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Gender equality means smart economics

IMANI DUNCAN-PRICE

Saturday, March 08, 2014    

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An edited version of a section of Senator Imani Duncan-Price's presentation to the Upper House on Friday, March 7, 2014.

Mr President, I stand today to lay the basis for the motion in my name which seeks to advance women's leadership in politics and decision-making.

Of course, in bringing such a motion to this honourable Senate, I am quite aware and indeed humbled as I stand on the shoulders of the many brave women who have been the forerunners. I take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge and honour all the elders and gender pioneers/champions who have worked so hard to get us to where we are today -- the women who came together from the days of our people's enslavement as real 'rebel women' to make a difference that we the daughters and granddaughters could benefit in truly life-changing ways.

We thank Nanny, and all our enslaved foremothers. I thank Edna Manley, Aggie Bernard, Amy Bailey, Mary Morris-Knibb, Lady Bustamante, Rose Leon, Valerie McNeil and the team who fought and laid the base in the years leading up to 1974; Lucille Mathurin Mair, who led the first Women's Desk in the Office of the Prime Minister in 1974; Jeanette Grant-Woodham, who became the first female president of the Senate in 1984.

During the activism of the 1970s, Beverley Manley Duncan -- the first president of the PNP Women's Movement in early -- led courageously from within the male-dominated political party, and along with other rebel women such as Joan French, Linnette Vassell, Judith Wedderburn, Barbara Bailey, I thank all forerunners who linked hands with women across all social classes, who fought for and won seminal legislation that created a shift in our society -- 'No bastard no deh again'; maternity leave, equal pay for equal work.

Mr President, I say thank you to my mother, Grace Duncan -- the rebel woman who consistently held on to what she called "irrational hope" seeing to the building of 27 Schools of Hope across Jamaica, in the face of limited resources available. Such was her commitment to disabled children and the community. She showed me daily what was possible as she also raised her family with the critical support of our 'village', of which my father, Dr DK Duncan was central. Neither of them showed me limitations, only possibilities.

I say thank you to the organisations and leaders that continue the gender work today -- Women's Resource and Outreach Centre, Jamaica Women's Political Caucus, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, PNP Women's Movement, Fathers Inc, the JLP's National Organisation of Women and Women Freedom Movement, UWI's Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Young Women's Leadership Initiative, International Women's Forum, Women Business Owners and the 51 per cent Coalition to name a few.

I am honoured to have so many stalwarts here today with us in the Senate and indeed many young women who are committed to gender equity and equality in decision-making.

And indeed, thank you to the Most Honourable Prime Minister Simpson Miller, not only for the confidence reposed in me as a senator, but also for:

1. Having the fortitude and courage to put herself forward as a political representative 40 years ago, having the perseverance to stay the course, and ultimately becoming Jamaica's first female prime minister

2. Making definitive decisions that have contributed to this Senate being comprised of 28.6 per cent females -- the highest ever in our history and very close to the 30 per cent target stated in the 2011 National Policy on Gender Equality, a policy whose frame was initiated in 2004 and which enjoys the support of both political parties.

I say thank you to my husband Stephen Price -- I have to 'Big him up' as my genuine partner. Our partnership is manifested in our love, respect, communication and equality in parenting. His unequivocal support enables me to contribute to national development in this way, and I thank him.

My fellow senators, on this day, March 7, 2014, the day before International Women's Day, we honour all these women, and indeed the men who supported them.

We honour women's advancement, while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women's equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life. And for the purposes of this motion today, specifically we look to the action to ensure that women's equality is gained and maintained in political leadership and decision-making.

I move this motion not only as one culmination of 40 years of work, of sweat, tears, and sacrifice. Indeed, the time for this motion is now, the timing of this motion is imperative because of the nature of the challenges that we face as a country.

These challenging times call for partnerships of no uncertain order. These challenging times call for smart economics.

So how is this linked to women in leadership and decision-making?

Gender Equality and Smart Economics

Drawing on various studies and analyses of different countries' performance, the World Bank's 2012 World Development Report states unequivocally that "gender equality is smart economics".

When I say gender equality, I mean men and women working together in partnership with more equal representation -- sharing competencies and perspectives critical for effective development results. Gender is a relational concept, looking at men vis-à-vis women, and women vis-à-vis men, it is evidence-based and data-driven based on disaggregated data, analysed through race and class to drive insight and action.

Mr President, gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of men, women, boys and girls are taken into consideration because of the diversity of issues faced and how these may impact them differently. Equality between women and men is a human right, enshrined in our Constitution and my Motion is rooted in this fundamental law.

Indeed, my fellow senators, Gender equality ensures equal opportunity and equality of outcomes which allow for the possibility that women and men may make choices which benefit them and their families, without intervening systemic and structural barriers.

Let me elucidate how gender equality ties to smart economics:

* Smart economics means being responsive to your customer base. In this instance, the women, who in the majority make decisions about expenditure in the marketplace and who in the majority also work in our political processes.

* Smart economics is essentially what the most honourable prime minister has charged her team with -- balancing the books while balancing people's lives; enabling women and men to move from "welfare to work and from work to wealth creation".

* Smart economics means our best resources -- men and women together optimally engaged to establish and strengthen the base for growth in our economy.

But how do we get there in a practical way, in an urgent way? This brings us to gender equality. For gender equality is smart economics.

With gender equality, the experiences, abilities and insights of both women and men are a win-win solution for Jamaica. We know that women's experiences across sectors, as professionals, consumers, primary care-givers of children and the elderly, as managers of family resources, as practitioners of one kind or another will bring different and diverse abilities, expertise and skills to their performances at the different levels of leadership, which men, by virtue of their different gendered roles, will not. Men bring other positives to the table. We need both sets of talents for better results. And I think we can all agree that Jamaica needs extraordinary results now.

Indeed, the 2012 World Bank reports unequivocally that gender equality:

* enhances economic productivity

* improves development outcomes for the next generation

* makes institutions and policies more representative and so the laws do more for all the different groups of society, especially the marginalised.

Please note that I do not simply hang my argument based on the World Bank's view, but the actual results tell a powerful and compelling story.

From a private sector perspective, studies published by Forbes magazine and Catalyst (a research NGO) in 2011 indicate that companies with a higher number of women on their boards had a "53 per cent higher return on equity, 66 per cent higher return on invested capital and 42 per cent higher return on sales".

In fact, since women tend to be more risk-averse than their male counterparts, other surveys have shown that companies with gender-diverse boards came through the recession faster and better than companies with all-male boards.

In addition, a survey of over 600 directors found that at the board level where directors must take the views of multiple stakeholders into account, women's more co-operative approach to decision-making created better performance for their companies.

Why wouldn't we in Jamaica want to create similar conditions and results as a country?

Don't the taxpayers of our country, the citizens, the voters, who are akin to shareholders of companies, deserve extraordinary results?

We have the power to support this motion and put in place quotas as a structural enabler that can lead to better results -- for gender equality is smart economics. And Jamaica needs smart economics now.

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