Tuesday, September 24, 2013

US Ambassador Bridgewater urges 'people-centred leadership'

Remarks by US Ambassador to Jamaica Hon. Pamela E. Bridgewater 
at Leaders to Leaders Speaker Series, Kingston, Jamaica 
Monday September 23, 2013
Thank you for inviting me to speak on the topic of Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Rule the World.    I am especially happy to share this occasion with these distinguished fellow speakers and friends, who have distinguished themselves as bold and dynamic leaders in their own spheres.  I must say, however, that I take exception to the word 'Rule,' which often describes a harsh and controlling style of leadership.  I would much rather use the word 'Govern,' which describes a more consultative and people centered method of leadership. 

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said, "Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world."   I agree with Mrs. Clinton, who through her work and travel saw the significant disparity between the number of males who occupy seats of power compared with their fully capable female counterparts.  There are examples of proven women's leadership throughout the world, some of which I will share with you.  

One outstanding woman is Dr. Frene Ginwala, South Africa's first woman Speaker of the House of Parliament, who held this position from 1994-2004, after the first non-racial elections and within the democracy of South Africa's new constitution. Prior to her appointment, Dr. Ginwala worked very closely with the African National Congress (the ANC) and was instrumental in many of the freedoms that people of color in South Africa enjoy today. Although she is "retired" and over 80 years old, Dr. Ginwala still serves in a number of international organizations, including as Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. 

Then there is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first and current female president of the African nation of Liberia. President Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her involvement in the non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights. She was also the 2012 recipient of the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize, for serving as an example and an inspiration for the return of peace, democracy, development, security, and order in Liberia.  

In the global edition of the New York Times, an article headlined, "The Fairer Leaders" outlined statistics which show that female political representation throughout Africa has increased.  This demonstrates that the roles being played by Dr. Ginwala and President Johnson Sirleaf are not in vain.  In Rwanda, 56 percent of seats in Parliament are held by women, while in Kenya, a new Constitution mandates that one-third of seats in Parliament be occupied by women. The article also stated that the very presence of female politicians has been shown to diversify the policy agenda and promote equity and justice. 
In the United States, we have also seen the display of strong female leadership through former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright, Condoleeza Rice, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who made tough decisions which shaped world events.  Also persons such as former Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Jamaican born Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and Claudia Gordon, recently named by President Obama to be the head of the White House Office on Persons with Disabilities. 

The Caribbean has made its mark in history through a pioneering female leader.  Dame Mary Eugenia Charles occupied Dominica's highest office for 15 years, making her the world's longest continuously serving female Prime Minister.   Known as the Iron Lady or Grand Dame of the Caribbean, Dame Charles led an outstanding life of leadership and commitment to causes which have transcended her life and time.  Her personal standards, commitment to education, anti-corruption, and individual freedoms set the platform for her to chair the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and her leadership in the 1983 events in Grenada. 

Jamaica's own Prime Minister, the Honorable Portia Simpson Miller, and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Honorable Kamla Persad Bissessar, have also signaled their strength and ability to lead in the face of harsh criticism.  They continue to be outspoken on political, social and economic issues which affect the people of their islands.  But let me hasten to note that when I speak of female leadership and empowerment, it is not at the exclusion of males, because we all must work together and draw respectfully from each other's strengths.

May I turn our attention to one particular field of endeavor for an example, and that is in the field of agriculture where females collaboration and involvement with males can reap huge dividends. Though male dominated  women are making impressive gains in agriculture.  At the recently held Women in Agriculture conference, under the theme of Supporting Economic Empowerment and Development in the Caribbean and the Pacific, it became evident that more must be done to enhance food security for the most vulnerable populations.   According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world currently produces enough food for everyone.  But the challenge remains to overcome inequality caused by lack of access, poor agricultural management practices, declining water resources, changing weather patterns, and a lack of knowledge about potential adaptive measures—all contributing to food insecurity among the most vulnerable populations. 
We know that women are just as efficient agricultural producers as men are, and can achieve similar yields when given equal access to resources, including training and services.  The FAO estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent.  Additionally, women tend to devote a larger fraction of their income to their children's health and nutrition, laying the foundation for their children's lifelong cognitive and physical development.  When women's productivity and incomes increase, the benefits amplify across families and generations.  This is one major reason why we should help to govern this world.

For our part, the U.S. Government takes the issue of women's rights and gender equality very seriously. Ensuring the meaningful participation and protection of women and girls in countries affected by crises and conflicts is critical to building lasting peace and to achieving long-term development objectives. In these, as in other areas, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) invests in gender equality and women's empowerment to promote the rights and wellbeing of women and girls, as well as to foster peaceful and productive communities that are equipped to cope with adversity, recover from crises, and pursue development progress.

To forcefully counter the challenges which still exist, in December 2011, President Obama released the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and signed an Executive Order directing the Plan's implementation. In accordance with the Executive Order, USAID has developed this Implementation Plan to identify actions the Agency will take in support of the objectives of the National Action Plan (NAP), as well as to highlight our current work to advance this agenda around the globe. The objectives of the National Action Plan are to:
       Integrate and institutionalize a gendered approach to peace and security
       Promote women's participation in peace processes and decision making
       Strengthen protection of women and children from harm, discrimination, and abuse
       Promote women's roles in conflict prevention

Jamaica continues to progress towards an improved status for women in the island. With greater emphasis by local financial institutions and the support of international development partners to strengthen the female entrepreneurial spirit, women in business are acquiring expanded access to financing of small and medium enterprises. This shift signals that Jamaica is fully aware of its challenges and taking steps to overcome them.
I have had outstanding male and female supervisors -- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaps to mind, as does Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal,-- and the things they had in common were tremendous attention to detail, an insistence on being prepared, a willingness to listen, energy, drive, not being afraid to stand up against what was wrong, and the ability to discipline individuals who could benefit from a positive intervention. Good leadership is not the exclusive domain of male or female.

I have learned that there are certain key qualities which are common to distinguished leaders, irrespective of gender.   A recent Forbes article named ten key components to good leadership, which are: 

                      Having a Sense of Humor 
                      Positive Attitude
                      Ability to Inspire 
                      and the Ability to Delegate

One critical component of sound leadership, which is missing from this list, is the creative and effective use of time.  As leaders, our time is demanded of us 24 hours a day.  We work to meet extreme deadlines, which stretch our mental capacities and challenge our colleagues and staff to achieve what they may have seen as impossible.  We devote long hours to the office and then go home to do what we need to do to support our families.  For many working mothers and fathers, I know that this is a challenge.  These many demands often lead to excesses and undue stresses on our minds and bodies, which may prove harmful in the long run.

It is for these reasons that I implore the leaders here, to make the best use of your time.  It is important that you do not overbook or overextend yourself, be selective in taking on tasks, and learn to delegate to others who are there to support your objectives.  Take time to be and stay healthy, address health needs and exercise.

I have shared with you examples of powerful women in leadership.  I now implore you, both women and men, to continue to advance in your careers.  Seek not only your personal gain, but make your contributions to promoting the voices of women in your communities and at work. As Prime Minister Persad Bissessar has said, "We lead not to gain power or material comforts but to lead the way and build a society based on service."

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