The English-speaking Caribbean has the distinction of a number of extraordinary female leaders at all levels of political life, particularly as heads of state and prime ministers. Notable mentions are Prime Ministers such as Dame Eugenia Charles, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and Portia Simpson-Miller and Governor Generals past and present, such as Dame Pearlette Louisy, Dame Nita Barrow, Dame Cécile La Grenade and Dame Louise Lade-Tack. As the second female head of state in Barbados, the elevation of Dame Sandra Mason to the post of Governor General is a milestone that should be celebrated even as it is encouraged. It is our hope these visible representations persuade other young women to actively partake in our nation’s political process where they can impart their knowledge and talent to help lead our country forward throughout the challenges of the 21st century.
In her first speech as Governor General, Dame Sandra acknowledged her fortune as a female head of state, while recognising the difficulties faced by some other women around the world who may not have been acclaimed for their achievements, despite their efforts to improve society. She stressed, however, that her functions and duties are not focused on her ‘being a woman’, but extend to Barbadian society – men, women and children alike.
We must never underestimate the importance of representation, however, where persons from all demographics and social backgrounds can see the embodiment of themselves in positions of authority. To this end, we back calls made by Minister of Labour Senator Esther Byer-Suckoo last year for more women to make themselves available for elective politics. As the Minister pointed out, Barbados’ foundation has long been its women, and the matriarchal roots of this nation are acknowledged by both men and women. It is time, as she noted then, that women should focus more on a profession that has for so long been dominated by males.
Unfortunately, women in political life face their own challenges. This has nothing to do with their ability to handle the job, but rather is based on some negative attitudes within their field or unflattering suggestions about their personal lives or parenting capabilities. Caribbean women have always had a presence in the world of work, while maintaining their duties as mothers. If they are leaders in the home and in the community, and are layworkers in political organisations, they are equally as adept for leadership in political life. Public life is all about a foundation of service to country, which qualifies anyone who is eminently capable. As Dame Sandra pledged during her speech, she will serve the country with the dignity, honesty, integrity and impartiality she has previously imparted during her other spheres of professional life.
We know the upcoming elections will be stoutly contested and intriguingly posed, particularly with new parties in the mix, two parties headed by women, and a number of social and economic issues to be debated. We also hope it inspires another generation of female politicians to answer the call and serve their nation. To that end, we salute those ladies who give of their all; the opportunities are there for women to push themselves even further in this field and work to effect solutions that are in our country’s best interests.