Thursday, March 12, 2009
Active octogenarians Cynthia Wilmot (left) and Bishop Carmen Stewart... if they are not weary, how can we be?
Observer Column by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Monday, March 09, 2009
Though our optimism got some serious blows last week, each day still brought new hope. After all, it was the week leading up to International Women's Day and there were events that reminded us how blessed we are in the women we call heroine, guardian, teacher.
To answer why it is important to assert the equality of women, let's paraphrase the words of former US President Jimmy Carter: if we ensure that 50 per cent of the world has a better life, then surely the entire world must be better for it.
Last Monday Professor Errol Miller delivered the Rose Leon Memorial Lecture, in honour of the only individual in Jamaica's history that was a minister of government under both the JLP and the PNP. His topic was "Campaign Financing from a Gender Perspective". The professor exercised the minds of his predominantly female audience invited by the Women's Political Caucus, taking us through centuries and continents.
He acknowledged gender bias in politics, quoting studies showing that women were acculturated to stay out of the power circle. Prof Miller felt that women would have equal opportunities in politics when there is "transparency, a level playing field, and greater regulation".
That still bumpy playing field can be quite hazardous to the health of women. UWI lecturer Fae Ellington revealed in her column in the Sunday Herald, and was able to substantiate in a follow-up interview on Nationwide, that there have been incidents of sexual harassment in Parliament. It was said that a former female member of parliament was made uncomfortable during actual sittings of the House, when a male colleague across from her trained his eyes on her and kept licking his lips. When she appealed to male colleagues on either side of her to speak to the non-gentleman, they remarked that she should ignore him because "that's just how he is". The lady said she held her head down most of the time to avoid the lascivious looks. Now how on earth can a legislator function in such disgraceful circumstances?
Well Miss Fae, thank you for speaking out - the boil has been lanced. The discussions and responses are telling us that many of our men have no idea what sexual harassment is. I remember this well-educated Caribbean man who scored a top job at a US-based international organisation; he seemed to have honed his harassing ways in the Caribbean and decided to export them to his new workplace, filled with women who were well versed in their rights. He was eventually unceremoniously booted out of his cushy office.
A Women's Media Watch (WMW) brochure explains that "sexual harassment is behaviour of a sexual nature that is unwelcome. It may be physical, verbal or non-verbal." It offers a test for whether behaviour is sexual harassment: "Ask yourself how you feel about the behaviour. If it offends you, makes you feel angry, upset, humiliated or frightened, it is."
On Tuesday evening, WMW launched their 21st anniversary celebrations by honouring 14 women who had been trailblazers in their fields. They included such stalwarts as Custos Bishop Carmen Stewart, media legend Cynthia Wilmot, nurse educator and former Head of the Senate Syringa Marshall Burnett. We congratulated Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewelyn who recently completed a busy first year in office, and we basked in the company of such stars as fellow columnist and playwright Barbara Gloudon, Lana Finikin of Sistren Theatre Collective and Linette Vassell of Women's Resource Centre (WROC).
The other awardees who were represented were Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, Professor Barbara Bailey, trade unionist Dr Helene Davis-Whyte, Evelyn Smart of the Women's Political Caucus and community activist Ionie Whorms.
Barbara Gloudon, who replied on our behalf, commented on the increasing violence against women: "A nation that destroys its women is a failed state. a nation that destroys its women is destroying itself." She urged women in the media "to keep up your standards. women have to be told they are worth more".
Womens Media Watch has a unique organisational structure. There is an active board of directors, but no head. Committee leadership is rotated and it is heartening to see volunteers running towards, and not away from difficult tasks. There are breakfast meetings in homes, constant rounds of islandwide workshops, snappy newsletters and low-budget brochures. In their 21 years WMW have generated great light rather than heat on gender issues.
Wednesday saw a group of columnists and commentators at a roundtable of opinion-makers and media practitioners, part of the National Integrity Action Forum launched earlier this year by the UWI Centre for Leadership and Governance. Project Leader/Academic Director Professor Trevor Munroe told us, "I need hardly stress the critical importance and extraordinary urgency of more meaningful combat of corruption - which, particularly at this time of crisis, is seriously undermining the rule of law, further weakening the moral fibre of our society, and significantly depleting scarce resources." No doubt, the ascendance of women in the private and public sectors will help us conquer this national disease.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: Errol Miller, Barbara Gloudon, Trevor Munroe all singing in the same key about transparency, standards, the moral fibre of our society. If they still have hope for this country and are asking us to join them, why should we hesitate? If octogenarians like Bishop Carmen Stewart still running her dynamic ministry and Cynthia Wilmot still making "Videos for Change", are not weary, how can we be?
The week ended with the International Women's Day Peace March and a quiet toast to Lady Bustamante on her 97th birthday. Happy Birthday, Lady B - we continue your work towards a happy re-birth-day for Jamaica.