Thursday, March 21, 2013

Beverley Manley-Duncan: shift to ‘a sacred place’

The inspiring Beverley Manley-Duncan

Jean Lowrie-Chin - Jamaica Observer column
 Beverley Manley-Duncan has been a favourite of this column, and if you were at last Monday’s Rose Leon Memorial Lecture, you would know why.  Her topic was ‘Is the Quota System an appropriate mechanism for advancing women’s participation in representational politics?’  She lauded the 51 Percent Coalition for their efforts, agreeing that we should work towards an initial 40 percent of leadership positions to be occupied by women.

She clarified the difference between sex and gender, using the World Bank definition of gender: “the social, behavioural and cultural attributes, expectations and norms associated with being woman and man.”  She called for equality to “ensure that women and men can partner at that power table,” quoting Chairman Mao, “Women hold up half the sky”. 

In commenting on Jamaica’s current dilemma, she noted, “We have over consumed and under produced.” In a previous conversation, Beverley had spoken of her mother’s money management skills, a lady who saved tiny amounts from the ‘house money’ contributed by her father and eventually bought a spacious home.  She believes that this debt trap in which Jamaica is caught, is a result of a lack of balance which has not included enough women in planning and decision making. 

The former First Lady of Jamaica made an important call: “The critical mass of us should be challenging the two political parties to start working together.” She wants us to move beyond the political divide to lead this change, reminding us that we have the experience. “Women understand the need to cooperate,” she declared. “We have been in a political trap since the 1930s.”  She said this continued tribalism in politics “has not given us the results.”

We should be clear that Jamaican women have been proving their worth for centuries and indeed have been mentoring their up and coming sisters.  As the Carnegie International Fellow pointed out, it is not true that women are not supportive of each other.  We were rapt in attention as she described the limitations of a patriarchal society, in which “sharing power becomes a problem.”  She said that although we have a woman Prime Minister, she is “subsumed in a sea of patriarchy.”   

Describing the pitfalls of patriarchy, the transformative speaker said, “In patriarchy a woman is not supposed to leave a man.  You leave at your own risk.  The woman is property – this is really a form of slavery.”  As we contemplated recent incidents in which women were attacked and children murdered by enraged spouses, we understood the danger of not addressing the issues of gender.

We were challenged to find a way “to shift those assumptions about men and women” and create a new paradigm which will require “a process of self enquiry”.  Beverley believes we can create “a sacred space – men and women sitting down and genuinely listening with empathy.” 
 She called for the kind of leadership exemplified by the woman whose memory we were honouring at this Lecture, Madame Rose Leon. 

“Rose Leon, Chairman of the Jamaica Labour Party for 11 years was an extraordinary leader,” Beverley reminded us.  She recalled her impeccable appearance, whether in conferences or on the campaign trail.  In a memorable interview I had done with Madame Rose, she had described her energetic fund-raising for the JLP and, as Minister of Housing, walking around various communities and asking, “Whose land is this?”  She said, when they told her it belonged to “Missis Queen”, she would get her officers together to organise titles so that the long dwelling decent folks could have ownership.  It is this proactive spirit that has nurtured so many good women and men in Jamaica.

Besides politics, Madame raised a loving family with her beloved Dr Arthur Leon and Beverley recalled that Madame had mentored her – “It is foolishness that women don’t support each other.” Founded in the 1940s, The Rose Leon School of Beauty empowered thousands of young women and Madame’s manufacturing company for her beauty products created even more employment.  Her daughter, that elegant, understated leader Gloria Millwood continues the business to this day.

In that auditorium in the PCJ building, were many high-achieving sisters: Jeanette Grant-Woodham and Syringa Marshall Burnett,  former leaders of the Senate, Dorothy Pine-McLarty, independent member of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, St Andrew Custos Marigold Harding, Dr Blossom O’Meally Nelson, Judith Wedderburn, Hilary Nicholson, Dr Leith Dunn and Faith Webster.  We saw the dedicated members of the Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus (JWPC) led by the dynamic Merline Daley, Hermione McKenzie, Evelyn Smart who recently authored an important book on Jamaican women in politics, Dr Louise Spencer-Strachan, and Marie Thompson. There was Jean Wilson whose revolutionary poem ‘No More Smalling Up of Me’ was read by our powerful speaker.

Our sisters from overseas were there to listen as well: recently appointed Head of Delegation for the European Union to Jamaica, Ambassador Paola Amadei; South African High Commissioner Mathu Joyini and French Ambassador Ginette de Matha.

I noted however that we did not have enough of our younger women (and men!) in that room.  The World Bank Trainer’s Manual on Gender and Development says it straight: “Failure to address gender issues in project development interventions can lead to inefficient and unsustainable results... Addressing gender concerns in economic and social development status promises major payoffs not only at the individual level but, most importantly, at the societal level.” 

Gender equality is indeed ‘a sacred space’ as described by Beverley Manley-Duncan –  the space in which our girls and boys will be able to grow into the loving women and men who will take Jamaica to our rightful place.

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