by D.R. Miller
Women in Politics: Though I am not qualified to speak on women issues, I am fortunate that I grew up in an era that admired, and still strives to develop respect for women and their accomplishments where their gender tends always to be in negotiation. (Former-P.M. Jamaica- Portia Simpson-Miller)
Portia Simpson-Miller’s historic achievement cannot be summarized from an election loss, although many believe she squandered her last run as the head of her party in the 2016 re-election bid to continue her rule as the first woman prime minister of Jamaica.
The bloggers were swift on Facebook, Twitter, radio and other social media.
“She is fool, a liar, uneducated, lucky, ridiculous, and old, a cook for asking for a re-count,” were some of the dispiriting post-election comments.
Sure, disagreements are good for any democracy to thrive but, when political discourse becomes vitriolic, abusive and hateful, it sets the nation back and only reconfirms the challenges from an historical and cultural environmental impediment surrounding women and their vision and the hidden reality of harassment and discrimination.
Naturally, some people were frustrated by their own economic conditions and others were committed to one candidate or the other. However, it does not change her tenacity in a long tradition where many believe men are superior to women, and only through representation can their voice be heard, as studies have shown.
Women in general are under-represented in the region, and leaders should debunk these negative comments beyond party affiliation because one cannot wait until she lies in repose, and the county can look back, and wonder how she did it.
Recognizing the former prime minister’s triumph is not a simple call to rachet down the inflammatory political tone, or diminish her inability to bridge the new form of networking from the old street politics, failed economic policies, challenging issues that were inadequately addressed, or the lost emotional connection to the community when she was first elected that seemed lost.
The quest for equality, social and political accomplishments is not luck as some in the media believe. It is preparation that met opportunity through hard work and dedication. Portia Simpson-Miller and women in general who have made this planet a better place cannot only be judged on few economic quantitative analyses.
This election was bigger than she was. It is the centrality of women, and where women in the region go from here, the disadvantages of being a woman, inclusion, shared priorities, leadership, rights, and security.
A Brief History: March is Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in a few countries. It should remind society of how far they have come and the work that still lies ahead. Despite the missing parades on the islands and other places, women are inspiring generations to strive at becoming better regardless of one’s race, sex, orientation, or social-economic background.
Portia Simpson-Miller is not the only first woman who has risen to power. For example, history tells us that Nefertiti ruled Egypt in 2570 BC. In 1920 – with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution – American women were granted the right to vote. In 1966, the National organization for Women (NOW) was formed.
As society evolved, other women in politics made significant contribution. For example, Benazir Bhutto 1988–90 and then 1993–96 in Pakistan was the first woman to lead the government of any Muslin nation. Margaret Thatcher, 1979 to 1990, British prime minister; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, since 2006 the first elected head of state in Africa, Angela Merkel, first female chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany since 2005, Eugenia Charles, 1980 – 1995 Dominica, and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, 2010 – 2015 Trinidad and Tobago.
Women’s Salient Score Card: Portia is no stranger to ridicule and intense media. In 2004, the major papers, according to Christopher Charles, highlighted when she was a Member of Parliament and asked if she acted inappropriately by abstaining on a resolution that criticized the shortage of funds to the local fire service.
When women rule, pundits seems to have more questions than collaboration:
• Do they manage politics differently than men?
• Do they represent women’s interest?
• Why are so few in leadership today?
• What is her role in politics?
• What was the country’s GDP, public indebtedness, wages that have been in decline since she began, and other expenditure on health, education during her time in office, and what is it now?
This distinction has to be taken up by the region’s historians in what I believed has been a protracted economy, and the consequence of failure to develop a strategy to cut the long problematic syndrome surrounding crime and poverty, and declining middle class.
The Cultural Stigma: Today it still discourages women from entering politics in Jamaica, and other parts of the region. I do not have to do a comparative analysis or draw on any feminist literature as a male to see that the structure of decision-making by women will diminish if the region’s stereotyping becomes an ongoing norm.
This region still has a social ideology that roars like the ocean taking anything its path (women). Her defeat again echoed an undertone that women, whether a candidate winning an election, or served or serving in a chauvinistic environment and championing equality, such as gay rights, marriage equality, poverty, women power, still have significant resistance.
Women make up about 20 percent of the world’s parliaments and even less in cabinet positions as most studies have shown.
To her credit, as scholars have noted, when women enter politics it changes how men view them.
Her accomplishments were not luck.
Sadly, political discourse has created an impression as if a crime was committed. The political pride that developed out of colonialism has led some to believe that a leader has to graduate from a top university, hold a law degree, or a PhD in government studies to lead, and underscore that one can be less privileged and become a leader from humble beginnings.
Sure, one has to understand geo-political, social, and economic issues, and be able to link it to the corner shop even without electricity or running water. Furthermore, take responsibility as a leader in the context of employment, government spending, investment in education, management, expectation vs reality, corruption, crime, and other mishandled social policies.
Portia’s failure does not lessen her. This mentality only creates barriers for upward mobility, apprehensions, and even exploitation of future qualified women. The participation of women in the legislative process benefits the country in general, and they are often better of solving issues.
When few use selective amnesia and belittle women in politics, it can have a lasting effect on the next young women who believe that women in politics can be a platform for strengthening democracy, but now seeing barriers to social mobility.
Today women are still under-represented in this region, and although a few beams of hope, subjugation in the region and its complex problems woven in structural exclusion are quick to label chaos as a pretrial of a feminist failure.
Many women today have limited but important roles in their society: Portia was saying yes she could before US President Obama stated his favourite line, “Yes we can.”
She committed herself to the public for decades, and has shown that women with power and full participation in decision-making create a better society.
Looking in for a Women Coalition: I do not have a vote, party affiliation, or preference about who should have been victorious in the 2016 election. The only hope from one’s heritage connection is “good governance” in order to move the people forward for upward mobility.
Given today’s society that is polarized on economic status, race, class, and gender, Portia Simpson has beaten the odds, and has contributed to women in Jamaica and beyond.
Anyone can find statistical analysis that supports failures while minimizing the roadblocks on proposed policies. Disagreeing on policies is legitimate; however, quick negative sound bites should not define her. In fact, more push should be directed to recruit more women in politics and not counting “likes” on Facebook.
Thank you: Despite your challenges, constraints, political calculations and even disagreements, as we celebrate women in government, and Women’s Month, your dedication is more than one seat lost.
You are a trailblazer, trendsetter, and even lessons learned was a paradigm shift from the region’s historical and cultural challenges. If I may, I would like to foster some type of feminine socialist bias that you look darn good at age 70.