The call for gender equality in J'can politics

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, March 12, 2018

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Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange was guest lecturer at the Women's Political Caucus's Annual Rose Leon Lecture last Monday. So exceptional was her data-rich presentation on gender equality for women in politics that we hardly noticed that it was lengthy.

She opened with a tribute to Rose Leon: “We recall with much pride and we honour Madame Rose Leon for being the first female minister of government in Jamaica, the only Jamaican to have served in both a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP) Cabinet, and the first female chairperson of a political party in the Caribbean.”

Minister Grange wittily described her early political foray. When the late Ryan Peralto Sr gave up representational politics, she decided to take his place for the Kingston Central seat. This is considered a PNP 'sure seat', so she applied herself diligently and recounted that by the end of the 1989 campaign she felt love from all sides. When the votes were counted, a PNP follower in a strong PNP area said to her, “Ms Grange, it's the most votes any JLP ever got here — 10!” (She actually polled 5,758 votes.)

She said that she learned that, “Even if everyone loved me, not everyone would vote for me.” Minister Grange noted that she had to work hard to win support for the St Catherine Central seat, keeping her word to her constituents, even if it meant long days and nights.

She said that campaign financing was a serious problem for women in politics and that she welcomed the new guidelines for this in the Representation of the People Act. Noting that “females represent 19 per cent of the Lower House, and 18 per cent of the Cabinet”, she called for a quota system like that of Guyana.

“Women bring a different angle to politics,” she offered. “As former head of the then Women's Bureau and gender expert Glenda Simms phrased this unique understanding us women have in politics: 'We have a nose for the issues that men ignore.' ”

“Some say they are the everyday issues,” she said, “but I call them the soul and pulse issues.”

Grange said that, while Jamaica was ranked number 10 in the Global Gender Gap 2016 Report, in terms of females in Parliament, “the same 2017 study ranked Jamaica 113 out of 119 countries”.

Considering that “after 55 years of Independence and almost 74 years of adult suffrage we still cannot reach the international benchmark of 30 per cent of female politicians”, she called for more to be done to encourage the participation of women in politics.

Among her suggestions: “Political parties must promote equality through recruitment, training and financing… Women in politics ought to provide more mentorship opportunities to younger women in politics so they get exposure, and the confidence gap between the sexes in turn will be reduced… Let us be clear that we all have to be the chief architects of equality by localising it in our churches, our schools, our clubs, our families, our communities.”

The organisers of the annual lecture, the Women's Political Caucus, founded by the St Andrew Business and Professional Women's Club, have been doing significant work to address gender imbalance. In both public and private sectors it has been established that where there is gender balance, there is greater success. Jamaica should not deprive herself of the developmental opportunities that come with having more women in political leadership roles.

Seniors have strength in numbers

Once again, the scenes repeated themselves last Monday — elderly folks being assisted to polling stations for by-elections. The world over, seniors take their role as electors seriously, and here in Jamaica they are an important part of every campaigner's canvas. It is high time that seniors realise their power and ensure that policymakers give respect and reward to those who have built and continue to make great sacrifices for this country.

Thanks to the work of Professor Denise Eldemire Shearer, the National Policy for Senior Citizens was tabled in Parliament on March 12, 1997 by then Minister of Labour, Social Security and Sport Portia Simpson Miller. (

This comprehensive policy led to the expansion of the National Council for Senior Citizens and the introduction of the Jamaica Drugs for the Elderly Programme. Corporate Jamaica has also stepped up, offering discounts and special facilities for senior citizens. While it is understandable that former Prime Minister Bruce Golding has described the fast-growing population of elderly as a “ticking time bomb” for our economy, Jamaica's seniors are also realising that there is strength in their numbers.

At last Friday's launch of the Central Jamaica Chapter of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP), dynamic seniors, several of them returning residents, discussed the issues that require focus. They were encouraged by award-winning family physician Dr Owen James, a board member of the organisation, to come together and be of one voice for the matters that affect their well-being and security.

First, there was the matter of property taxes, as they noted that several Caribbean neighbours offer tax relief to seniors who continue occupying their homes, acknowledging the substantial amounts paid over decades. What a contrast to our local situation in which a 99-year-old man in St Elizabeth was hauled before the courts last month for failing to pay property taxes.

On the matter of security, the central Jamaica citizens noted the valiant efforts of the police, and several said they were members of neighbourhood watch groups. The returning residents are also members of Percival LaTouche-headed Jamaica Association for the Resettlement of Returning Residents, which has provided timely guidance to those seniors who are considered easy prey to unscrupulous persons. They expressed faith in Jamaica. Gloria and Keith Wellington noted, “We are happy to be back home, and we have no intention of living anywhere else.”

The residents continue to enjoy touring, mentioning some great experiences in St Elizabeth, Manchester and Clarendon, among them the St John Bosco weekend entertainment spot at which the school's catering trainees serve excellent food; YS Falls; Little Ochie; Jack Sprat; Black River Safari; and Milk River Spa.

Comfortable accommodation for the elderly was a hot topic. Jean Anderson is calling for developers to create complexes in central Jamaica similar to the Women's Club in Kingston. Plans are to invite members of the Jamaica Real Estate Developers Association to their next meeting. Dr Guyan Arscott has mentioned the potential of the 90-plus-acre property around the Milk River Spa. This spa boasts one of the richest mineral springs in the world. Such developments would not only be welcomed by residents, but also provide a big boost for health tourism.

The executive members of the CCRP Central Jamaica Chapter are: Sadie Johnson, pharmacist; Sonja Allen, retired nurse; Patricia “Pesh” Campbell, retired teacher; and Leighton Ritch, retired executive of Alcan. We are sensing a new and exciting phase of engagement and advocacy of and for Jamaica's seniors.

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