The fifth Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium dubbed PCWS 2014 carded for January 25, 2014, under the theme “What you conceive, you can achieve because God has the power to deliver what He promises,” will focus on the role of women in service. We do not tell the speakers what to speak on, we place only one condition: whatever part of your story, you choose to share; it must inspire and motivate the listeners to continue to aim to be their best selves.
The four feature speakers are Mrs. Olivia Douglas and Mrs. Neva Edwards of Dominica, Ms. Rose Willock of Montserrat and Ms. Rene Mercedes Baptiste of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Mrs. Douglas’s story is titled “Called to Serve,” Mrs. Edwards, “A Life of Service Inspired by Grace,” Ms. Willock’s Story, “A Life of Miracles,” and Ms. Baptiste’s, “The Roaring Mouse: Anointed and Called.”
This year, a life of service is again a central theme, however, there are some differences. This year, the speakers’ stories reflect service in a variety of areas: Education, Health, Culture, Church, Social and Politics. There are some common threads: teachers, community activists, children-focused, church oriented, all nationally and/or internationally recognized for their work. Two of them are broadcasters and two are lay preachers. This year, for the first time, every speaker’s story touches on their role and service in politics, one as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, one as a member of Parliament and Government Minister, one as the author of the simplified Constitution and another as wife and mother of a politician. I believe it is timely, especially in Dominica, given the current political climate, for a discussion on the role of women in the political landscape of Dominica. Today, we begin a brief discussion on the topic.
Dersnah (2013), in her “Global Report for the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice,” stated that there are three general rights of women in relation to the political landscape:
- The right to vote and be eligible for election
- The right to participate in policy formulation and implementation
- The right to participate in non-governmental organisations and associations concerned with public and political life (Dersnah)
She posits that in 1997 the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) general recommendations on public and political life focused on the three rights outlined above, however changes in the intervening years including new understandings of discrimination, gender, public life, political participation and new technologies for access to public and political life, have created a new horizon for women’s political empowerment. It must, she contends, include the consideration of collective action and demands for accountability, access to justice and reparation for the violation of rights; and a comprehensive approach to political and civil rights that acknowledges the interconnection with and the indivisibility of economic, cultural and social rights.
Barrow-Giles argues that while in the commonwealth Caribbean many of the structural obstacles to women’s participation in politics have long been eliminated, yet for the most part, politics and national decision-making continue to be dominated by males. The phenomenon of women in politics in the Commonwealth Caribbean is still a comparative rarity. One of the burning question is “why are women so under-represented in an important facet of our life with such life changing impact?”
The answer, as Barrow Giles demonstrate is multifaceted and includes:
- Socialisation – while it is now accepted that women can fare well in every area of life and have a right to determine their future, there is still a strong view, that politics is not for women as politics is a “dirty, mudsling game.”
- Economics – the economic climate whereby there is high unemployment among women and men and also the increasing trend of women having to support not just their household but also a growing number of unemployed males (Green quoted in Barrow-Giles)
- Politics – fewer women than men are members of political parties and political parties have not addressed the challenges faced by women.
She concludes, from her study of “Political Party Financing and Women’s Political Participation in the Caribbean,” that access to political money is an obstacle for women participation and the more successful female politicians have been professionals; While in the last decade women have become more politically active, many have had to deal with structural adjustments that has made it difficult for them to devote themselves fully to the activities of electoral and party politics.
It can be argued that political parties, especially in Dominica, are making an effort to increase the presence of women in politics and in Cabinet. In Dominica, there are presently two women ministers, Honourable Justina Charles and Honourable Gloria Shillingford. It can also be argued that in the last thirty-five or so years, Dominica has also enjoyed a good representation of women in politics, with at least three female Speakers of the House of Assembly, several ministers and senators. Another conclusion of Barrow-Giles is that while women constitute the backbone of the political party, that position has seemingly not translated into a greater presence in national politics.
Barrow-Giles (2013) however argues that the issue is more than just increasing numbers, it is about giving voice to issues that are of concern to women. She asserts, “over the last decade or so however, I have come to terms with the fact that agitating for women in politics is not about producing a “bunch of ‘boys’ in skirts, [for] as Gloria Steinem. …notes ‘having someone who looks like us but thinks like them is worse than having no one at all.’”
This is a good place to end our brief discuss and return to PCWS 2014. This day is day of women empowerment, where women celebrate the successes of each other, share the pains of each other and help lighten the load by words of inspiration, encouragement and sometimes in silence. A day of acceptance and love, where we focus on loving and taking care of us, so we can be equipped to love and take care of those entrusted in our care to serve.
It is also a day of introspection, a day when we take a candid look at ourselves and our journey in fulfilling our lives’ purposes and decide on the strategies to discover, regain, regroup or continue on our path in fulfilling our purpose. It is a day of recognition that we are on different legs of our journey, however, no matter where we are on that journey, we belong to a sisterhood and we are to support each other on that journey. It is also a day where we are fully cognizant that we need to take action to achieve our goals and purpose; that we are chiefly responsible for our destiny, grounded in faith that God has to be the center of our lives for He is the author of life, and through Him all things are possible; that He is a God of His promises who calls us to have life and life in abundance.
Attendance at PCWS 2014 is an investment in self, and as I have said on so many occasions, it is an investment that is never lost, that never fails. Investment in self is an investment that keeps on giving. Investment in self is also a reflection of how much you value you. If you are afraid or unprepared to invest in you, why should someone else do so? If however, you show that you are prepared to invest in you, even making a sacrifice so to do, then others will have little choice but to support you and encourage you on your way. Paul C Branson, who worked with Oprah (the catalyst for the origin of the Phenomenal Caribbean Women and Men Symposiums) and Enver Yucel (a Turkish education entrepreneur), listed the number one lesson he learnt from working for these two billionaires as “Invest in Yourself.” He writes, “This is a very simple concept, but something you would think someone who has ‘made it’ would stop doing. Not at all for these two. I saw them both spend a significant amount of time dedicating their resources to self development …The moment you stop investing in yourself is the moment you have written off future dividends in life.”
This is another call for all women to register to be part of PCWS 2014. Another call for all men to register their wives, mothers, sisters, nieces, cousins and friends to be part of PCWS 2014. Another call for all employers to register their female employees to be part of PCWS 2014. Another call for individuals to register a woman they know would benefit from this self-development exercise. Another call for women to register to be part of PCWS 2014, which takes place on January 25, 2014 at Cabrits National Park, Portsmouth, Dominica!
The 2nd Phenomenal Caribbean Men Symposium is carded for November 15, 2014, so men, you too, will have another opportunity to celebrate and fellowship with each other.
I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at 767 449 9649.
Until we meet again, May God Continue to Keep Us in the Palm of His Hands. Love and Blessings Always…