INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women globally, while calling for greater equality. The Women of Industry, Solidarity and Empowerment (WISE), celebrate with all women in marking this occasion under the theme “Make it Happen”. We also recognize the colour purple, chosen to commemorate this occasion. We see it as a fitting symbol, distinguishing the richness and success of women worldwide.
Historically, the traditional role of the woman was thought to be one of domestic ingenuity; managing the household with the greatest proficiency without any prospect of upward mobility. Every 8th day of March since 1811, we celebrate International Women’s Day; a day when women world-wide, reflect on their journey from a time in history, to their present place. It is a day when we are reminded and re-introduced to influential women in our history, who have left their indelible mark in their respective industries. These women were great; their courage surpassed their fears, and they held steadfast in their fight for justice and equality for the human race. Yet, while we are constantly reminded of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks of the past, there are many other women who often go unrecognized. The paths of those unsung heroes were just as difficult and their fights just as courageous.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2015, we would like to acknowledge our women who have pioneered worldwide, with particular emphasis on our Caribbean and Saint Lucian women, who have contributed and continue to contribute in various aspects of our personal and professional landscape. Some of these phenomenal women you may be familiar with, others will be introduced to you, for the first time. These women paved the way for other Caribbean women, and this tribute will take a two-pronged recognition of women: Political and socio-economic.
Politics was always thought of as a man’s game, dirty and not fair for the fairer sex. These assumptions made many governments of the 19th century resist any efforts by women to play a part in the political development of their country. A long struggle by women led many thinkers to shed their reservations, and to embrace women as partners in the socio-political and economic development of their countries.
Today, the Women of Industry, Solidarity and Empowerment salute some remarkable leaders who are worthy of emulation, and who left their footprints on the world stage:
History and literature record that:-
The first female member of the United States of Representatives was Jeannette Rankin of Montana in 1917; Miriam A. Ferguson and Nellie Taylor Ross became the first Governors of the United States; Frances Perkins when chosen as the first female Cabinet Minister ushered in a new era for women in politics. Since then, many women have made their mark in American politics, with Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Sarah Palin being the most recent and notable ones in our era.
In the world of politics, women went on to hold high offices:-
Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1990 and successfully completed her five-year term. Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India and held the office from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 to 1984, when she was assassinated. Golda Meir was the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974. She gained popularity as “Iron Lady” of Israel when she ordered Mossad to hunt down perpetrators of the Munich Olympic Massacre. Isabel Marnez de Peron became the President of Argentina upon her husband’s death and was in office for two years. Margaret Thatcher became the Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 and remained in office for three consecutive terms. The western world was still more tolerant to women than the east, but it did not stop Khaleda Zia and Benazir Bhutto to head conservative Muslim nations Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively.
It is interesting to note that contrary to popular belief, the women of Africa have made considerable progress in rightfully claiming their place in the development of their countries. Africa, a continent where male supremacy continues to be very prevalent, women have been successful in taking up the mantle of leadership and executing their roles in close harmony with their male counterparts. We salute:-
President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,President Joyce Banda of Malawi, Foreign Minister Armina Mohamed of Kenya,Foreign Minister of Gambia, Susan Waffia Ogoo,Head of State of the Central African Republic, Catherine Sambu Panzana as well as the five (5) women Cabinet Ministers in Algeria.
We honour also, the trail-blazing efforts of some other outstanding women in contemporary political history: Corazon Aquino, first female President of the Philippines and first female President in Asia, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Second Female President of the Philippines, Kim Campbell of Canada.
Despite the obstacles to gender equality in the Caribbean, in the late twentieth century several women did rise to leadership of their country notably:
Janet Jagan served as President of Guyana from December 1997 through August 1999; President Pamela Gordon, Bermuda’s first female Premier; DameJennifer M. Smith, Bermuda’s second female Premier; Paula Cox, Bermuda’s third female and Premier and Leader of the Progressive Labour Party; Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica’s first female and current Prime Minister and President of the Peoples National Party; Kamla Persad-Bissessar; Trinidad and Tobago’s first female and current Prime Minister and Leader of the United National Congress and leads the Peoples Partnership, a coalition of five political parties; Dame Louise Lake-Tack; Antigua and Barbuda’s first female Governor; Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, Antigua and Barbuda’s President of the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), 2006-2008, a specialized organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the oldest organization committed to addressing the rights of women, gender equality and equity. Now the Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Gender Affairs Mia Mottley, QC Barbados’ former leader of the Barbados Labour Party, the First Female Leader of the Opposition and now a Member of Parliament; Dame Eugenia Charles was elected to serve three terms from1980-1995 as the first female Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica and Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, a former Chief Justice of the Haitian Supreme Court was named President of Haiti from March 1990 to February 1991.
From our homeland, Saint Lucia :
Heraldine Rock, first female Minister to be elected in the Parliament of Saint Lucia; Her Excellency Mennisa Rambally, currently serving as Permanent Representative of Saint Lucia to the United Nations, and the youngest woman to enter politics in Saint Lucia at age 21. She won her seat in 2001 and served in the Ministry of Agriculture as parliamentary secretary, Minister of Tourism,and Minister of Social Transformation Ms. Sarah Flood-Beaubrun who became the Minister of Health in the St Lucia Labour Party Government in 1997 Dame Pearlette Louisy, Saint Lucia’s first female Governor General, serving under both political parties of the country. Alvina Reynolds, Minister of Health; Emma Hippolyte, Director of Audit; Director of National Insurance Corporation and now Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce; Dr.Gail Rigobert, Parliamentary Representative for Micoud North and Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of Saint Lucia.
The election of Ms. Rambally and Sarah Flood-Beaubrun in 1997 and 2001, according to Cynthia Barrow-Giles, “transformed Saint Lucia’s lower House of Parliament from a virtual ‘all boys’ camp’ to a more gender integrated elected Parliament.”
While great emphasis is often placed on Women in Politics, it has been established that women also play an integral role in the socio-economic development of their countries. Miss Lawrence M.P. Laurent, in a tribute to Mrs. Ione Erlinger-Ford some years ago, noted that “today, women are holding some of the highest positions in Saint Lucia and there is no longer a disparity among the sexes when it relates to the work force.” According to Miss Laurent, “a few decades ago an attempt was made to enshrine inequality among the sexes in the work force in the proposed Labour Code, but this was thwarted by a group of determined women led by the indomitable ATS Sergeant-at-Arms and President of the Business and Professional Women’s Club – Mrs. Ione Erlinger-Ford. Their strong intervention caused the recognition of women as equal partners at all levels in the work place and the relegation of the Code back to the drafting table. The activities of the Club, under the leadership of Erlinger-Ford were centred on the empowerment of women and the elevation and edification of the marginalized. This materialized in the establishment of the Upton Gardens Girls Centre. Her desire to find solutions to the problems facing abused and battered women, led to the conceptualization of the St. Lucia Crisis Centre”.
Deceased Justice Judge Suzie d’Auvergne was a Legal Luminary and a legend in her time.
Saint Lucia has come a long way! So today, Saint Lucia celebrates with women worldwide. The Women of Industry, Solidarity and Empowerment (WISE) salute our women of Saint Lucia, the Caribbean and the world. We have demonstrated that we are on the right road to making it happen!