THIS year’s theme for International Women’s Day (IWD), ‘Be Bold for Change’, impels us to examine the global impact of some of the trailblazers of the Jamaican Foreign Service. The foreign ministry has often been viewed as a bastion of tradition and conservatism, seemingly impervious to change. For some, it does not naturally fit the mould of advocacy, agitation and activism. In this article, we take a look at the lives of six women, stalwarts of the Jamaican Foreign Service, who in their time and place have made a remarkable difference, not just to Jamaica, but to the world beyond.
Ambassador Carmen Parris, CD
The late Carmen Parris was Jamaica’s first female ambassador. It is not generally known now that Jamaica had a resident embassy in France. Ambassador Parris served at the helm of that office in Paris from 1975 to 1980, at a time when women in senior positions were few in the civil service, and the Foreign Service in particular. During her distinguished career, Parris also served as ambassador to Belgium and the then European Economic Community (now the European Union). In that capacity, she was intimately involved in negotiations on the Lome Convention.
Ambassador Dr Lucille Mathurin Mair, OJ, CD
The late Lucille Mair was a pioneer in both academia and diplomacy. She was renowned for her research on women. Dr Mair wore many hats, including that of first female executive director of the JIS. Among her accomplishments on the international stage, Dr Mair has the distinction of being appointed secretary general of the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women held in Copenhagen in July 1980. She was also the first woman to receive the title of under-secretary general of the United Nations in 1982. In Foreign Service circles, Dr Mair was appointed senator and minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1989, and as the permanent representative of Jamaica to the United Nations in New York in 1992, the first woman to be so appointed.
Angella King, CD
The late Angella King joined the Jamaican Foreign Service in 1963, and worked at its Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, before she segued to the United Nations Secretariat. King rose through the ranks, participating actively in the administrative, operational and advocacy work of the organisation. Over the period 1992-1994, she was assigned as chief of mission of the United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa, a pioneer in her own right, as one of only six women to have led a United Nations peace-building mission. With the successful completion of that assignment, King was appointed special advisor on gender issues and advancement of women at the level of assistant secretary general in 1997, making her the first UN official to assume this office.
Ambassador the Honourable M Patricia Durrant, OJ, CD
Ambassador Patricia Durrant has the unique accomplishment of being appointed the very first ombudsman of the United Nations, which capped an extraordinary career of several decades, in the Foreign Service. As a Foreign Service officer, Ambassador Durrant had assignments in Bonn, as first female ambassador in that capacity, and in New York, where she served in later years as Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations. She led Jamaica’s delegation during its second tenure as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (2000-2001), at a time when that body was embracing changes to its agenda to broaden the concept of threats to peace and security. She was instrumental in the council’s adoption of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, and in the work by the council on conflict prevention.
Ambassador Gail Mathurin, CD
As one half of the only mother and daughter team to serve simultaneously in the Jamaican foreign service, Ambassador Gail Mathurin followed in the footsteps of Ambassador Lucille Mathurin Mair, to record a distinguished career over several decades in service to Jamaica. Appointed as the first female permanent secretary in the foreign ministry in 2008, Ambassador Mathurin now serves as the director general of CARICOM’s Office of Trade Negotiations, utilising her experience and expertise to support the region’s engagement with Third States, in the area of international trade negotiations.
Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith
Senator Johnson Smith has secured her place in history by entering the record books as the first woman to be appointed as foreign minister of Jamaica, as well as the youngest ever to do so. She assumed office on International Women’s Day 2016, and since then, has sought to deepen and broaden Jamaica’s presence and contribution internationally. She is designated a Champion of the Global Campaign to End Violence Against Children. She is currently chairman of the Council of Ministers of CARIFORUM. Senator Johnson Smith has roots in the foreign service as her father, Ambassador the Honourable Anthony Johnson, formerly served as Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States of America and later as High Commissioner for Jamaica to the United Kingdom.
These women have, in their own way, mentored and inspired many others through their diligence, determination, professionalism, commitment to excellence and a steadfast belief in the country they represented. Jamaica’s high standing within the international community has been secured, in part, because of the contributions which they have made. Indeed, they have, individually and collectively, boldly changed the face of the Jamaican foreign service and of the world!