As we continue to celebrate the Inter-American Year of Women, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs places the spotlight on educator Professor Verene Shepherd.
PROFESSOR Verene A Shepherd hails from Hopewell, St Mary and is professor of social history and university director of the Institute for Gender & Development Studies at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI). She is also fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Society and holds BA and MPhil degrees in history from the UWI and a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. She became a professor in 2001 — the second woman in the Mona History Department to achieve such a remarkable accomplishment.
With an academic career spanning over 20 years, she is committed to the development of young minds and is eager to contribute knowledge that will bring about meaningful changes to gender and power relations in Jamaica. Shepherd has been a distinguished member of the UWI faculty in the Department of History since 1988. She was inspired to become a historian specialising in gender issues due to the inspiration received from pioneer historians like Lucille Mathurin Mair, Hilary Beckles, Kamau Braithwaite and Barry Higman. She lauds their contribution which has helped to “rescue Caribbean women from historical obscurity and disseminated knowledge that illustrated the fundamental contribution of women to the Atlantic economies and societies and to the freedoms we enjoy today”.
Shepherd launched her academic career with the aim to change the stereotype where historically women occupied the domestic space and made no contribution to production and public life. Her work has contributed significantly to the body of scholarship that is helping to overturn these stereotypes.
“I want to do work that helps to heal the gender divide and to improve the state of knowledge about gender and power relations,” she said. She is deeply concerned about the state of gender relations and the fractured nature of the debates over male marginalisation and female empowerment.
Her research has augmented the literature on the Indian experience in Jamaica and has helped to interrogate the plantation economy model that has been the staple model of research on Jamaican economic history. She has also contributed to the development of women’s organisations at UWI and to historical research that has helped to expand knowledge on women’s contribution to the socioeconomic and political development of the African and Indian diasporas. She continues to share her love and passion for history through her various publications as well as her radio programme Talking History which is aired on Nationwide 90 FM.
Shepherd has been able to twin academia and public education/advocacy work and research to create a balance in the scope of her work.
“I think that being an active researcher has helped me to be a better teacher. Taking knowledge from within the walls of the university and getting involved in community education with men and women has also worked well for me,“ she said.
She has formed good relationships with like-minded people in the academia, media, and international agencies which have helped her career and personal development.
An advocate of quality public education texts, she has worked with the CXC and Cambridge GCE examination boards. As a human rights activist, she is a member of the United Nation’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, the International Women’s Forum, the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora and the South-South Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development.
“I am intolerant of injustice and societal inequalities,“ she said. As a result, her work is an attempt to find the root of society’s ills and attempt to fix them. In 2007 she was asked by the Government of Jamaica to chair the Jamaica National Bicentenary Committee and in that capacity helped to generate a document on reparation. She is the immediate past board chair of the Jamaica Heritage Trust and was the first woman to serve as chair of the board.
A social networker, Shepherd loves to attend cultural events and also enjoys reading, especially by the sea, walking, aerobics and an exciting game of table tennis for relaxation and fun.