Monday, November 28, 2011

Are they Andrew Holness's 'Lucky 13'?

Jean Lowrie-Chin | Observer Column | Monday, November 28, 2011

If we are to use the findings of the "51% Coalition" as a yardstick, they could indicate that the JLP may have a significant edge over the PNP in the next general election. In a full-page advertisement declaring "Respect and Recognition", the JLP announced 13 women candidates, the highest number ever fielded by a major political party.

The 13 JLP candidates are: Olivia Grange, Shahine Robinson, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, Senator Marlene Malahoo-Forte, Sharon Hay Webster, Dr Sandra Nesbeth, Dr Saphire Longmore, Camille Buchanan, Dr Patrece Charles-Freeman, Joan Gordon-Webley, Beverly Prince, Paula Kerr-Jarrett and Rosalee Hamilton.

Ironically, the PNP - led by Portia Simpson Miller who is the first and only woman prime minister in the history of Jamaica, has only four other woman candidates: Lisa Hanna, Natalie Neita-Headley, Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, and Denise Daley, having lost Sharon Hay Webster to the JLP. Some may argue that powerhouse Simpson Miller packs the punch of 10!

Last Tuesday, several women's groups launched a coalition and campaign for quotas for women in decision making - "The 51% Coalition for development and empowerment through equity", supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung - Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Dr Marcia Forbes, one of the organisers of the 51% Coalition, so named to represent the percentage of women in the Jamaican population, shared her excellent notes of the meeting and some interesting findings from Studies re Women On Boards - UK Report, February 2011 ( prepared by committee led by a former minister for trade, investment and Small Business 2009 to 2010 UK.

Companies with more women on their board of directors outperform their rivals with42 per cent higher return in sales; 66 per cent higher return on invested capital; and 53 per cent higher return on equity. It was observed that women bring different perspectives and experiences to bear.

The current situation in Jamaica shows that we are far from the mark. In the case of boards of directors, women serve on only 33 per cent of those in the public sector - over 10 years from 1998 to 2008 this grew by only four per cent. Women served on only 16 per cent of private sector boards in 2008, increasing by only two per cent over the previous 10 years. In the case of government, women make up 13.3 per cent of MPs, 11 per cent of Cabinet and encouraging 23.8 per cent of the Senate. Sixteen per cent of local government councillors are women, and a tiny 7.6 per cent are mayors.

"Quotas often create controversy in society," observed guest speaker Mathu Joyini, South Africa's High Commissioner to Jamaica. "Women's rights and gender equality have not been separated from human rights in South Africa. When you do business with the South African government they ask, how engendered are you and how black are you? Who benefits from your corporate social responsibility programme? If you don't measure up well on these points then you cannot do business with the government.

Some of these measures are self-imposed quotas so there are problems with implementation. So we are doing assessments to see what measures we can put in place to ensure enforcement."

She told the audience that pre-1994, women were two per cent in Parliament but when the ANC came into power in 1994 it went up to 18 per cent. "Today it is now 45 per cent. Thirty-six per cent of women are in senior positions in government - managerial positions... but we have had challenges in the private sector...(there is) 37 per cent of women in senior management but not many on boards, so there is still work to do in this area."

Linnette Vassell of Women's Resource Outreach Centre (WROC) suggested that the Coalition "challenge our sisters in the JLP to step out of the accustomed mode and say that this cannot stand, eg, NWC board with all men." Government Senator Camilla Johnson-Smith, in congratulating the initiators, said, "It is your work why I am in the position I am today. What is democracy without advocacy? The coalition is playing a key role in promoting gender sensitivity. I found the South African experience very inspirational."

Siddier Chambers of the Bureau of Women's Affairs observed that Minister Olivia "Babsy" Grange had "tabled the policy this afternoon at Parliament. The Bureau stands ready to support this coalition."

"We have to make it clear that we are women of competence that will transform decision-making in Jamaica," said the UNDP's Carol Narcisse. Patricia Donald of Women's Media Watch and the Ministry of Health gave "big endorsement for quotas - I used to be ambivalent about the quota system but now I think that we need it. We need to learn how to respond to the critics".

"I am in favour of quotas," noted entrepreneur Peta-Rose Hall, secretary of the International Women's Forum. "We should be practical in the sense such as suggested by Donna Duncan re shareholders asking more about the representation of women on boards. Women have purchasing power but we don't use it."

"For the last 20 years, we have been encouraging women to take the leadership," said Merlene Daley of the Jamaica Women's Political Caucus. "There was a time when I felt quota was taking it beyond, but having served so long it seems that quota is the only way to go forward. I endorse it."

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