This pandemic has architecturally redesigned our world. Never before has so much thought gone into how we move, how we breathe, and how we take up space. When human beings required gestures of tender loving reassurance, national orders were to stay six feet away from each other, quarantine, or curfew.
Yes, 2021 was a long and arduous year mentally, emotionally, and financially for many people. It was also a year of tremendous inspiration, self-challenge, and hope, especially for our women. They pressed forward to re-engineer their space, rewrite their agendas, and prevail against the significant odds.
Watching them unfold over this past year taught me some critical personal lessons which helped to refashion my strength, regenerate my courage, and strip away some of the built-up “what's the point anyway?” cynicism I'd begun developing.
For me, our women were the winners of 2021. They were bold, taking risks that challenged the status quo by thinking differently. Here are some of the women who inspired me to keep going when I felt like giving up this year.
1) Audrey Tugwell Henry: The transformational leader
I have quietly admired this lady for many years, but was never bold enough to reach out to tell her. I finally got the chance recently and found myself gushing as I tried excitedly to explain how much she inspired me to stay the course in a harsh environment. We could have spoken all night about English literature. Yes, just books that we both loved.
I could have stayed in her company for hours listening to her speak candidly about her early beginnings of teaching English literature and physical education (PE).
“You were a teacher?”
“Yes, I was,” she said with her signature welcoming smile.
“So, how did you move from PE teacher to President and CEO of Scotia?”
“Because my teaching contract ended and I needed another job and was offered one as a bank teller…”
For me, it is not only Tugwell Henry's focus and sustained application that continues to inspire me to stay the course within a challenging profession; it's her kind spirit and her stimulating aura, which is devoid of arrogance and egotistical rancour.
You are put at ease in her presence as she speaks with you and not at you, which is an essential quality for the leader of an organisation. Her wisdom is revitalising and refreshing. After 10 months of being promoted to president of Scotia Group (Jamaica), Tugwell Henry was promoted again to senior vice-president of Scotia's Caribbean North and Central operations in December 2021. Here's to her continued dynamism and success as she brings growth to the region while positively transforming all our lives in the process.
2) Shericka Jackson: Persistent determination
Shericka Jackson captivated me with her effortless determination at the Olympic Games in Japan. I was in awe of her passion, persistence, and exuberant personality. I thought to myself, “She must be exhausted, and her legs must feel like lead now.” I was waiting to hear that she pulled out of the next race, but she always shows up.
But it was her admission to personal misjudgement in the 200m final which impressed me the most that, even in extreme disappointment, she never wavered, kept self-motivated, and pressed forward.
It takes a well-trained super athlete to run the 100m, 200m, and 400m at an Olympic Games, but it takes a unique individual to remain grounded through it all. Whenever I get physically tired, exhausted, and on the verge of giving up on any task, I think of Shericka Jackson's persistent determination to push her body and mind to be limitless. Here's to her pushing her limits even further and faster.
3) Pamela Monroe Ellis: Unbridled courage
When I first met our auditor general it was at the Public Accounts Committee meeting in Parliament over 10 years ago as a first-term Member of Parliament (MP). I was impressed by her mettle then, and I am still impressed by it today. She is fearless in the face of anyone; if you are appearing before her, make sure you are prepared, because she is always on top of her data down to the finest detail.
What I love even more about her personality is her desire to do her work without the fanfare and nauseating limelight some others in similar positions crave.
Monroe Ellis is my 'go-to' example whenever I am confronted with doing what may be politically expedient or popular; I choose to do what's right, accountable, and transparent — no matter the consequences. In her own words, “I am not fearful. I have nothing to hide, because I am answerable to the people of Jamaica.” Here's to her continued unbridled courage in a country where, most of the time, power is used to thwart the truth.
4) Kadene Vidol: First-class ambition
I remember reading about young Kadene Vidol recently and she gave me goosebumps. I have so many young people who ask me for a “farm work card” to leave Jamaica for an easier experience. Yet here was a young woman who proved to all of us that, no matter the harsh circumstances in your life, there is always a way to overcome them with unquenchable ambition.
I imagined her running from the metropolitan police in the market while doing her online classes. I imagined her having to balance buying the best tomatoes, sweet peppers, Irish potatoes, and cabbage to sell downtown while writing her assignments and studying for her exams. I imagined her being criticised and talked about when she became a market vendor after her overseas work programme fell through. I imagined her having to find the university fees. And I imagined her fatigue, her sweat, and her tears.
For her to attain a first-class honours Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management this year represents more than an academic degree to me; it represents the hallmark of true Jamaican female perseverance, and she gives me great hope and pride for Jamaica. Keep doing you, Kadene.
5) Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie: Grace under fire
I may not have agreed with some of her advice as our Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, but I have tremendous respect for her quiet strength. She was unflinching with her scientific resolve to navigate Jamaica through the ravages of the pandemic. She was undaunted by the 'noise' and political bluster of press conference after press conference. She just presented the facts with the consequences of not heeding what the data was pointing to. Now, when I go into a potentially heated meeting, I channel my inner JB-M calm, and I wish her well.
6) Nicole “Nicky” McFarlane: The outstanding mother of invention
Do you remember Nicky, the young lady riding a bicycle holding a weed wacker with her toddler strapped firmly in a car seat on a welded tray? Search www.youtube.com. If I could give the '2021 Mother of Invention Award' it would go to this industrious cash crop farmer, hairdresser, street vendor, truck driver, gardener, and single mother from Lakes Pen, St Catherine. She is simply outstanding as she demonstrates all the qualities of “tun yuh han' mek fashion”.
As I listened to her recount all the jobs she created in her short life to support herself and family I kept thinking that Nicky's value system should be documented and taught across our national school system. Her unceasing, 'I must not only survive I must prevail' attitude is what Jamaica needs from top to bottom. No job was too big, too small, or too hard; once it was gainful work she was prepared to do it, never leaving her little girl behind.
To all the women who courageously walked the road less travelled this year, I salute you. Thank you for your fearlessness and discipline; I'm truly inspired by you all. Let's continue to shatter glass ceilings and retell our stories of breaking barriers, disproving misconceptions, and reforming prejudices that have stifled women's progress for centuries. Here's to you, our Jamaican women, and all that you do.
Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.