre of a major courtroom drama that distracted her from her ministerial duties for several weeks. Almost as soon as that was behind her, she unwisely made a decision to go to a conference halfway around the world. At a time of growing unemployment and hardship for local workers and, even more importantly, at the start of the school year, Rivers, as minister responsible for these two huge areas, had work to do at home.

There is no doubt that the conference in South Africa offered her the opportunity for development, learning, comparing notes and discussing important common issues with her counterparts in other countries, as many conferences, workshops and seminars do. But before the minister looks at other jurisdictions for inspiration, she must begin the process of understanding her own.

The minister has not yet had enough the time to talk in depth to her staff in all the various departments she is now responsible for. She has not had the time to discuss the issues within Cayman’s schools with parents, teachers, principals, specialist teachers and education experts within her own staff. She cannot yet have a full understanding of the gulf between the unemployed and the employers, or had time to discuss initiatives with policy advisers, administrative staff and management at each level so she has a full understanding of what works and what doesn’t, what has been tried and what hasn’t (and why), which of the wonderful new ideas she discovers in other jurisdictionsare, in fact, already happening.

Learning about civics lessons taught elsewhere is less important than making sure all Year 5 students in the Cayman Islands have a teacher. And if they don’t, it is her ultimate responsibility to find out why.

The cost of the trip, which we are still waiting to see, may not be terribly significant but when the jobless and the low paid are hurting, when business owners are struggling to pay their inflated fees and all of us pay through the nose for basic groceries, it is infuriating to see ministers fly round the world for what look like jollies, whatever the subject matter.

Regardless of whether Rivers should have gone or not, the public relations surrounding this trip was shambolic. There was no mention of it in any official statement, despite numerous opportunities for her to inform the public via official channels, and press releases about her whereabouts appeared to be untruthful — something that is bound to be picked up by the media. The excuse that it was on her Facebook page is absurd. Social media is one way to disseminate information, and journalists do use it as one source of gathering news, but it’s not enough to post information that should be disseminated to the wider public on Facebook and hope the media finds it.

If Rivers had been paying attention over the last four years, she would have known that when politicians go on expensive trips, the media and the public will want to know why and how much it costs. And if she thinks that male politicians do not receive such scrutiny, she should have a little sit down with UDP Leader McKeeva Bush. Her new boss, Alden McLaughlin, the country’s third premier, was fully cognizant of public skepticism about ministers' overseas trips, so much so that one of his first actions in office was to implement a travel policy to control spending and curb unnecessary travel.

The public has every right to question where their tax dollars go and CNS will continue to provide a platform for the people of the Cayman Islands to do so, regardless of the sex, creed, colour and political or religious persuasion of the public servant in question.

Rivers' actions and decisions (and expensive official trips) will be scrutinized in exactly the same way as those of her male colleagues. To do otherwise would be actual discrimination.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This is a sad state of affairs but it was encouraging to read that although Winston Connolly was the chosen one to attend he politely refused the invitation, which made way for Tara to accept it. Good on him! It shows who is the wiser one and who truly cares about this country and his country. Whilst she was gallavanting off to South Africa he was here trying to sort out situations were children were left without teachers in schools etc. Thank you Mr. Connolly, please continue to make wise choices.

    • Anonymous says:

      He sounds like is preparing to become the Education Minister and following the PPM party line 

  2. Anonymous says:

    Aldin started out on the wrong foot. When Ms. Rivers was offered a seat in cabinet she should have been given ten minutes to say either 'yes' or 'no', nothing more. The fact that she took almost a week to accept a cabinet position shows that deep down she was not ready for such an important position, she knew within herself that she could not handle the job. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Tara is one of the most competent persons ever to hold a govt. ministerial seat in Cayman. While I do not approve of how she has dealt with this matter none of that detracts from her competency.

      Clearly, she had a number of issues to consider and be re-assured about before accepting the position, including how her constituents felt about her joining a PPM administration when she had been elected as an independent. You clearly don't know her if you believe the delay reflected a lack of self-confidence.

    • Anonymous says:

      Can't handle the job? If Mckeeva could be Premier, Finance Minister and Minister of All Tings then Tara can easily do the job.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Seems it would have been better for PPM to have given a Ministerial seat to Mr. McTaggart!

    Though I guess the PPM wanted to a West Bay member so as to be inclusive.

    Still, Mr. McTaggart clearly would have made a more mature Minister!

  4. Still searching says:

    Your people comes first especially the children. Tara and Winston take note as the people are fed up  of this so call self before country attitude. In a world of technology i cannot understand why not video conference, etc…? Such a waste of money to have Tom, dick and Harry traveling senselessly around the world at our expense. 

    At least not for us, then do it for the children. Get your house in order first before you go gallivanting around the world! 

    Your excuse is a disgrace and I'm certain there are other people much empathetic and sincere to the issues facing this country. Get on with what you were elected to do help and provide a decent place for citizens to live, work, educate and grow in.

  5. Knot S Smart says:

    Is it just me or did anyone else notice that once politicians get elected they tend to never miss an opportunity for personal travel at tax-payers expense?

    Also has anyone ever did research to find out whether representatives from West Bay have a genetic pre-disposition to ridicule and attack anyone who questions their actions?

    Especially when it comes to them wasting tax-payer dollars for their own benefit…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Makes you wonder whether she really is mature enough to hold down such a responsible job doesn't it? Throwing a hissy fit like this is not exactly adult behaviour – my six-year-old daughter is better behaved.   

  7. Anonymous says:

    Point well taken CNS, but you didn't had to attack the way she is doing herministerial duties. Whether she goes to Africa before undertaking the unemployment issues home or vice versa is her priority setting – not CNS!  

  8. Senior says:

    CNS, beware to whoever wrote this piece against the MLA… what goes around comes around… you are well aware of the implications of your criticism. You're still a young news organization.

  9. Annie Oakley says:

    Brilliant VP CNS – I've been trying to write something along these lines myself and you have said it all far better than I could have and I fully support the sentiment.

    Of all our elected officials, I believe Minister Rivers needs to be the most accountable and the most transparent – and this is not because she’s a woman but because she's been given a second chance – it was a slightly shaky start but she's been given a wonderful opportunity to make a difference and she needs to be cognizant of this fact.

    Instead of serving the public she's already giving the appearance that she seems to think the public are there to serve her – providing her with access to the public purse for travel that may or may not be beneficial to the country.  To CNS's point – I think we all agree that the country would find her experience in her own country quite valuable – learning lessons from other countries to apply locally is only valuable once you've identified the issues you have in your own country – surely this is only possible to ascertain by spending time in your own country first.

    Tara Rivers was quoted as saying, ‘I do not expect to be above questioning or even criticism by the press that is part and parcel of being an elected official.’ Rest assured it will not just be the press that will be questioning and criticizing, and to her further point, we, the public, will treat our officials with respect not because they are officials but because they are public servants doing their very best to serve the public and not themselves…..

  10. Anonymous says:

    CNS, I must commend you for this stellar response above. While I have been and continue to be a supporter of Ms. Rivers I do not admire her reaction in this instance and feel it was unbecoming of her and her office. It is recognised that she has been under a tremendous amount of stress in defending her elected seat, along with the tremendous responsibility of her portfolio, but going foward I hope she considers her responses before issuing them. By the same token it would be remiss of me not to give recognition to Counselor Winston Connolly who has done a sterling job as Acting Minister during Minister Rivers' absence from the Islands. Well done Mr. Connolly.

  11. 4Cayman says:

    Well said CNS. She hasn't even been in the post for three months yet she traveling across the world racking up expenses for this county whilst students don't have teachers. I said this before that Alden made a poor decision recruiting her on his platform but you know what as the old people say " you can't hear, you gonna feel ". In the bible it is noted that great men were destroyed by the betrayal of women. Alden you got two eyes and two women who I know are not 100% committed to the PPM manifesto and by vertue of this, you better sleep with both eyes opened!

    CNS thank you for uncovering the dirtthese politiians try to hide. 

  12. Anonymous says:

    Shows you that intelligence is NOT the only criteria needed for a good representative!. WB has made a mistake putting Tara in. She even questions her seating assignment at govt. events because she wishes to be right up front. SAD …

  13. Anonymous says:

    Well said!

  14. Anonymous says:

    A very powerful response. Concise, scholarly and shows the high level of journalistic talent at CNS. Keep up the good work and we need more voices like CNS to place checks and balances on civil servants and serve as a platform for positive debate which can lead to real change. You are truly the voice of the people in Cayman. And I would add – all people (locals and expats who want to see Cayman a much better place).

  15. Anonymous says:

    Well said!

  16. Anonymous says:

    cant believe you wasted time to write this…time that could have been better spent finding a job for a Caymanian. Lets move on from this petty subject, the petty politics and get the country back in swing…fully waste of time and space!…do somehting productive please.

    • Anonymous says:

      You  should be addressing these comments to Tara not CNS 13:47

      • Yeah Tara, where is my job? says:

        I want to know what Tara thinks about the 5 qualified Caymanians that were passed over for an Expat at CIAA?

        How about a progress report from the NWDA?  I know three qualified Caymanians with excellent reputations and glowing references that have been completely ignored by the NWDA for at least six months! (CPA, IT Exec, and Telecoms Mng)

        The NWDA just pushes through work permit waivers (a dozen at a time!)

        No recruiting, no pressure to the large firms.

        Dishwashers and security guards only need apply at the NWDA?

        Business Staffing Board? Zzzzzz

        Tara, stop your drama queen antics and give us a report on the NWDA and the job market.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Well written CNS, Ms Rivers has made a mistake for sure, and she needs to calm down and think about her mistake, instead of firing off a non-relevant and inaccurate broadside, which  anyone with half a brain can see is an attempt to deflect attention away from herself. It has backfired already.


    Does she deserve another chance? I know nothing about her personally, however she is a new politician and should be given the benefit of the doubt in this case. I doubt she has had much schooling in the fact that she is now a matter of public interest and that she must think accordingly. One more chance I say, no more.

    Whilst in general I have to agree with CNS stance that woman get a much worse press than men, I would point out that there are some exceptions. Once again the former Icelandic PM and Lithuanian president were and are well respected for their intellect and frankly for having larger "balls" than most men, as well as taking the moral highground. There are a few more, however it does not happen often enough, that is for sure.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think Ms. Rivers does deserve another chance, and another if necessary.    Mistakes are made, and often it is the rebuttal or coverup of said mistakes that resonates longer than the original transgression.      We have to stick together;   we elected Ms. Rivers, and she has accepted an important role in our government.    We need her, and she needs us.    I believe she will step up to the plate, because she is intelligent and cares about her country.   I believe she wants the best for The Cayman Islands.     Okay, it's time to kick it up a notch, Tara.   You have it in you.   Show us why we did the right thing in placing you in office.    Shut us up, please.  

  18. Anonymous says:

    I don't think anyone could have articulated this better. Agreed with every point. 

  19. Anonymous says:

    Well said CNS!

    Ms. Rivers excuses on this matter are embarrassing.

    She could have written one paragraph to all various media outlets (or instructed anyone in her Ministry to do so for that matter) rather than her very long and pathetic reaction to the medias/peoples right to timely information.

    I expected better of you Ms. Rivers!

  20. Robert A Bodden says:

    So true CNS…… She has allot to learn. With all her degrees this was a very poor choice on her part. This past election was highlighted by similar jaunts by previous ministers and we can no longer afford to attend evry single one of these meetings. Much work is needed here at home, the high rate of unemployment, cost of living, company fees and red tape to do business in Cayman should be this Government primary focus on improving. The PPM have past the probation period and it is time to unvail how they plan to address these issues. People are losing their homes, cant put food on the table and find a job and Minister Rivers thought it fit to galavant arount the globe, shame, shame, ahame on you. We expect better from you and we the people are looking for immedate results. This government has no time to be slacking, the Cayman Islands people is watching and we will be holding you accountable. This government has a few freshman ministers to worry about and sorry to inform you if you cant take the heat get out of the kitchen. We need solutions now not empty promises.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Minister Rivers that she is being unfairly singled out and criticised for her official travels. 


    Have any of the other Minister's travels in the last few months been put under such public scrutiny?


    I see every reason why Minister Rivers, the Minister for Education and Gender should have attended the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Conference (CPC) in Johannesburg. There was a significant focus on gender issues. Look through the programme. On Day 5 which is actually Day 2 (as the first 3 days are meetings on the steering committees) 90% of the sessions are on gender issues:

    Engendering Democracy    

    Increasing Women’s Political Participation: Leadership, Electoral Systems and Campaign Funding

    Women Parliamentarians and Social Media 

    Women, Poverty and Homelessness    

    See for yourselves:

    I agree that the public and the media should scrutinise the public funds that are spent by our elected officials – however – be reasonable and fair in your scrutiny

    What a lot of time has been wasted on this non-issue! Get out there and uncover the real news Cayman journalists!



    • Anonymous says:

      Which part of the agenda dealt with education or labour? Those are the subject areas Minister Rivers is responsible for, and which should be her primary focus.

      Until she has mastered those, or at least taken the time to understand them and DO something meaningful about them; and I mean something that will positively impact the lives of many of us who are suffereing day after day, she should not be travelling anywhere. Period! 

      Since you agree with her little jaunt, pehaps you can explain how Minister Rivers going all the way to South Africa to 'learn' about Electoral Systems and Campaign Funding will help me? Or you for that matter?

      And if the session on 'Women Parliamentarians and Social Media' taught her that a vague and untimely post on Facebook could be considered as acceptable communication with her 50,000+ population back at home, she needs to give us OUR money back!

      I feel sorry for Alden.  



    • Anonymous says:

      I would bet that of her portfolio, Education takes up what 85% and Gender 15%?

       If not, it should. Now do you see why the trip was a waste of time in many people's eyes and the fact that it was handled so badly makes it particularly hard to swallow?