ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
First, second, and third periodic reports dated 26 September 1995
Antigua and Barbuda, or simply Antigua, as the country is mainly known, became independent from Britain in 1981. A third, uninhabited island called Redonda is also part of the country, which in all has a total land area of 440 square miles. Antigua, where the bulk of the country's 66,000 or so people live, takes about ninety minutes to cross, from top to bottom. Although its tropical marine climate and sandy beaches have made it, along with the other islands of the Caribbean, an earthly paradise in the imagination of many, mainly Western, visitors, the reality is that Antigua has negligible natural resources, little arable land, very limited fresh water and is subject to severe hurricaines and tropical storms. As one British travel writer concedes, the sugar plantations may have faded away, but colonialism assumes many forms, and "the bittersweetness of upmarket tourism" is now the centre of the island's economy .1
One family dynasty has controlled the fortunes of Antigua since the mid-1940s, when Vere C. Bird came to prominence in the country's first labour union and became the president of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) in 1943. The U.S. State Department, in the main extremely reticent in its description of the politics of Antigua, concedes that "the opposition has charged that t2he ALP's longstanding monopoly on patronage and its influence over access to economic opportunities make it extremely difficult for opposition parties to attract membership and financial support."2
One of Antigua's two non-religious radio stations and its only television station is owned by the government, while the other radio station is owned by the Prime Minister's brother. Another brother is the principal owner of the only cable television company.3 When Antigua's only daily newspaper -- which is independent -- tried to start a radio station, the police shut it down. Abuses of free speech provisions in the Constitution, ostensibly in the interests of public order, have limited free speech, and have helped the Bird family maintain its grip on political power.4
Members of the Bird family and government officials have been implicated in drug and gun-running operations, and recently Antigua has been identified as one of the world's centres for off-shore banking, where much of the criminal world's money-laundering takes place.5 According to one journalist who writes often about the Caribbean, "over time...his critics charge, Mr. Bird and his sons, including Lester, the current Prime Minister, have made Antigua a haven for fast-buck artists and con-men...; meanwhile, the critics say, the Birds use their own share of the loot to maintain themselves in power."6 However, strict anti-money laundering legislation was passed last December in Antigua. By that time, about fifty-seven off-shore banks had been established.7
Off-shore banking, however, did not spring up in a vacuum. Antigua's economy, along with other nations in the Caribbean, is being badly affected by the ending of preferential trade agreements with Europe. In March 1997 the World Trade Organization Disputes Panel ruled in favour of the U.S., or rather in favour of the large U.S. owned banana plantations in Latin America, that the European Union's preferential agreements with the Caribbean and Pacific States violated open trading rules.8 Banana production is important to the economies of several Caribbean countries, but they cannot hope to compete with the U.S. plantations. The first of several meetings to examine new conditions in world trade and the vulnerabilities of the Cariforum states of the Caribbean took place in Tobago in April following the WTO decision.9
Throughout the Caribbean there is growing concern over the importance of inter-regional trade to promote economic growth and increased food security. Between 1988 and 1992, Antigua's food import bill nearly doubled. Although Antiguq does produce food for local consumption, agriculture and industry only account for about twenty percent of GDP, while services are almost seventy-five percent. Like the rest of the Caribbean, Antigua for some time has identified tourism as its engine of growth. The number of tourists to the Caribbean has tripled in twenty years.
However, while tourism accounts for about forty percent of Antigua's economy, it is one of the islands of the Caribbean where local people have very little control over their major industry. Hotel ownership in Jamaica and Barbados, for example, has passed mainly into local hands. Ninety percent of the resorts in Antigua are still owned by foreigners, and, according to a recent report in The Guardian, few Antiguans are in top management positions.10 The need for local production to be integrated into the tourist industry is vital to the health of the economy, and this includes making better use of the island's human resource base. Although this has been recognized for some time, efforts to link farmers and fishermen, craftspeople and small-scale manufacturers with hotels has been very slow in taking shape.
A UNDP-funded study back in 1980 identified several plausible local links with tourist hotels that could be developed.11 However, the leader of Antigua's opposition party complains that the development that has come through tourism "...is not in our hands. We can't lay a foundation on which we benefit."12
To attract tourists and investors, Antigua must continue to provide a semblance of paradise, and this includes a local population who are forever friendly, and if they are poor, as many are, discreet about their poverty. One commentator noted that "there appears to be a deep-seated resentment of the industry at every level of society."13 It was recently reported in an opposition weekly that the Prime Minister himself was once refused entry into Club Antigua, one of the island's "all-inclusive" hotels, because he did not have a pass and was not recognized by a security guard. For the locals on these tourist islands, "all-inclusives" could more accurately be called "all-excluding."14 The article noted wryly that "once the people of Antigua had to have a pass to be out of doors after the ringing of a church bell at night."15
TEMPORARY SPECIAL MEASURES - Convention Article 4
The Antigua government report (CEDAW/C/ANT/1-3), dated September 1995, states that the upgrading of the Women's Desk to a Directorate of Women's Affairs in 1985 was thought of as the most visible and meaningful effort the government could make to address the concerns of women. It goes on to say that "the Government is currently in the process of appointing adquate staff to facilitate effecting functioning of this body."16 According to the recent U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, there has been little evidence that the promises made by the government for the advancement of women are being taken seriously. The Directorate of Women's Affairs has apparently achieved very little.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Convention Articles 3, 5, 6, 12, 15 and 16
One source states that domestic violence in Antigua is "endemic and is widely recognized as a social problem."17 As often occurs elsewhere in the world, the police are usually reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes, and the courts have a reputation for being lenient in these cases, which in turn helps to perpetuate the violence by discouraging women from coming forward to press charges.
EDUCATION - Convention Article 10
A study carried out twelve years ago by the Antigua-based Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation (CFPA) corroborated what the average Antiguan probably already knew, which was that becoming pregnant while still in school usually meant the end of a girl's education.18 The seriousness of this problem for the society is reflected in the overall figures, from a 1990 study, that claimed twenty-five to thirty percent of all births in the Commonwealth Caribbean were to teenage mothers.19 Some say there is evidence that a girl who drops out of school due to pregnancy at age thirteen is likely to have her second child by the time she is fifteen.20 The chief executive officer of CFPA has been quoted as saying "...the best way to prevent teenage pregnancy...is to provide young ladies with the opportunity to remain in school."21
However, the chief of CFPA added that the difficulty in empowering girls either to "just say no," or to manage sexuality responsibly is that so many factors are involved. As mentioned under Article 12 below, there is some doubt that education, in itself, was a significant factor in the rapidly declining fertility rate in Antigua that began in the 1960s. There is little disagreement, however, throughout the world, that among the poor, female-headed households form a significant portion. In Surinam about twenty percent of households are headed by women. In Jamaica it is about forty-six percent, but Antigua is one of the highest, with an average of nearly fifty-nine percent female-headed households.22
Education may be only one of a complex of factors that help young women to avoid poverty as a single-parent, but it is at least an important factor, and attitudes about how to deal ith teenage pregnancy have been softening in Antigua since the CFPA study was made. There are NGO-initiated efforts in Antigua to provide alternative secondary or continuation programmes to teenage mothers, but it is unclear how much support there is for these programmes in government. If the 1996 U.S. State Department report is accurate, the government promised "in previous years" to provide better programmes and educational opportunities, as well as family planning programmes, but does not seem to have taken any action. At least there were no initiatives during the year the State Department report was being written.
EMPLOYMENT - Convention Article 11
Despite the government's failure in the past to show real political will to promote the advancement of women, some people feel that as the importance of inter-regional trade grows, there is increased awareness of the need to provide services and generally to upgrade the women "hucksters" who are the backbone of inter-island trading.23
Unfortunately, as the Government report readily admits, women occupy mainly menial positions in the tourist industry. There is a hotel training school run by the Ministry of Tourism, but IWRAW was not able to determine in time whether this school has targeted women for higher level training or has a quota of any kind.
HEALTH CARE AND FAMILY PLANNING - Convention Article 12
Fertility declined in Antigua from the mid-1960s and reached replacement level in the late 1980s.24 During the period when total fertility was falling -- from a high in the 1950s of about 7.0 to a low of about 1.7 in 1988 -- wages doubled, infant mortality declined, the proportion of women who completed secondary school rose from three percent to about fifty percent. One source states, however, that the fertility decline in Antigua was not about education so much as "the conjunction of new educational and employment opportunities for women...", itself part of the structural transformation in the Antiguan economy, freeing women from dependency on their children and on men.25 Said another way, women were no longer limited to "childbearing as an investment activity."
Effective contraception technologies have been available in Antigua since World War II. It is said that Antigua's Family Planning Association, however, has not been very effective in distributing this technology or contraceptive information to those who may have needed help to access it.26 The most recent U.S. State Department Human Rights Report says that the government has promised for some years to provide better programmes of all sorts, including family planning services, "but has failed to implement any new programmes during 1996." Given the dire economic and social consequences that often entrap teenage mothers, this is a failure that can have lasting social and economic consequences for the society.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LAW - Convention Article 16
Nowhere is the Antigua Government report (CEDAW/C/ANT/1-3) to CEDAW more surprising, and disappointing, than in the section (mistakenly identified in the report as Article 14) concerning marriage and family law. Since Antigua is reporting to CEDAW for the first time, one would have expected at least some discussion of the important social legislation that has been passed since its independence from Britain in 1981.27
Three family statutes were passed by 1987: the Births Act, the Intestate Estates Act and the Status of Children Act. The first allows men to register and legitimize children born outside marriage; the second enables children legitimized in this way to inherit from their father's estates (a right they did not have under colonial law); and the Status of Children Act prohibits discrimination against illegitimate children. These laws, enacted in similar forms in other Caribbean states somewhat earlier than in Antigua, represent a validation of the local kinship system, and an important shift "in the distribution of power between the state, the churches, and the schools."28
While the Antigua government report states, rather dismissively, that "non-marital unions are mainly to be found in the lower socio-economic strata...,"29 children born outside of registered marriage constitute a majority of the population, and it is precisely this equation between illegitimacy and subordinate status that the legislation seeks to redress. "Discrimination against illegitimate children is naturalized, institutionalized, and perpetuated in Christian schools and churches-- in direct opposition [now] to the State."30
As in the past, the marriage rate in Antigua remains very low. According to one source, 4.5 per 1000 in 1987.31 Marriage is valued in Antiguan society, but parenting outside of marriage is also valued. "Long-term nonlegal relationships are deeply rooted in the past, and these practices prevail alongside formalized unions. ...As in Jamaica, families [in Antigua] are generally large and include complicated alliances that cross social class."32
The passage of the Births Act and the Status of Children Act has made it easier for illegitimate children to secure legal documents and to attend certain schools -- since the passage of the Status of Children Act in 1987, the threat of public exposure has forced the headmasters of at least three secondary schools to enroll illegitimate children33 -- but the new legislation has also proved contentious and has not been altogether popular.
According to Antiguan attorney Sharon Walter in 1991, "prior to the Status of Children Act...it was commonly accepted that the mother of an illegitimate child had the right to legal custody of that child unless the Court, in considering the welfare of the child, ordered that some other person should have custody....That position may now have changed since the Status of Children Act provides that 'the status and the rights and obligations of the parents...of a child born out of wedlock are the same as if the child were born in wedlock...' This would seem to indicate that the parents would, as in the case of legitimate children, have joint custody of their offspring. This is a controversial issue and there are presently differing schools of thought on the issue."34 When this was written, no text case had been brought before the High Court, but there were several cases in which the Act was being evoked to assert the rights of unmarried men over their children. While the Act could help those unmarried women who bear the main financial and social burden of raising their children, it could also be used in some cases as a weapon to control them. Also, the Intestate Estates Act could have unwelcome consequences for women who are legally married but whose husbands have illegitimate children.
Given the enormous potential impact of these new laws on women, it is important that the Antiguan government delegation to CEDAW provide an up to date assessment of how they have been used in the courts and any measurable impact they may have had up to the present.
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