Heritage and Vision
September 18, 2009

The Rise and Rise of Women

My fading footprints begin right here… at this sculpted figurine.
This aging statue… child perched on her breasts to suckle the substance of her tribulations….
This frail effigy standing precariously on chipped away porcelain feet
Finger pressed firmly against sealed, painted lips….
My fading footprints begin right here and follow winding and treacherous paths of revolution….{{more}}
Stripped bare of all but my courage and my voice, I stamped my feet forward into bolder footsteps…..
My fading footprints begin right here at this sculpted figurine… and before this was nothing but the coreless existence of a silhouette.

In Arawak communities, men were honoured. The offices of Cacique (ceremonial leader) and supporting Nitayanos or nobles were reserved for males. It was tradition that men had their meals before women and children.

These practices were reflected in the Carib communities where women existed to serve men. It is believed that the Carib men viewed women as weak in every aspect and so would only allow their sons to reside with them up to the age of four or five when they would then be removed to a carbet or dwelling for men.

In many European countries women were in past times unable to vote, divorce their husbands, own property or gain an education. And in Africa, though some communities were matriarchal, men still had special privileges that were not extended to women.

Actually, in examining the stories of our past, women emerge as secondary characters to the heroes who battled our antagonists and formed and protected our heritage. Many of the cultures that influenced our society viewed women as inferior and certainly not capable or worthy of any type of leadership.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to remind us Vincy sisters of our true heritage. To point out that it was women who in times past made the most important contributions of child bearing, nurturing and keeping families together. That perhaps, if we had been given a voice, some of the ego-incited wars could have been avoided.

Today I would like to pay tribute to Ivy Joshua, who rose to the challenge of leadership at a time when there were still many barriers for women; to Mrs. Phyllis Punnett for penning the beautiful and inspiring words of our national anthem; to Mrs Elaine Liverpool for representing our glorious colours in her design of our first national flag.

I would like to pay tribute to the women who today are creating a new heritage for future generations. The women who have risen and risen to leadership like the Honourable Rene Baptiste who has also been a great role model in the media and one of my personal role models the Honourable Girlyn Miguel; who taught me, as a child, some of the fundamental principles of my Christian beliefs.

I have had the privilege of observing her perseverance in serving others and her many achievements as a teacher in shaping young minds and as a member of parliament in social development, women’s right and education. Today, secondary education is available to all and she hopes that more women will take advantage of the opportunities to educate and equip themselves for the future.

I pay tribute to the women who are heroes in our education system like Grace Eustace and my first secondary school head teacher and role model Norma Keizer. Mrs. Keizer inspires me because her contributions are not limited to great achievements in improving the standard of education; achievements in providing access to the sciences for so many through the learning resource centre, library and science labs that she fought to build. She inspires me because she also proved to all that she genuinely cared for her students. This was especially demonstrated in the 1980s when, following the brutal murder of one of her students, she led the entire school in a march through the streets of Kingstown to protest violence against women. She inspires me because she made herself a good example by continuously educating herself and improving her qualifications. In 1993 she was awarded an O.B.E for her service in education.

There are countless others in many other fields; but last, though by no means least, I would like to pay tribute to my mother Helen Davis, my aunt Evelyn Jardine, and to all the other mothers out there who like them, sacrificed and fought for their children, families and by extension our society. Most of their names will not be written in the history books of the future; but these and all other unsung heroines are very much part of our heritage.

There will always be debate about the role of women, especially where the message of the bible is concerned. However one thing I am certain of is that God has used many women in the past and that he will continue to use women in the future.

Today figures indicate that at least 87.7 percent of female population are literate. Women are also no longer satisfied with just completing secondary education but are going on to attain tertiary and professional qualifications. It is also found that more and more women are acquiring their own property.

There is still work to be done. We still need more women in decision making positions; there are still women who move from dysfunctional relationship to dysfunctional relationship in search of male support for her children; there are still men out there, even those who have the benefit of formal education, who think it is ok to abuse women and women who agree with their view. However, on a whole, we have made leaps and bounds and I am proud of the female role models and the heritage of strong, successful women that my daughter will inherit.

My fading footsteps begin right here at this sculpted figurine….
But a thousand steps later I look up into a reflection of strength…
I look back with pride at my heritage and stretch and reach forward to grasp my vision.

 Ava Browne is a Vincentian freelance journalist and creative writer based in the United Kingdom.