This Women’s History Month, let’s honor Portia Simpson-Miller, former PM of Jamaica`

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.

The Politics:

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.

The Hon. Prime Minister-Jamaica Portia Simpson-Miller 3-2005–2007 and 1-2012-3-2016

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 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 National People’s Party.

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 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 and 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.

The scorecard

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 negative 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, 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. 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 all local communities.

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.

The fact that she participated at the top, 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, and not 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 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.

Eugenia Charles, 1980 – 1995 Dominica
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, 2010 – 2015 Trinidad and Tobago

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.

Women meeting in my family home

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.

Commentary: The elephant is still in the room

BY R.D. Miller

The elephant is still in the room

Often when one looks at the Caribbean region from outside, only a few things come to mind: (1) the warmth of the people; (2) the blue waters; and (3) most of those who visit from other industrial countries have no idea that the region still has social and cultural issues hidden under the warm welcome.

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P.M. Portia Simpson-Miller

Despite upward mobility and economic growth women have made since the late Eugenia Charles became the first and only female prime minister of Dominica from 1980 to 1995, today, women are still under-represented in this region. There are now a couple of top positions held by women: Kamla Persad-Bissessar, prime minster of Trinidad and Tobago, and Portia Simpson-Miller, prime minister of Jamaica. More needs to be done, and if your name not listed, you know who you are. To some of these male leaders who are stuck in past: let us face it. The generation gap often creates tensions.

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P.M. Eugenia Charles

While more women hold advanced degrees, they earn less for same work performed by men. Although some progress has been made where a few higher offices held are women, they constantly face tremendous resistance. Often the only reason(s) their economic policies are blocked or not taken seriously both by some government leaders and by the community are simple: that they are women.

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P.M. Kamla Persad-Bissessar

The male chauvinism mindset instilled from birth continues to be passed on for generations in the region. The expectation is that she should be at home cooking and ensuring kids are clean and well fed is now by choice, and that can be hard to fathom in a male dominated circle. Yielding this treasured power to women even when it is for the greater good of the society is very difficult despite modernization for several decades.

Additionally, about 57 percent of all college degrees awarded were to women in recent years. It represents about six in every ten college degrees earned today are by women. Furthermore, since January 2013, women lead some of US largest weapon makers: Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and BAE Systems.

Equally important, despite those significant upward-mobility and accomplishments in areas such as government, research and development, media, medicine, sports, and academia, recent studies have shown there is an increase in the women prison population. It is my hope, as more women leaders take offices, and these issues can be addressed going forward, to reverse the negative side of the statistics.

A few weeks ago, Senator Ruel Reid of the Jamaican Parliament delivered what I believe was an excellent speech with a broad appeal beyond the beach of Jamaica. He called for “Rebuilding Jamaica,” across several sectors. However, the senator also argued that families should consider only two children as a part of an economic growth plan.

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Jeddah Marriott no women sign

The concept of a repressive system of government lurking in one’s bedroom to dictate how many children one should have plays into a structured ideology, and does not quantify a sound economic plan to move forward. Furthermore, this system of government is not China, who recently eased its 34-year restriction on population growth from one to two children. According to the Population Research Institute, about 25 million men in China cannot find brides because there is a shortage of women.

The region’s population numbers and the size of the countries are not the only real barriers to growth, but also an intangible that has to change. It is important not to ignore the colourless statue still lurking in these regions: “Stratification.” A few leaders who graze the stages in front of the cameras are not always the perfect picture they paint when the lights go off in moving the region ahead as one body.

Whitenicious-hand

Many writers have talked about one’s colour and its importance in the region for decades. The stratification and the willingness to be accepted saw an explosion in bleaching cream. This product, as noted, should give the appearance of lighter skin tone than one’s actual skin pigmentation. However, this is a topic where a dermatologist will better to explain the downside to this trend.

Professor Oliver Mills talked about “liberation of our minds from mental slavery.” As noted, often these traits can be traced back to the old colonial ideology, slavery, and oppression where only a few rule the greatest. Several locals are being priced-out of affording basic food supplies, this trend cuts across all colours, and when these barriers continue to divide it creates a sociological stagnation and hinders economic mobility.

As society evolves, most new generations have a total different outlook on these social barriers, and are willing to move forward, but past ideology still woven into the political system makes it more difficult to form alliances. Sure, society often can learn from older leaders, however, sometime one has to yield power or simply give it up.

It is not helpful to sit on the cyber crime committee, but cannot save a document in Microsoft Word. Maybe term limits in Parliament could help change some of these perceptions, as it will welcome new ideas if such law can become a reality.

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Solidarity is always important to one’s country. Moreover, it gives one sense of belonging, but when it promotes separation, it can be very difficult to move all forward. Each island is unique in its own way. The Caribbean is not alone in wanting to be different despite similar history. For example, in the US, northern and southern states tend to have different views on several socio-economic agendas, and it often dictates who gets elected into office, or what political agenda is important.

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The history of seeking separation too has played a role in the American Civil War, fought between states in 1861. Some still argue that it was to free the stronghold on slavery in the South while others believed that it was a separation between the North and South. However, the tension sometimes between each other will not amount to civil wars in the Caribbean, but limits cross-border travel, investments that could expand tourism, imports, and exports that could give to a better social agenda, crime control.

The mindset that its population size and notoriety are reasons to isolate and continue to classify some as small islands can be problematic and, therefore, cut its importance in the long-run to connect. Every island has a graph on the economic scale. Too often, one sees themselves as different and, yes, nothing is wrong with that. Every person has a certain amount of biases. However, when one fails to accept and address biases, and uses them as a determinant factor, they can become a roadblock in moving forward.

The word “independence” tells us that one has to do what is best for their growth engine. However, when they compete where it is not necessary and ignore the bigger picture through collaboration to move the next generation send, the only outcome is that someone loses. However, to reach a reduction in high unemployment rates, this region has to grow more than what has been forecast to lift the lower class out of poverty.

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Moving   forward is critical and to make sure equality for all to cut gaps between haves vs. the have-nots should be a universal mission. These regions were once the envy of colonial powers. The English, Dutch and French, and the US were once colonial rivals in this region. St Lucia, Barbados, and Jamaica, as well as Bermuda in the Atlantic were all economically important Caribbean islands. Caribbean sea-lanes as it was called were of strategic significance as early as the 17th century before the slaves arrived. They should get back to that essence of belonging.

What will change you might ask in this year? Answer: not much: There will be another election in this region in several months and leader’s re-election signs will be posted to map their next re-election path. If you are not careful and lose track, every four to five years, another proposal will emerge. The values we place on governance, whether we agree or disagree, at some point we are responsible to create a better future for the next generation. This is why it is important to work together.

The region must ask itself: “What happened to an economic inequality agenda; victim’s rights, women rights, gay rights, comprehensive educational policy to lower the cost of education, the offender population, homelessness and the prison system reform. In addition, what resources are there to help others with less hope stemming from long periods of incarceration, conflicts, and resources for rehabilitation?

Although government is not the solution to some of the social problems the islands face today, it has a responsibility to make sure that basic safety is paramount, including policies that are fundamentally geared to moving people forward and especially young people who have more student loan debts than opportunities.

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Far too often, segments of that society who fall on hard times are left out. Some are labeled “lunatics” because recently he or she has been seen in the same clothing for a few days. It appears this often ignores what happened. Did this person witness a crime, and needed an outlet to cope? Alternatively, were she and her family just being physically, sexually, verbally abused and have no one to talk to so she ended up in the street, and later raped by the same [lunatic] the system has ignored. If these people are woven back into society, the economic growth will continue. A country cannot sell only the white sand, and ignore the ones that washed away.

These issues go beyond pure numbers in any class. Nothing will immediately stop the rate of teen pregnancy, the level of care that only financial status dictates, automobile accidents, and other crimes from being committed each day on the streets. One in four women will become a victim of some sexual violence, and the prison sizes will not drastically be reduced.

The region has to move from the mindset where some are often measured by race, culture, and economic status. Not everyone will be a senator, or member of parliament, a doctor, and attorney, or the chief of police. The trash needs to be picked up, and the farmer to make sure you have the supplies for a good meal. However, structural ideology often divides us by race, culture, sex, and socioeconomic status. Far too often, these labels have dictated one’s outcome in the criminal justice system or the education they receive.

It is more critical that my [Generation X] balances the appetite for the latest gadgets searching and the next best thing and miss what has taken place next door. We do not talk as much as we once did; we rather stay wired to the next headlines a million miles away. Most of the local media seem to be more on entertainment than what is actually going on in the local region. I am not implying that some are not responsible; however, we should not isolate ourselves but we need a balance and to stay informed.

One of the biggest threats to this region is not its location that has a hurricane hovering over it or an outbreak of disease on local crops. It is simple the lack of sound economic policies, and collaboration, and moving from that they vs. us mentality as several writers have discussed before.

Although economic development is critical to sustain the quality of life, however, all aspects of the community from the media to the local police department, schoolteachers, religious leaders, Rastafarian community, to the minimum wage workers and investment bankers should all have a voice at the table because too often the barriers to success in the region far outweigh the opportunities.