The United States opens World Cup qualifying today against Antigua and Barbuda, a game described by the Washington Post as David versus Goliath and his two snarling brothers. There is little drama to the outcome or indeed purpose to playing the game. True, if the Faroe Islands can have a team in World Cup qualification (um, where ARE the Faroe Islands?), then certainly the micro-states of the Caribbean are entitled to contesting the tournament, too. And, also true, the game does mean that the country will receive some press outside of the travel section of the newspapers, albeit small articles buried in the sports section.
But, really? The entire population of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda is less than 100,000 and could fit comfortably into the Dallas Cowboys football stadium. In all of World Cup history, only four Caribbean nations have ever gone to the tournament itself, all of which, not coincidentally, are among the larger states: Trinidad and Tobago in 2006, Jamaica in 1998, Haiti in 1974, and Cuba in 1938. The Benna Boys effort is therefore not just quixotic, it is somewhat of a farce.
So here is a proposal for consideration next time: the Caribbean nations should band together to compete under one flag, much as the West Indies do within world cricket competitions. The West Indies, or “Windies,” are a sporting confederation of 15 mainly English-speaking countries, British dependencies and non-British dependencies, and, although their fortunes have lately waned, in the 1970s achieved status as the world’s best. Much sporting success has come to the islands by pooling their resources. More importantly, working together toward a common goal is one element that has contributed at least somewhat to broader regional integration efforts.
The comparison is not perfect: soccer and cricket are different games, of course, and not all of those involved in cricket are eligible to participate in World Cup qualifying. As well, nations including Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have achieved recent World Cup qualifying success on their own and may have little interest in participating as a group.
Nonetheless, the time has come to reconsider regional qualifying. Why not put together the island nations of the Eastern Caribbean, as a start (with or without Trinidad and Tobago), and enter the next time as a group? There are no guarantees that the results will be different, although the odds would at least improve; even with pooled resources the countries would still likely struggle on the pitch. Ultimately, though, that is not really the point, because the real agenda has to do with economic integration in the Caribbean Basin which continues to be more aspirational than reality. Building a team to compete in the World Cup would contribute to this long sought goal.
Today is the 101st observation of International Women’s Day, a time to shine the global spotlight on the economic, political and social achievements of women. From my perspective, although Caribbean women are still victims of sexism, machismo and other forms of discrimination—unfortunately as in every other region in the world—their successes have been remarkably profound. The right of a woman to education and political participation is hardly denied. A number of Caribbean women are parliamentarians and ministers; the current prime ministers of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are female.
International media are beginning to notice. The Independent (UK), in a ranking of “The Best and Worst Place to Be a Woman,” announced that the Caribbean is the best place for women to be a journalist and that the region has the highest percentage of women—almost 60 percent—working in high-skilled jobs. The Bahamas is ranked the highest for economic participation and opportunity for women. This progress shows that more people are finally divorcing from their prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about the societal status of women. However, as we rejoice in this euphoria it is crucial to issue a clarion call for change in areas where basic female rights are still violated, the most glaring of which is reproductive health.
Women and girls must have access to all options of modern contraception to make informed and responsible decisions about the size of their families. But this is not so. Women and girls in the Caribbean are still marginalized and negatively impacted by antiquated laws such as Sections 56 and 57 of Trinidad & Tobago’s Offences Against the Person Act, which fail to account for their sexual and reproductive rights. When I asked on Twitter about which reproductive rights matter most to women in the Caribbean, one follower noted the “need [for] access to affordable, safe and legal abortions for the pregnant poor teenagers as well as the 'successful' married women.”
Listen to a series of interviews with stakeholders in three countries of the CARICOM economic zone: Guyana, Jamaica and St. Kitts & Nevis.
On a global scale, very few women hold leadership roles in decision-making processes. This unfortunate reality holds true especially at the regional and national levels. Didier Ruedin, a scholar on population studies, notes that “in free and partly free countries, the proportion of women in parliament is closely associated with other measures of women’s status in society.” As the argument goes, if more women are integrated into society—and are viewed as respectable and capable leaders, equal to the social standing of men—then their participation in the political system is more likely.
And since 1945, when the United Nations Charter was adopted, equal opportunity for men and women has become a fundamental principle of human rights. In the gender equality movement, there have been significant changes over the years—particularly in the areas of entitlements and women’s roles in certain activities including decision making. In fact, the 1975 genesis of International Year for Women spawned international agreements benefiting women. Some such declarations include the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, and the Millennium Development Goals, and they have been enacted to highlight the need for countries to act against discriminatory practices.
Yet many inequalities remain. Statistics show that:
• Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are female.
• Nearly 70 percent of the world's poorest people are female.
• Women represent a growing proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS.
• In only 16 countries in the world does female representation in national legislatures amount to larger than 25 percent.