|Top News > lifestyle|
Homemakers: Walkes' way
By Allison Ramsay
Yvonne Veronica Walkes SCM, J.P. is a woman who has played multiple roles in her life: mother, trade unionist, educator, women’s advocate and politician.
For meritorious work as a women’s advocate and trade unionist, Walkes was awarded the Silver Crown of Merit (SCM) at the National Honours for Independence Day in 2010.
Homemakers spoke with this outstanding lady who wears many hats in Barbadian society about her life and how she was able to accomplish this over time.
Walkes’ path in life was heavily influenced by her mother, Pearl Walkes’ and her passion for education. Yvonne was raised with her other siblings in Trents, St. Lucy and came from a working-class background. Her mother always believed that education was the key to her children’s success and always instilled that value in them.
The importance of education was further embedded in Walkes’ life through the influence of two “angel” teachers at her primary school level at the St. Lucy Primary School; a Ms. Sargeant and Mr. Colin Campbell. She recalls Ms. Sargeant spending quality time with her and giving her free lessons and Campbell’s visits to her mother every lunch time to convince her mother that she was an intelligent child and should allow be allowed to take the 11-Plus exam, which was not compulsory at the time.
Campbell was successful, after much pleading and persuasion, in convincing her mother, and Yvonne was one step closer in a long journey towards excellence. When the results of the exam were released, it was the Alexandra School which would be the next stepping stone. Such a result meant that any worries her mother had of having to pay for a private school, were put to bed.
After leaving Alexandra School, Walkes’ enrolled in summer training to be a teacher and was all set to return to teach at St. Lucy Primary. However, she was given the opportunity to enter the Public Service and her first job was at the Agricultural Credit Bank.
During her twenties, Walkes continued to improve herself by enrolling in various courses and workshops learning about leadership, positive thinking and public speaking.
“Being exposed to a wide cross section of courses guided me a lot into being knowledgeable, bold, being positive and determined,” affirmed Walkes.
The trade unionist
During the 1970s, the trade union movement became an integral part of Walkes’ life. Her working experience at the spanking new Barbados Workers’ Union Labour College was in the administration of the College. With training, Walkes propelled to become a tutor, senior tutor and even was in charge of the Labour College for two years before being transferred to the BWU at Solidarity House.
It was during her time at the Labour College that she entered the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Law, which she earned with Honours.
This stage of her life, the 1980s, was a most dynamic period, she says. During this time, while pursuing her studies at UWI and working at the Labour College she became a mother. Giving birth and becoming a parent to her daughter, Keisha Walkes, was the “most meaningful and exciting time for me”.
“I learnt that being a parent meant that I had to re-organise my priorities in life. My mother and sister Judy were a great support to me and helped me to lay a strong foundation in Keisha’s life. She is a national athlete, and is now studying medicine at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. I am extremely proud of her tenacity, her dedication to task and ability to analyse issues. Keisha and I are very close,” she said with a smile.
The 1990s was another eventful period for Walkes. She entered a new area in the development of worker management, becoming the Industrial Counsellor at Solidarity House. This new area in the Union’s outreach to members brought Walkes into assisting workers in finding solutions to personal and workplace concerns.
As Walkes describes her role, there is a calm to her face; she is pleased with her contribution thus far and is determined to help workers find workable strategies for challenges which they face. Her current title is Senior Assistant General Secretary/Industrial Counsellor.
Politics was always a vital part of Walkes’ life. She recalls, “When I was a little girl my family used to robustly discuss politics.” I remember them exuberant about the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) sweeping out the Barbados Labour Party. I would always get caught up in the excitement and was riveted to my seat with the various arguments.”
“The link to the DLP in my young life was the impact free secondary education made on my family’s progress. When I was working at the Labour College, I was always into politics. Frank Walcott, Evelyn Greaves, Richie Haynes, Robert Morris were all political figures constantly in and out of the College. Everybody around me was political. It was like a movement. The interactions were so vibrant and exciting. Every day we were involved in something political,” she said enthusiastically.
However, what really pushed her into active campaigning was the 1981 elections which Greaves lost in St. Lucy. After his defeat, Walkes said that “in a matter of days, I was out there re-organising the branch, making sure it would not happen again. During the years from 1981 until 1989, I was the Chairman of the St. Lucy DLP branch and my family used to laugh at me saying, ‘Vonnie, you are acting like the election is tomorrow!’ But I was determined and passionate about the DLP regaining that seat.”
“In 1989, people were approaching me saying that I should get involved in politics as a candidate. At the time, I was a strident advocate in the women’s movement and I decided to take the plunge. I ran for St. Peter three times, in 1991, 1994 and in 1999. At the time, it was only Maizie Barker-Welch, who had won in St. Joseph and myself and in 1999, I was the only female candidate.”
Walkes became a Senator between 1990 and 1994. “Serving in the Senate was an honour and it was a new and different experience. It was challenging and yet an exciting period. It was during the economic crisis in Barbados and the debates were nerve-wracking at times.”
Speaking about more women being involved in politics, Walkes said: “I think lots of women should step forward and educate themselves about politics and how to be effective candidates rather than waiting on someone to choose them or hoping that someone would view them as a worthwhile candidate.”
“It is for you to show that you have the stamina, patience, tolerance, dedication – that you are willing to be a part of people’s lives, that you want to help people. You have to be assertive sometimes but if you believe that this is your purpose in life, do it. When the obstacles come, you can withstand them if you believe in yourself. When I was a candidate I was not afraid; I was there for many persons who needed me night or day. In fact, entering politics gives you strength of character – to be involved in decision-making at the highest level which impacts seriously on people’s well-being is a major task and a great responsibility. It humbles you. It is about you serving people, not them serving you,” she explained.
Walkes was member of the Democratic League of Women for many years, but has been its successive President since 2005.
According to her, the League continues to work to show not only the DLP but the wider society, the importance of women’s contribution socially, politically and economically. She feels strongly that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure a balance in women being in top posts as the country progresses.
She noted that currently the League is embarking on ‘Refuse to Be A Victim’, a USA-based programme that addresses crime prevention and safety measures. The League had reached out to persons in November, last year, in a Peace Vigil and now it is taking the programme to school children. Thus far the League has introduced the programme to 60 children.
This outstanding lady is known for her work as a women’s advocate, predominately through the National Organisation of Women (NOW). She joined in 1999 and became president in 2007. This post she held for two consecutive terms based on NOW’s constitution. According to her, the presidency was an exciting period as she worked to tackle a wide cross-section of pressing issues confronting women in particular and both genders in general.
Speaking about how she got started in the women’s movement, she said: “I joined a group of Caribbean trade union women in the 1980s who were conducting and executing a three-year educational project for Train the Trainers in Leadership and Economics in the trade union movement. It was felt at the time that women were not part of the leadership in the administration of trade unions because they were trained academically in other areas, but not trade union leadership. We became activists at the time and trained as women, as citizens and as workers.”
Her vision for gender equity in Barbados would demand Barbadians to recognise that every child has a right to free education from the cradle to the university. Therefore, girls and boys, men and women should explore any area of study or work that fulfils their purpose in life rather than society constructing certain roles for them depending on what gender bias is popular at the time.
Another responsibility of Walkes, is her chairmanship of the Barbados Accreditation Council (BAC). Holding this position since 2008, she explained: “The BAC is a regulatory statutory body for post-secondary and tertiary education in Barbados. The Chairman is head of policy-making and the development of the effective performance of the Board of Directors and provides leadership for all aspects of the work of the Council.”
“The BAC registers local, regional and foreign-based institutions that offer educational courses in Barbados; accredits and re-accredits programmes of study and institutions operating in Barbados; advises on the recognition of foreign-based institutions and their awards; determines the equivalency of programmes and qualifications and examines and verifies certificates of recognition issued by Community nationals.”
“It is mandatory for all post-secondary and tertiary education providers, institutions to be registered. We are now trying to get that message over to persons living in Barbados. The accreditation of programmes of study and the institutions is also vital to students. Accreditation means that the institution or qualifications is ‘fit for purpose’.
“It is of importance for persons to belong to credible institutions that are recognised in this competitive world and with the whole question of what and who are bona fide institutions or if the qualification is fraudulent comes very much into focus in this cyber space age. Barbados needs to get on board and wake up, otherwise it will be left behind,” she affirmed.
Throughout her life, Walkes has made her mark on Barbadian society. Receiving the Silver Crown of Merit (SCM) has added to her drive to continue to serve this community.
“I was happy, honoured, humbled and it made me seek God’s presence in my life much more to find out if I was carrying out part of the purpose designed for me. I felt that I had made a positive difference in my country in areas where many persons were afraid to speak… It [the honour] gave me a fresh impetus to have the moral courage and vision to reach out and help the less fortunate,” said Walkes.