Women’s rights have come a long way in Anguilla. As recently as 30 years ago, the legal system as well as societal attitudes marginalized women, leaving them with greatly reduced opportunities and unequal government support. “A woman’s place was considered to be in the home,” explains Kenneth Hodge, Principal Assistant Secretary in the Chief Minister’s Office, who has been responsible for Gender Affairs since 2007. “Women could not get a bank loan without their husband’s consent; they weren’t able to get very high positions in the government or the private sector or hold certain positions in the Church.”
Today’s Gender Affairs Unit originated in 1982, when Dr. Lana Hoyoung, then a teacher, was assigned to lead the women’s programme, which was then a small part of the Community Development and Welfare Department. At the time, many women had no earning potential due to a lack of marketable skills. So Dr. Hoyoung began by developing a skills training programme geared at making women more self-sufficient. “We set up the National Craft Centre for Women using funding from USAID, teaching them sewing, belt making, and different forms of crafts,” she says. “Later that year, I got a group of women together and formed the National Council of Women to represent and empower women.”
Dr. Hoyoung, who retired in 2003, worked to broaden the Unit’s focus to include emerging men’s issues. “Around 1996, we realized that we were having problems in the schools with boys,” she explains. “Also, most of the homes were headed by women. So we changed the approach from [women’s] welfare to gender.”
In 2013, Dr. Ronya Foy-Connor was appointed Gender Affairs Coordinator, freeing Hodge from that part of his portfolio, and placing new emphasis on gender issues. “Before, it had always been part of other things,” Hodge explains. “She has been able to put a face on it now.”
Dr. Foy-Connor is excited. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I like being able to help build something,” she says. “I look at what Dr. Hoyoung and Ken have done, then say, ’Okay, where at we at now? Where are we going to go now?’”
Since her appointment, major projects have included last year’s women’s and men’s weeks as well as the sixteen days of activism in November and December. “It included the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Human Rights Day and World Aids Day,” Dr. Foy-Connor explains.
Moving forward, the unit sees more work to be done and plans to move into its own physical space. “We’d like to also establish a national gender policy for Anguilla,” Hodge says. “We are certainly a more educated society, with committed activists, so we need to keep that momentum going and continue to build our country.”