Strong women of Jamaica

Strong women of Jamaica


Friday, September 28, 2018

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Our Jamaica has had among its residents some of the most interesting personalities. Some are still with us, while others have completed their journey with us. This week, I know of two women who made contributions so interesting that they should never be forgotten.

On Tuesday afternoon a gathering of friends and associates of Isabel Magnus bade farewell to a remarkable woman of Spanish Town birth who, for countless years, gave her talent and devotion to the National Blood Transfusion Service, formerly known as the Jamaica Blood Bank.

Magnus gave tremendous support to one of the most necessary agencies in the health system, greatly increasing the roster of voluntary donors by her ceaseless efforts to convince Jamaica that “giving blood saves lives”.

The transfusion service and the medical fraternity put a lot into getting our people to understand the value and importance of being able to receive transfusions of blood when there are instances of routine surgery or emergencies and there is need for the “miracle fluid” to save lives. The team at the Blood Bank spoke highly of Magnus's stewardship as former chairman and her continued involvement, even after her retirement from the agency.

Magnus also gave of her time to Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL), the adult literacy programme, now the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning, and produced a book on Jamaican facts to help adult learners have a better appreciation for the history of their country.

Magnus was also recognised by the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons for her contribution to nation-building at the community's Living Legacy Awards in 2012.

She was small in stature, but she had a great impact on those she knew. She has worked unceasingly, and so it was on Tuesday afternoon that her family and friends told her farewell, doing so with expressions of love and kindness, especially for her husband of 66 years, university professor Ken Magnus, and their daughter Andrea.

Today respect will be paid to another woman who never stopped until time overtook the way of “groundings”. Minion “Sister Minnie” Phillips passed away a few weeks ago and is being laid to rest.

Some knew Minnie as the former wife of Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips. She was a strong woman who was well respected in the Rastafarian community having been part of the early days of the “Twelve Tribes of Israel” movement in Jamaica. In the 1960s and 70s many Jamaicans were embracing the national liberation movements around the world. In 1968 the Hugh Shearer-led Government refused pan-Africanist Walter Rodney, the noted lecturer and radical thinker from re-entering Jamaica. Minnie and Peter Phillips were among the students of The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, who marched in protest. The protestors were joined by other members of the public and a heated confrontation developed between the crowd and the police. The events surrounding that action became known as the “Rodney Riots” and some described it as “marking a new stage in the evolution of radical politics in Jamaica”.

Sister Minnie, who hailed from “Stand Pipe”, in Liguanea, would later open Minnie's Ethiopian Vegetarian Restaurant in Liguanea, on what is now the grounds of the Chinese Benevolent Association. She shared with her clients vegetarian cuisine long before it became trendy. For Sister Minnie, ital was indeed vital.

She leaves behind her mother, Rita Sampson; siblings Keith, Andrew and Elaine; sons Robert, Mikael and David, as well as daughters Tshai, and Ruth; along with 14 grandchildren.

These two women, Isabel Magnus and Minion Phillips, moved in different spheres of life, but they are proof that the women of Jamaica will continue to play a major part in our nation's development. To paraphrase Louise Bennett-Coverley and her poem Jamaican Ooman:

“Mother, sister, wife, and sweetheart… Outta road or eena yard fi wi woman dominate her part!”

Sexual harassment

I note with interest the announcement by Olivia Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, that the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Draft Bill is now ready to be signed off by Cabinet. News reports have said that the draft includes “new proposals for hearing sexual harassment complaints to be dealt with by the Bureau of Gender Affairs”.

The issue of sexual harassment is now in the news, particularly “Up So” in the USA with the hearings for Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh, who is accused of inappropriate behaviour in his school years, and the sentencing of Bill Cosby for sexual misconduct. The Americans have their ways of dealing with things. I would like to be assured that “Down Here” men and women are protected.

The long-awaited Bill which is still to be passed in our Parliament seeks to “protect men and women from unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and crude sexual behaviours”. Mark me down for being in support of whatever can bring us back to a sense of decency and respect for all.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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