Monday, June 10, 2013

US Ambassador Bridgewater on Jamaica and Women's Leadership

United States Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater (left) and Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna at IWF Cornerstone Conference held recently in Montego Bay, Jamaica. (Janet Silvera photo)
With all our issues, we still have a valued country and valuable citizens. Even as we are smarting from Friday's loss to their team, we are fortunate that the US continues to be supportive of our development and that we have such a faithful friend in that global trailblazer US Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater.
At the International Women's Forum (IWF) Conference held in Montego Bay recently, Ambassador Bridgewater spoke on 'Jamaica & the Geo-Politics of the Caribbean'. "It is fitting that we are gathered here today in beautiful Montego Bay to discuss the geo-politics of the Caribbean as Jamaica has long played a prominent political, economic, and cultural role in the region," she said. "Situated at the crossroads of the Caribbean, Jamaica has diplomatic relations with most nations and is a member of the United Nations and the Organisation of American States."
Do we Jamaicans understand the respect we have gained from the international community for them to establish such strong diplomatic relations with us? Shouldn't we try to comport ourselves in such a manner that we can reinforce their warm relations with us? Thankfully, there are stalwarts of our nation who have helped to strengthen our democracy and security, and these have not gone unnoticed.
"Jamaica is a long-standing, stable parliamentary democracy with a proud history of free, fair and transparent elections, and respect for freedom of the press and a well-established electoral commission as a watchdog over the conduct of elections," said the insightful US Ambassador.
Of course, Ambassador Bridgewater had to acknowledge that "a small but vigorous minority of criminals has perpetrated advanced-fee fraud and lotto scams". She noted however: "The Jamaican Government has responded quickly to combat advanced-fee frauds and lottery scams."
She also noted our "leadership role in Caribbean and Central American security by establishing Centres of Excellence", and also our humanitarian efforts in Haiti after their tragic earthquake. Well, do I remember how Dr Shane Alexis and his brave band of fellow Jamaican doctors, pleaded their way to Haiti in order to assist with the thousands of medical emergencies. Our JDF soldiers were also credited with helping to bring order to urgent food distribution.

Lifelong friends - Nelson Mandela with Ambassador Bridgewater
Last Thursday, Ambassador Bridgewater was at the UWI, delivering a treasure trove of findings and guidance in her lecture on Women's Leadership. This celebrated public servant was the first African-American woman to serve as Consul General in Durban, South Africa, and enjoys a lifelong friendship with Nelson Mandela, after establishing, in the words of a senior colleague, "a degree of trust and confidence with Mr Mandela and the ANC leadership that the US had not previously enjoyed".
Her brilliant presentation should have been a "TED Talk" — it was a life-changing offering that convinced every woman in that packed room that indeed, with application, confidence and generosity of spirit, we too could succeed. She shared findings from a New York Times study: "a recent review of the S&P 1500 index found that corporations led by women performed better, that is to say, they yielded higher profits. In academia, universities led by women had higher rates of matriculation than universities led by men."
She made it clear that she was not calling for a "battle of the sexes": "I have never subscribed to that notion or to the theory that there are necessarily male or female solutions to problems, but there are effective and ineffective solutions to problems that both men and women must utilise."
Those of us who support the 51 per cent Coalition welcomed the information that the hiring practices for the US Foreign Service were revised on a directive from the Office of Equal Opportunity. "In 1982, only seven of the 134 United States ambassadors were women, compared to 43 today," she said.
USAID Mission Director Denise Herbol
Ambassador Bridgewater's lecture was preceded by remarks from two of her colleagues, mother of three Denise Herbol, mission director for USAID in Jamaica, and Yolonda Kerney, public affairs officer who is rearing an infant son, while her husband works across the Atlantic in Ghana. 

Yolonda Kerney with Jamaica-America Friends President Morin Seymour
Their stories of cultural challenges, parent-teachers' meetings and father-son bonding via Skype reassured their Jamaican counterparts that we were not alone in our never-ending balancing act.
"Gone are the days when we tried to pretend that small children do not need their mothers, even when their mothers have returned to work after birth," said the ambassador. "It's for this reason I am so proud to say that every US embassy and consulate have clean, clearly identifiable lactation stations where our employees who are nursing mothers may express breast milk." In view of the concerns raised by the business community, this would be a good compromise for those companies which could not afford to set up nurseries, as breast milk could be conserved for later feedings.
Ambassador Bridgewater reflected on the fear of both male and female bosses that working mothers "are less committed to their careers". She opined that this is far from being so as there were "many women who juggle the competing demands of motherhood and career, and thrive with both".
As my husband and I discussed this topic, we reflected that it was my "Mommy track" that encouraged him to join the small business I had started and to take it to a level I could never have on my own. We were able to share child-rearing and business duties, growing all to such a level that the children have now finished college and are making their own contribution to the business.
It is wonderful to know that we are so much closer to a gender-balanced world, thanks to the courageous women like Ambassador Bridgewater who did not allow themselves to be intimidated by prejudice or patronage. See the full presentation at:

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