Evelyn Smart’s labour of love
IT took Evelyn Smart more than three years to complete her first book, which chronicles the journey of Jamaican women in representational politics.
However, she believes it was well worth the labour of love, given the more than two centuries of advocacy, hardwork and sacrifice by earlier women to allow for the relative ease of access to Parliament for women today.
Her book, Jamaican Women on the Road to Parliament: From the 19th to the early 21st century, offers a historical perspective on their entry, contribution to and success in politics. Smart noted that while female parliamentarians in the 19th century were forerunners in the fight for women's rights, the current crop of female parliamentarians, such as the nation's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, are all trail-blazers who benefited from that legacy.
According to Smart, it is a travesty that there has been insufficient coverage of their success in comparison to their male counterparts, which is what prompted her to write her book, highlighting some of their contributions to nation building.
"I wanted to be able to highlight the accomplishments and constant participation of women in representational politics in Jamaica and, conversely, to arrest the paling of their existence and achievement in the political development of Jamaica over the years," she told All Woman.
Smart described the sojourn from colonial to independent Jamaica as an interesting one as it relates to women.
"To begin with, in the early 18th century, there was nothing on women; women were not known so to speak and the only thing you had was on Nanny. After Nanny and the development taking place in slavery, nothing else happened," she said.
Following Emancipation, only males with extensive property qualified for the Jamaican Assembly and the absence of women from the political arena continued up to the early 19th century when women's movements were developed.
Two of the most notable clubs were the Women's Social Service Club, which was founded in 1918, and the Women's Liberal Club, which was founded in 1936. The clubs fought for the rights of women to vote and consequently encouraged women to enter the political arena.
"There was great sisterhood and push, and they got Mrs Mary Morris-Knibb as the first woman who had ever darkened a political chamber in this country," Smart said.
Women's clubs continue to play a major part in facilitating the ascendancy of women into Parliament. One such club is the Jamaica Women's Political Caucus (JWPC), which helps to advance the cause of female candidates. Smart, who is the founding co-ordinator of the JWPC, noted that at the start of the club in 1992, the members were highly tribalistic as they held on to their allegiance to their respective political parties.
"Hence you are not thinking of women as women in development, not knowing that anything a woman suffers from in one party, you will suffer from the same thing as a woman in the other party," she said.
Smart is pleased that they are now a non-partisan group, which, among other things, contributes a small amount of funding towards the campaign of female candidates.
Smart is also the past president of the St Andrew Business and Professional Women's Club where she has been a member for more than 20 years, and is a fellow member of the Jamaica Institute of Management.
While she has assisted with the production of different magazines and publications for these two organisations, the level of work she put in then was nothing compared to the in-depth research needed to complete her first book.
"I lifted my pen in January of 2004 and it took me about three to three-and-a-half years to complete the writing. I wanted the book to be live and real, so whatever I've written in the book is actually what happened. At points, I had to put my pen down, because something was happening that you had to see it through, like, say, Portia's journey at some points," Smart said.
She hopes the documented political history in her book will help to inspire other women to go into politics and improve the archival information that exists on women in politics.
Smart is a widow and a mother of three, who worked as a human resource administrator with the Ministry of Agriculture prior to retiring 20 years ago. She also did a short stint as a teacher at the Morris Knibb Preparatory School.
"What has happened is that I think I have been more busy in retirement and work harder in retirement than I did while working — although I worked hard in government," she said.
Although the battle for women to vote and enter in politics has been won, Smart said the fight continues for gender equality. Her book is expected, among other things, to get people to understand that women have contributed equally to Jamaica's political landscape and development.