Jamaica gets ‘bold for change’
It was not just International Women’s Day (IWD), it was Women’s Week, and Jamaica felt the strength of her mothers, grandmothers, daughters, women leaders in every sphere of life. We know the muscle and vision of the fearless Jamaican woman, and so the IWD slogan “Be Bold for Change” rang true as we moved through a week of discernment and affirmation.
Last Saturday International Women’s Forum (IWF) sisters toured the National Gallery’s Jamaica Biennial exhibition where women artists shone. I was proud to see that my classmate from Alpha, Dawn Scott, had been memorialised in an award shared by three artists this year. Laura Facey’s huge drum, made in collaboration with Fosuwa Andoh, took our breath away — and yes, it sounded rich when we tried it out. Dawn Scott Memorial awardee Alicia Brown stopped us in our tracks with Exchange, a vivid portrait musing on our post-colonial identity.
Later that evening, Thalia and Mike Lyn hosted overseas board directors of Mustard Seed, and we were reminded of the philanthropic work of our women. The ‘Powerful Women’ series, now embracing ‘Powerful Men’ as well, was the brainchild of Thalia and fellow director Thyra Heaven, with all proceeds going to the amazing work of Mustard Seed Communities, both here and abroad. The influential US board members spoke of their commitment because of the tremendous work and accountability of Mustard Seed Communities — kudos to their Executive Director Darcy Tulloch-Williams.
ROSE LEON LECTURE
On Monday Professor Denise Eldemire Shearer delivered the Rose Leon Memorial Lecture organised by the Women’s Political Caucus. Prof Eldemire Shearer is admired worldwide for her research on and positivity about ageing. Indeed, the woman in whose name the lecture was being held was ageless, like the Leon’s Beauty School which she founded about 80 years ago.
The unstoppable Rose Leon set the pace for her fellow Jamaican women: she was an avid businesswoman, a politician who served in the cabinets of both the Jamaica Labour Party and People’s National Party, a nurturing wife and mother, a manufacturer of beauty products, and a leading figure in the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association.
On Tuesday the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) held our Caring Committee Meeting, making plans to investigate laws around elder abuse, hold seminars for personal safety, wellness and social events. This is how women express our love: by actively helping others to feel safer, better and appreciated.
On Wednesday, International Women’s Day, the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) held a moving event at which accomplished ladies like Aloun Assamba, Donna Duncan-Scott, Valerie Facey, and Paula Kerr-Jarrett shared their personal experiences. Aloun Assamba said that with increasing abuse from her former husband, she started arming herself with a knife at nights; that was when she knew she had to leave. Now that women are speaking out, we realise that domestic abuse is no respecter of class or colour. Let us be caring and compassionate — sometimes a difficult person is channelling their pain from another place.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness later hosted a lunch for women, at which that multifaceted achiever Dr Marcia Forbes spoke on our behalf. To those who ask why there is no “Men’s Day”, Marcia noted, “There is no Men’s Day because ‘It’s a Man’s World’.”
“PM, we congratulate you on your support for the UN Women Global Campaign #HeForShe, as well as on the appointment of some highly competent women to your Cabinet,” she said. “But you know, PM, women account for less than a quarter of the total Cabinet.”
Activist Joan “Joy” Cummings had shared with Marcia and the 51% Coalition statistics showing how far behind Jamaica’s political leadership lags in gender equality: We rank 113 out of 190 countries with 11 women MPs out of 63 and five women senators out of 21.
Wednesday afternoon saw me at the annual general meeting of my alma mater, Convent of Mercy Alpha Academy, where I was invited by Alumnae President Margaret Little-Wilson, to speak on the IWD theme. Being bold for change has been the modus operandi for the women who have built Alpha and other institutions of caring and learning throughout Jamaica. It was a Jamaican woman, Jessie Ripoll, who invested Â£800 in the 40 acres on South Camp Road in 1880. On May 1st of that year she led the first resident, a little orphan girl, to ‘Alpha Cottage’. Since then, hundreds of thousands of us have been nurtured and educated in that location at Alpha Boys School (now Alpha Institute), Alpha Infant, Alpha Primary, Convent of Mercy Alpha Academy, Alpha Commercial, and Jessie Ripoll Primary.
Congratulations to the new Convent of Mercy Alpha Academy Alumnae President Marjorie Shaw, President-elect Stacey Mitchell, and other members of the executive. We are looking forward to a dynamic year, matching strides with the staff led by Principal Kali McMorris and students of the school, which is now rated in Jamaica’s top 10.
‘GENDER EQUALITY MEANS BUSINESS’
On Thursday morning, the UN Women Multi Country Office — Caribbean and the Jamaica Stock Exchange Group — launched a UN Women-Private Sector Partnership on Women’s Empowerment Principles, with the theme ‘Gender Equality Means Business’. CEOs are being asked to sign on to: “Bring the broadest pool of talent to our endeavours; Further our companies’ competitiveness; Meet our corporate responsibility and sustainability commitments; Model behaviour within our companies that reflects the society we would like for our employees, fellow citizens and families; Encourage economic and social conditions that provide opportunities for women and men, girls and boys; and Foster sustainable development in the countries in which we operate.” These are success guidelines — let’s do it.
On Thursday also, WE-ChangeJA celebrated outstanding women, and we are always moved by the energy and passion that this group brings to their activities. They are a young organisation full of original thinking — they make me confident that this march for change will take us to a place of respect for and acceptance of each other. We must get so busy loving, that we leave little time for judging.
On Friday I attended the Justices of the Peace training in St Ann. Guest speaker EU Ambassador Malgozata Wasilewska related that at an event for high school students, a brave policewoman spoke of being raped as a teenager. The officer disclosed that it took her 20 years to bring herself to speak about her traumatic experience. After her talk, a student was overheard asking for her number.
Did that child have a sad story of her own and finally felt free to tell it? That is the power of truth, and such truths, painful as they may be, can be faced when we share. In listening to the adult’s truth, the child found a place where her own pain would not be trivialised or mocked. The march against domestic violence continued on Saturday in Kingston with the Tambourine Army, now gaining international attention.
Yes Jamaica, we are on awareness road. In this spirit we are examining the implications of last Thursday’s Budget presentation by Finance Minister Audley Shaw so we can share thoughts next week.