Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beverly Anderson-Duncan: 'Step it up!’

Observer column for MON 2 April 2012

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Once upon a time, Mr Right Foot decided that he was superior to Ms Left Foot. He started to abuse Ms Left Foot. “I am stronger and I want nothing to do with you!” he said. Ms Left Foot was intimidated: “Maybe you’re right,” she said to the Mr Right Foot. “I don’t deserve to be your equal. Let me keep out of your way.” Right Foot hopped proudly along – but was soon in agony. ‘Ms Left Foot, I am sorry,’ he apologised, ‘I can go no further without you!’ Compassionate Left Foot placed herself beside him and the person they supported walked tall and strong.

My little fable was inspired by the 2012 Lucille Mathurin Mair Public Lecture, “Rebel Woman: Engendering Transformation” delivered by Beverley Anderson-Duncan last Thursday at the UWI. Her message – for Jamaica to move forward, our women must be on equal footing with our men.

As Dr Leith Dunn and Judith Wedderburn wrote in the Lecture booklet foreword, “a review of our news media confirms that several areas of gender inequality remain, which adversely affect the basic human rights and development of both females and males…the lecture is timely, given the gap between commitments and practice.”

Can it be any wonder then, that Jamaica is still hopping along on one patriarchal foot after 50 years of Independence? “We cannot have sustainable development without bringing the genders together,” pleaded Mrs Anderson-Duncan. She added, “If Jamaica ever needed women leaders, the time is now.” She appealed to us to “use this 50-year milestone and use it well.”

Knowing the baggage that every single one of us carries to a greater or lesser extent, the wise Anderson-Duncan asked us to listen to her lecture from the perspective of “an engendered society – where Jamaica is seen as a space within which women and men work together for transformation to overturn subordination wherever it exists; a space within which women and men, as partners, experience extraordinary relationships and create a system of equality and equity, across race, class and gender, leading to sustainable development for everyone.”

This is a gender-inspired version of the PIOJ’s ‘Vision 2030’, one that would certainly lead to Jamaica being an ideal place to live, work, do business and raise families. But in order to get from here to there, one has to agree with Anderson-Duncan that ‘if we’re not willing to step it up, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

She shared that when critical pieces of legislation around equal pay and maternity leave were being discussed by Cabinet in the seventies, the wives of Cabinet members pushed for the passing of these laws.

It may be puzzling to some that we are still warm on gender when we have a woman prime minister, but if we look on both sides of the House and in the board rooms of both the private and public sectors, we immediately see the imbalance which continues to influence national policy. The 2012 World Bank Report, as quoted by Mrs Anderson-Manley in a chapter titled “The Persistence of Gender Inequality”, “cites areas where the gender gap has not yet changed such as control over resources, political voice and the incidence of domestic violence.”

In quoting Jean Wilson’s brilliantly rebellious “No More Smalling Up of Me”, Anderson-Duncan challenged us “to begin with transformation of self, as woman, preparing us to take the lead in transforming households, relationships, communities and society.” We who are so concerned about the terrible loss of lives in gang warfare and police shootings, should know that it is only by acting on this advice that Jamaica will become a peaceful and productive country.

Beverley Anderson Duncan, the elegant, newly-wed septuagenarian is the best argument for her topic – she has been a steadfast defender of her people and a mentor for many (including me). She ended her lecture by playing Jimmy Cliff’s “The Rebel In Me”, reminding us that above all, she is a loving woman who wants to see no one left behind, neither her sister nor her brother.

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