The Surge of Women in Jamaican Politics

Sheri-Kae McLeod CNW Reporter

photos via Jamaica Observer

You can tell a great deal about the progressive nature of a country by the positions of power, or the lack thereof, that are held by women.

In any society, women play an instrumental role in aspects of national development and the livelihood of its people. Still, in some countries, women have traditionally been overlooked for leadership positions in the private and public sectors, especially in politics.

Over the years, Jamaica has made significant progress at lifting the status of women on the social hierarchy. Across various industries, many of which were typically male-dominated, women now occupy leadership positions in major corporate entities. In fact, in 2016, Jamaica was ranked as the country with the largest percentage of female managers in the world.

In recent years, there has also been a surge of women emerging at the forefront of local politics—but Jamaica has had a long history of women in politics. It dates back to the 1940s, with Iris Collins from the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP); Madam Rose-Leon, who was also part of the JLP and later joined the People’s National Party (PNP); and then Iris King, the PNP Mayor of Kingston and St. Andrew.

But undoubtedly, the glass ceiling in Jamaica was smashed with the election of the PNP’s Portia Simpson Miller as the party’s leader and ascendancy as Jamaica’s first female prime minister in 2006. Her ascendancy, especially as a woman from working-class, rural Jamaica, emboldened women across the nation, opening the way for a new wave of female politicians.

Women are still in the minority in Jamaican politics, but they have also been among the most hardworking and most revered politicians in recent times. Incumbent government minister Dr. Kamina Johnson-Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade; Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Minister of Sports, Culture, Entertainment and Gender Affairs; and Fayval Williams, Minister of Mining and Energy, are just some of the women that have been among the list of top-performing ministers.

And on the flip side, Imani Duncan-Price, Krystal Tomlinson and Lisa Hanna are among the women who have shown passion and authentic leadership, despite being the opposition. There is increasing speculation within PNP circles that it is only a matter of time for Hanna to be seriously considered for the leadership of the PNP.

A strong indication of the increased role women are playing in Jamaican politics is that 30 of the candidates—18 from the JLP and 12 from the PNP—nominated to campaign for office in the September 3 general election, are women. Many of them are in their 30s.

The increasing number of women politicians has been essential for ensuring equality and raising awareness of issues that primarily affect women, like sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence and abortion. Women’s experiences across sectors and in everyday life bring a unique perspective to political leadership, which men, under their societal roles, do not. By tabling motions surrounding the health and livelihoods of women and being vocal about women’s issues, women in parliament have proven themselves to be political allies of Jamaican women—a kind of support that has never been seen or heard before in Jamaican politics.

Moreover, as has been widely seen in the context of  Jamaica, particularly in the inner cities and rural regions, women are the glue that holds families together, often bearing the burden of feeding and clothing the family. As several women told CNW, “Women politicians better understand our economic reality, and know how best to help us cope.”

In other countries around the world, female political leadership has also led to more effective and inclusive policies on healthcare and education, as well as widespread access to proper housing and water solutions, thus a deliberate push towards more gender-balanced representation.

Some men have offered unsolicited criticism, suggesting the resounding number of women contesting the elections are being used as tokens for a guise of gender equality in politics. As inaccurate and sexist as these remarks are, it’s the same motivation that emboldened Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, regarded as one of the best Caribbean leaders, and U.S. vice-presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, to the forefront of global politics.

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