Where is the once-vibrant PNP Women's Movement?
Sunday Observer news analysis
Sunday, December 25, 2011
No prison bar can ever defeat /The women who will never retreat /Oh women of Jamaica /Unite, unite and fight. — Excerpt from The (PNP) Women’s Song
AS it is with the churches and most organised entities in Jamaica, women are the backbone of the political parties. The absence of the once-vibrant People’s National Party Women’s Movement (PNPWM) in the 2011 election campaign is palpable.
A long-standing party insider suggested that since the departure of the late Michael Manley from the political stage, the women’s movement has lost its importance and has all but died under new leader, Portia Simpson Miller, who has shown little interest in the organisation.
Jennifer Edwards, the former president of the PNPWM, remains the only known name in the movement which has been reduced to issuing the occasional news release, the most recent of which was a weak protestation that a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate mentioned from the platform that that party had pretty women among its candidates.
“I don’t believe that the persons that we are selecting to represent us ought to be selected on the basis that they are pretty women. I hope that the women who have been selected have a lot more to offer than that,” she was quoted as saying. “I believe it is an insult to them and their intelligence and to women, generally, for the only attributes to be flaunted on a political platform to be their external beauty. I believe that there should be a lot more that they bring to the table than that,” she added.
The PNP Women’s Movement reached its zenith in the ideologically intense 1970s when it was led by Beverley Anderson-Manley and had people like Maxine Henry-Wilson, Heather Robinson, Marjorie Taylor, Alethia Barker, Karlene Kirlew Robertson, and an array of other bright, articulate women, all of whom are now far removed from the movement.
Its mission statement proudly proclaimed: “To mobilise, motivate and educate the members of the Movement, of the Party and of the Society to accept that they have equal rights and responsibilities in every aspect of spiritual, cultural, social, economic and political sphere of life; to encourage, foster and promote women’s integration in all areas of national development; and to protect and promote the rights, equality and dignity of women.”
At its peak, the PNPWM exercised awesome clout in the PNP, and was able to influence far-reaching legislation including those that decreed equal pay for women; the Maternity Leave Act, forcing employers to give pregnant women three months’ leave, two of them with full pay; and the Status of Children or ‘bastard’ Act which abolished the concept of illegitimate children born to unwed parents.
When the United Nations launched the International Year of Women, which represented a massive breakthrough for the gentler sex, Anderson-Manley proudly led a Jamaican delegation to the UN in 1975 to receive the adulation of many Third World women leaders.
The women of the movement became critical to the success of the PNP in elections from the 1970s to the early -1990s. But with the departure of Manley, who had given full encouragement to the PNPWM, the organisation began a precipitous slide. It found its voice from time to time under PJ Patterson, but never regained its former pride of place. Under Portia Simpson Miller, the movement lost all its remaining lustre, as members complained that she sidelined those regarded as competitors. Edwards, the former Spanish Town mayor and Portia loyalist, tried valiantly to keep the movement going but to no avail.
In a complete reversal of political party history, the JLP, which had a women’s group called National Organisation of Women (NOW) that never attained the heights of the PNPWM, has now fielded more women in the elections than the PNP. It’s a measure of how women have lost power in the party of Norman Manley.
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