By R.D. Miller
A Brief History: When we celebrate Women’s History Month, that should remind society of how far women have come since New Zealand in 1893, the first nation to give women the right to vote, and later Saudi Arabia, in 2015, as the most recent nation. Barriers will continue to exist in today’s polarized society, socio-economic inequality, gender equity, race and cultural divide.
Though few will remain silent because of political ideology, the Honorable Portia Simpson-Miller has defied the odds and contributed to the rise of women in the Jamaican government, and the Caribbean region today. Furthermore, her historical achievement cannot be summarized as a result of an electoral loss. She gave young girls and women a window to dream big, and challenge the odds regardless of political sides.
Even though many of us are not qualified to speak on women’s issues, we are lucky to live in an era where the leadership evolution is multi-faceted – regardless of whether the leader is a man or a woman, but still, recognize the tough road ahead for women’s equal opportunity. So sometimes we have to take a step back, even if nobody asks, look at the barriers, analyze the mistakes, and give recognition to those who have overcome the obstacles in their journey for a better society.
The complexity of what is not being said
The nation acknowledged the historic rise of the former Prime Minister, but the opposition party took advantage of the frustration of young people who had a huge agenda that reached the majority of the electorate. They were calling for greater accountability, a better road map for their future, and it was a delicate time to change the guards from two decades of her party rule. Will they be better off between now and the next electoral cycle, only history will judge.
The 2016 election assumed greater importance than expected and there were plenty of finger pointing like any other elections. Some have argued that the party did not recognize the socioeconomic gap and the direction of the nation, which required more responsibility and transparency. Others noted internal struggles, and that she gave up the re-election to continue her leadership as the first woman Prime Minister of Jamaica, and head of the People’s National Party [PNP].
We do not know for sure what was given up, but it was a generational shift, led by a new leader who used technology, and promises to galvanize the younger voters. The once local street politics- door-to door moved to social media, and that generation was much older and more difficult to reach, but it does not take away from the centrality of women in the region future.
Sadly, when powerful women rule, pundits seem to have more questions about their leadership, and down-play their lack of collaboration only waiting for power. Though democracy thrives on open dissenting views. However, when political discourse becomes vitriolic, abusive, hateful, It only reconfirms the challenges surrounding their vision, and the deep reality of misogynistic views that creates more barriers.
The bloggers and pundits were swift on social media. She was too soft, too demanding, and no longer focused and emotionally detached from the community and so on, but few talked about the fact that political parties often interfere with women’s ability to run as candidates. They are confronted with stereotypes that impedes their upward mobility, thereby, contributing to the ongoing fight for gender equality.
Naturally, some people were irritated by their economic conditions, crime, and the lack of opportunity for the youths who graduated from universities with massive students loans, high inflation, unemployment and a widening gap between the haves vs. the have-nots.
Portia was no stranger to the ridiculousness and the intensity of the press. In 2004, newspapers, according to Christopher Charles, pointed out when she was a member of Parliament and asked if she had acted inappropriately by abstaining on a resolution that was critical of the lack of funding for local fire services. Maybe this question never got asked about a man.
Her time in power has highlighted a deep current of the disadvantages of being a woman on these battlegrounds, the fight for inclusion, shared priorities, leadership, rights, and security. But out of her loss created a new beginning that left a mark for a new light in the region for the next generation of women leaders.
Gradually, like many individuals who have suffered a ballot defeat, the policies that have been achieved often take time to gain ground, and the next leader will realize the benefits. Likewise, they may reverse policies that may not align with their side’s political philosophy. Of course, some will say that any downward trend in the economy, or increased crime, usually blames past leaders, but current leaders take credit for satisfactory results.
This homage is not about the nation’s expanding social disadvantage, or positive results on several fronts, and what party is responsible because there is enough blame to move around. Economic policy historians in the region will have the data to analyze GDP, debt ratio, wages, investments, healthcare spending, education, crime, infrastructure, construction, imports, exports during her term in office.
The administration represented a truck moving up a steep hillside, with few flats tires, and potholes on this journey heading to a smoother road until the next driver takes over. The rough ride was the aftermath from decades of deficiencies on both parties to produce a comprehensive strategy to navigate a systematic problem surrounding crime and poverty, and shrinking middle class.
Recognizing the former prime minister’s triumph is not a simple call to revisit or make an excuse for the provocative political nature that dominated that election cycle, or point out \what some called an inability to recognize the new voter’s concerns or a one-sided economic policy that only benefit the rich and foreign investors. This essay shines a light on the critical role of women’s leadership, and her contribution to the region, and for others to conceive of the possibilities regardless of political sides.
Every election has consequences
Though her defeat again echoed an undertone that women, whether a candidate winning an election, or served or serving in a chauvinistic environment, often when they lay the groundwork for opportunity on those battlefields for inclusion, shared priorities, women’s rights, gay rights and security, protecting the environment and without disguise, often experienced strong resistance.
Even today, women are underrepresented and make up about 20% of the world’s parliaments and even less in ministerial positions, as most studies show according to the experts. And I don’t need to do a thorough analysis or review feminist literature as a man to see that decision-making by several women remains a delicate balance often faced with more resistance than their male colleagues.
Sure, the region’s historians and scholars will have the task to resolve these questions.
Did her leadership differ from the other leaders?
Does her policy represent women’s interests?
Are there still echos of the same concerns today?
The quest for equality is not luck, as some in the media believe. Even if one is promoted, or by default, success depends on the preparation that met opportunity through hard work and dedication. Portia Simpson-Miller and other women who have made this planet a better place cannot only be judged on a few economic quantitative analyses.
Sure, one has to understand geopolitical, social, and economic issues and be able to link them to the corner shop even without electricity or running water. It is an incumbent mandate to work together to reduce high unemployment, corruption, crime, balance spending, investment more in education, health care and protecting the environment while managing expectations with respect to the realities of the local communities to educate that an election is not about now, but for the future generation.
The cultural stigma that lingers:
Sadly, the political pride that developed out of colonialism has led some to believe a leader has to graduate from an elite university, hold a law degree, or a Ph.D. studies to lead, and that mentality has pushed certain ideology from outdated laws in government into a class system. However, her triumph proves that one can be less privileged and become a leader from humble beginnings.
She took part at the top, and many to come will have the legislative power that will benefit the country, and only if they have the independence to think freely like her, speak loudly, and without being caged, they too can represent the nation not only in numbers to say, we are here, then the systemic issues can be addressed. The shortcoming in her political leadership does not lessen her political tenacity, decades of public service, and other accomplishments.
She found a balance between hope and subjugation and has been saying, “yes she could” before U.S. President Obama, “Yes we can.” She committed herself to the public for decades and has shown that women with power and full participation in decision-making establish a better society.
The Region’s Prime Ministers club to-date.
Woman Coalition Remains Key to breaking the glass ceiling:
As studies have shown when women work together and identify issues that create positive relationships between women, society benefits. I have no vote, no political affiliation, no preference on who should run the country. The only hope this part of our heritage has “good governance” to move people up.
Despite the challenges, constraints, political calculations and even disagreements, each Women’s Month she should be recognized, including her birthday, because the achievements can’t be summed up by an election, but the mark left behind– for young women to dream and get that coat.
Thank you: The Honorable Simpson-Miller was a pioneer, despite the missed parades she inspired a generations to take on more leadership roles within government. Even lessons learned were fundamental to better understand the upcoming challenges.
If I may, you look great at 70, and the island of Jamaica should hope that you will stick around to provide more checks and balances, speak up- now that you have some time to look inside.
I recorded this on assignment: Honorable Portia Simpson-Miller and Condoleezza Rice, 66th United States Secretary of State- dancing and yes, reggae can create diplomacy.