Recognizing the continuing injustice and discrimination against women and the glaring inequality they faced worldwide in all spheres of life, the United Nations declared the year 1975 as International Women’s Year, marking a watershed in the global fight for women’s equality.
We here in St Vincent and the Grenadines can be proud of the fact that one year before that watershed, the local progressive movement here had staged activities to mark International Women’s Day, March 8, the first such occasion in our country, then not yet an Independent nation.
Since then, the building of and influence of the local women’s movement has had its ups and downs and the struggle for women’s equality has, while continuing to advance, been more successful in some areas than others. There have been some valiant pioneers who have continued to provide leadership and inspiration in this endeavour over the years and who still do so. The names of Nelcia Robinson, Jeannie Ollivierre and current speaker of the OECS Assembly, Rene Baptiste come to mind as does that of the late Earlene Horne, a stalwart of the farmers’ movement in SVG.
But the field of politics has provided the greatest challenge to women occupying their rightful place in society.
Typically a male-dominated field, the very brutal nature of politics and its demands on one’s personal life presented barriers to the ascent of women to political leadership positions. The earliest woman to take a leading role in political life in our country was the late Ivy Joshua and she certainly had a harrowing experience, the victim of gender and class bias and even condemned on the grounds of nationality.
It must have proven to be a major deterrent to female participation in politics at the highest level. Yet, courageous women still came forward although still in the minority. Some succeeded in being elected to Parliament and even to the Cabinet of Ministers: Rene Baptiste, Girlyn Miguel and the late Yvonne Francis-Gibson being foremost, but not forgetting Mary Hutchinson, Stephanie Browne and Valcina Ash.
Another watershed came with the advent of the ULP administration in 2001. In the two decades since then, women have advanced in leadership positions especially in the Public Service. True, other factors locally, regionally and internationally have contributed but there is no denying that the provision of educational opportunities has contributed significantly.
Still this rise has not yet been matched in the political field. We have seen one prominent female public servant rise to become our current Head of State but we do not have a single female elected Parliamentarian, on either side. We do not support tokenism or the appointment of women simply to make the numbers look good, but political parties and the women’s movement should work harder at identifying, uplifting and presenting to the electorate female candidates who can win their confidence and with whom they can bond.
In this regard, we welcome the nomination by the Government of three women to the House of Assembly and hope that the Opposition will include at least one women in their two appointments. We welcome the appointments of all women to Parliament and as we compliment them, urge them to so perform that they become an inspiration to our young women to play more active roles in our politics. We can benefit tremendously by their contribution.