50 women honoured
FIFTY women who have played an instrumental role in national development and who have contributed to gender mainstreaming were on Thursday recognised by the Bureau of Women's Affairs as part of celebrations to mark International Women's Day.
The women were chosen from a wide range of sectors including sports, politics, media, religion, health, education and the financial services; and were awarded during a celebratory function held at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel.
They included Dr Olive Lewin for her outstanding work in folk music; Dr Carolyn Cooper for exceptional contribution in culture; Norma Brown-Bell for her work in the field of media; and Ambassador Madge Barrett for outstanding contribution in the foreign service.
Guest speaker at the event and former pro-chancellor at the University of Technology, Dr Blossom O'Meally-Nelson, congratulated the women who she said have served Jamaica well over the years.
"You stayed true to your purpose, you have been constant in your commitment to give back to our society, so that others can see that there is a better way and there are new opportunities for growth," she said.
The honouring of the 50 women was also in keeping with celebrations to mark Jamaica's 50th year of Independence.
"It is a year of celebration when the consideration must be not so much about how far we have come, but how far we must go," Dr O'Meally-Nelson said.
But executive director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs, Faith Webster, was keen to point out that the achievements of women over the years cannot be forgotten, although there was still much work to be done before women could become equal participants in Jamaica's social, cultural and economical development.
"The women of Jamaica continue to make headway towards gaining equality through their increased participation in all sectors of society. We now see many women being hired as managers in prominent local companies, and as senior executives in the field of banking and finance and other non-traditional areas that used to be primarily reserved for men," she said.
This sentiment was also echoed by junior industry minister Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, who greeted the group on behalf of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
"Over the period of this journey, Jamaica has made significant progress towards gender equality and women's empowerment," she said, before pointing out that, "While we can take some pride in the overall progress our country has made, we must also be very mindful of the fact that a significant number of Jamaican women still struggle against the barriers which keep them poor and marginalised."
She extended an invitation for men to participate in the celebration of women and reassured the group that the government was ready to play its part in increasing awareness and implementing action plans that would assist in empowering more women.
President of Woman Inc, Dundeen Ferguson, believes that as it currently stands, a number of Jamaican women are not empowered.
"It is important to strive for empowerment. Women are active in many areas of Jamaican life, but they are not necessarily empowered," she said.
"A woman's dependence on a man for her livelihood can become a stranglehold for abuse. We see too often in the work that we do that despite the counselling, women turn to abusive relationships, simply because of their economic dependence on their spouses for their survival. This has to change," she charged.
Dispute Resolution Foundation's Donna Parchment Brown, said those women who were awarded have left a legacy that must be preserved for greater growth. She said they have set the bar for other women to follow.
"The political and economic empowerment of women requires the effective affirmation of each other, it requires communication and co-operation, standing on a firm foundation of respect," she said.