Monday, July 28, 2014

Jamaica’s Federation of courageous women

Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer column – MON 28 July 2014

JFW President Gloria Millwood
It is a myth that Jamaican women do not support each other - Jamaica is blessed in her brave and compassionate sisters who have empowered not only women but all members of their national family.  The Jamaica Federation of Women (JFW) emerged out of a history of strong leaders like National Heroine Nanny of the Maroons, Mary Seacole, who was an angel of mercy to soldiers in the Crimean War of the mid-19th century, and Jessie Ripoll, founder of Alpha in 1880. 

What a charge it gave us to share a morning with the JFW membership from all walks of life as they announced their 70th Anniversary celebrations earlier this month. Did you know it was the JFW that hired a bright young Jamaican to promote our cultural heritage islandwide, more than half century ago? They later obtained a scholarship for her to study speech and drama in England.  That young woman was none other than the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley! 

President Gloria Millwood declared to her JFW members, “Ladies, we are determined to recapture the glory days. Through the determination and hard work of persons like Mrs Cecile Jarrett, Mrs Dotsie Gordon, Mrs Elaine Dreyer, Mrs Grace McKoy and many more, the Federation is being revitalized.” The President grieved over “the dastardly acts inflicted on our children” and pleaded: “We must return to the nurturing of our precious ones – it is up to us to know what is happening to them at all times.” 

Gloria Millwood is an active member of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Lay Magistrates Associations.  She runs Leon’s Beauty Products and Leon’s Beauty School founded in 1944 by her legendary mother, Madame Rose Leon.  The school has produced thousands of graduates, builders of the multi-billion beauty industry in Jamaica.

JFW Chair Cecile Jarrett
Cecile Jarrett, JFW Chair, is Principal of the St John the Baptist School, and a published poet who runs a Foundation with her husband Norman to promote literacy in primary schools in Downtown Kingston.  Mrs. Dotsie Gordon, Vice-Chair is founder of the decades-old DOT Personnel Limited. She was recently appointed Area President of their regional partner, Associated Country Women of the World for the Caribbean, Central and South America.  This organization represents nine million women through its 450 Member Societies in over 70 countries and has consultative status at the United Nations. 

They are walking in the footsteps of such JFW trailblazers as Amy Bailey, May Farquharson and Aggie Bernard. These elder sisters of the Jamaica Federation of Women have been the backbone of our country.  Take for example, Mrs Josephine Lowe now 94 years old, former head of the Pembroke Hall Branch.  She ran numerous fundraisers which saw the community gathering at her home for evenings of food, love and laughter.  To this day, if you want the latest cricket scores, you can count on her for them!  (Her best friend, my dear mother Maisie Lowrie, ensured we took multiple tickets - Mom entered JFW competitions and accumulated many prizes for her cakes.)

The JFW has made their mark on Jamaica’s development, recognizing the importance of early childhood education and creating infant schools through partnerships with various churches in the 1960s. Declaring that a strong family unit was essential for a successful society, they sought to create stability in family life by hosting mass weddings, happily embraced by couples who had been living in common-law unions for years. They started housecraft training centres and encouraged the development of the National Consumers’ League, now headed by one of their ardent leaders, the indefatigable Joyce Campbell.

To promote employment, currently the JFW is training women in personal development, and the packaging and marketing of products.  They have been conducting ‘Darkness to Light’ courses, which help women to understand and prevent child abuse.  They are also partnering with NEPA for an ‘Impact of Climate Change on Families’ programme to address environmental concerns.

Like the women it serves, the Federation is rising above myriad challenges, re-opening branches in St. Elizabeth in 2012 and in St. Mary earlier this year.  While offering a GSAT scholarship for the child of a branch member with the highest average, the JFW has created the Rural Woman of the Year Award and the Volunteer of the Year Award for Executive Members and continues to be a signatory to the Heritage Clubs of Jamaica.

The 70 years of existence of the Jamaica Federation of Women is testimony of their courage and amazing generosity – they are all volunteers. As organisations like the Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus, WMW Jamaica, Women’s Leadership Initiative and Women Business Owners, celebrate our success in politics, business and the professions, we acknowledge with gratitude the foundation built for us by the JFW.  Our women’s organisations should find ways of honouring them in this their 70th year – on their shoulders we stand.

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