Women who hold up the sky

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, March 08, 2013

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TODAY is International Women's Day when we are reminded to give thought to a vital part of the human family. "Women hold up half the sky", says a Chinese proverb. Every day, every week of every month, we celebrate some special day or other and then go back to the old routine, but none so important as this one. Woman - mother, sister, daughter, auntie, bearer of life, family sustainer, independent yet dependent, we hold up more than one element of Nature, if you ask me.

As part of the half of humanity which does quite a bit of sky holding-up, I wish it to be made known that I don't take this lightly, especially as sky-upholders have had to fight from time began to gain our place. We continue to struggle, despite the once-popular cigarette advertising slogan: "You've come a long way, baby". That we have, cannot be disputed but let's not kid ourselves ... we still have a way to go.

By the way, in case you haven't noticed - smoking is not even fashionable any more, but the journey hasn't stopped. Some persons, yet unaware of the value of sky-upholders, often appear uninterested in how long was the journey and how hard the road, and refused to accept that there are still victories to be won, not for one but all. To borrow from Rasta, we're still "trodding outta Babylon" one step at a time.

New heroines are created every day and not in the usual, expected way. A young Jamaican woman (Shanique Myrie), will become part of Caribbean legal history for her challenge to disrespect meted out to her and other Jamaican women by "upholders of the law" in another country where, according to her allegations, she was violated and shown none of the courtesy expected of a good neighbour. The Caribbean Court of Justice has journeyed all the way here to try the matter, in so doing, moving from an abstract idea to a real, live process, an awakening to our country's stubborn insistence on denying its value in a new kind of Caribbean which we say we want. Whatever the outcome, Miss Myrie's determination to get justice may be a turning point in relations between Caribbean neighbours and put an end to the stories of humiliation and disrespect shown towards some Caribbean women, Jamaicans in particular. Win or lose, we will have a young woman to thank for her courage.

WE'VE COME A LONG DISTANCE in getting educated and qualified. Today, there are few professions where women are not found. How could sky-upholders of times long, long past even conceive the idea then that women would one day do real "man work" from piloting aeroplanes to being soldiers in war, from making scientific breakthroughs to balancing home and work at one and the same time, being mother and father in punishing economic times.

And who could foresee that there would be no more "maid" and "domestic servants" in our society, and someone would have the audacity to seek "equal pay for equal work" and "maternity leave with pay?" and any other benefits for which our women have fought and still fight. We've come a really long way, baby, but don't drop your guard. There are untold miles still to trod. How are we going to stop the violence against women - one of the biggest challenges of the day? Who will stop mad men from taking the lives of mothers and children with unbelievable savagery, creating an early Armageddon and testing if the sky will fall?

ON THIS DAY, we owe more than a tribute to those women who have kept that sky in place, holding up their end, enabling a new generation to continue the journey into a new world. Along the way, sometimes we forget at our peril the significance of those who went before. Imagine denying the existence of a Nanny, who led her people in a freedom battle against red-coat oppressors. If it was not her, then who? If she didn't exist, then neither should the men whose victories we accept.

History is on the side of the sky-holder uppers who became martyrs for freedom at Morant Bay (1865) and the Kingston waterfront (1938) and all the other battle grounds in our history where we had to "stand up pon wi own two foot and mek dem know sey we a smaddy too". We tell of the brave men, enshrining them as National Heroes and all we can find is one woman whose existence we question.

Not all battles were major. There were some smaller but no less significant. Who can imagine a time when married women couldn't hold jobs in the Civil Service and single mothers also in the 'Service' had to pass off their children as nieces, nephews, anything but their own offspring - because that was Backra rule of the day. So, it was better to lie to keep up appearances on the job. How dare we forget a time when women of colour daren't hope for work in banks and other places of business except in the back rooms because, it was said, "those people couldn't count money like other races". One day, that charade collapsed. Unfortunately some of us find fulfillment in the bleaching and the yak hair as if to eliminate our origins and identity. Oh it's a long way baby. We've won some and lost some but no matter what, let's keep holding up that sky. Happy IWD.

DID YOU KNOW? The listing by Google of 17 women world leaders currently in power includes Portia Simpson-Miller (Jamaica) and Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Trinidad and Tobago) Google also lists three women Governors General in this region - Dame Ivy Dumont (Bahamas) Dame Louise Lake-Tack (Antigua/ Barbuda) and Dame Pearlette Louisy (St Lucia). Didn't know that, did you? But then we in the Caribbean and the adjacent neighbourhood hardly know each other...

ADIOS AMIGOS: A week ago, optimistic admirers of Hugo Chavez were expressing confidence that, brave soldier that he was, he would win the battle for his life. He had survived much in his 18 years of struggle. The poor of his country idolised him for giving them a better standard of living. The various countries in other places around the world who benefitted from his assistance with their oil bill (we rejoice in Petro Caribe) salute his generosity.

But there are others however, who do not see him in heroic terms. His outdated embrace of Socialism, his defiance of the biggest world giant got him painted as some crazy little despot, but in Venezuela he was more than that. Soon he'll be laid to rest and in the words of the indestructible William Shakespeare: "The evil that men do lives after them ... the good is oft interred with their bones." (Julius Caesar). History will decide.

FAREWELL "OLD SOLDIER". Frank Gordon, one of the most passionate defenders of the philosophies of the Rt Hon Marcus Mosiah Garvey walked on earlier this week. His passion not only for Garvey and Garveyism but the history of Jamaica's political development made him a walking encyclopedia...I was glad to have known him.






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