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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1/1/2012 - 10:03 AM
Not bad at all fellas and glaals. Thanks.
Orville Brown
12/26/2011 - 9:34 PM
The protest is inappropriate and there is nothing ugly people hate so much as the very thought of beauty. But beauty is an inspiration and when joined to talent and the willingness to serve it should be celebrated. But the PNP hate it and I remember when they were trashing it in the seventies how Sir Florizel put it, "I have always been an admirer of feminine beauty." If Jennifer or the PNP women find beauty so offensive maybe they should chase Lisa Hanna out of the party.
0o k
12/26/2011 - 3:48 PM
Yeah advanced women's Rights alright!
According to Comrade PJoke, one of his signature achievements is: more man have gyal....how's that for Rights of women?
As with all issues, Comrades of the PNP has debased everything touched. There are no issues that is mutually exclusive re men and women in Jamaica. Having destroyed the economy, the Education system and Criminal/Justice systems, Comrades have zero claims to advancing anyone's Rights on the Rock!
Sanjea Martin
12/25/2011 - 8:46 PM
the pnpwm should be at the top of there game under Simpson-miller not stagnant
Maude Cooper
12/25/2011 - 2:01 PM
Strength is what is missing from the PNP, don’t just go out and make a statement because it sounds good at the moment. Weigh the pros, cons and in-between of something, and if you still feel right about it afterwards then go and shout it out as loud as you can. Otherwise, such person will come out looking trivial and neither here nor there loosing support on all sides. The Manley’s were a force to be reckoned with and as such were able to attract bright, strong women and men to the PNP. Seems to be the PNPs magnificence has worn dull.
0o k
12/25/2011 - 1:47 PM
They were nothing but paid lackeys like all Comrade fronts. They cared zero for the plight of women except the ones wearing Red and Orange
Anthony II
12/25/2011 - 12:30 PM
I am disappointed that in a country where 51% of the population are women, to the extent that you have a movement named to hail that, the PNP could come up with only 5 women on a slate of 63 candidates. That is woefully inadequate and a seeming disregard for the role of JAM women in leadership. I suspect that if the PNP is elected to lead the country women may be equally unrepresented in government positions (Cabinet; Senate). Where are the voices of the women's groups in Jamaica?
pete delisser
12/25/2011 - 11:39 AM
This issue is irrelevant as far as the PNP is concerned. Theyve grown & matured. It was the PNP who advanced womens rights over the yrs, and the first party to present a woman as a leader. Gender is a non issue, hence the need for PNP womens movement has almost died, not as relevant (needed) as it was years ago. Jamaicas first & only female PM, was PNP, end of story. The JLP can field all the pretty women they want, but are they OK with a woman leader of JLP? Doubt it. They have issues.
Clare Forrester
12/25/2011 - 9:38 AM
Do you believe that the 'protestation' against the 'pretty women' platform statement should have been stronger?