The Roma: An Ancient Culture Still Struggling for Respect

Today is International Roma Day.

Now, that may mean little (or nothing) to my Jamaican readers. But perhaps I can illustrate this with a childhood memory or two.

When I was young, I remember being at Waterloo Station in London. We were on the way to the south coast, I believe. I remember being fascinated by a big woman with skin like mahogany, wearing voluminous black clothing. She looked very old. I thought she might be some kind of magic person (I lived in a world of fairytales, at that age). I remember she was speaking a language I did not understand.

That was in the city. Near my grandmother’s house in the country, there was a lovely roadside spot with tall trees. I was always curious about the people who lived in caravans there (they even had the old-fashioned kind, with horses). They fascinated me. They looked different. Sometimes they just disappeared. Then they returned, perhaps a few weeks later. They lit fires. In the orderly, rather dull middle-class world in which I lived, their regular appearances were extraordinary, exciting and mysterious. I invented lots of romantic stories about them.

These are the kind of "gypsy caravans" I remember seeing as a child. In England, Roma people are often called "travelers" - a term many Roma dislike.  (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

These are the kind of “gypsy caravans” I remember seeing as a child. In England, Roma people are often called “travelers” – a term many Roma dislike. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

But I was told not to go near any of these people. They were regarded with fear and suspicion. They were “gypsies.” They were different. They were thieves and criminals. They were dirty. They had too many children. They had their own religion and a language we did not understand.

Many Romani people live in great poverty and are subject to mass evictions and tremendous harassment by right-wing groups in several countries. This photo is of a Roma settlement in Belgrade, Serbia, taken by Boja Vasic.

Many Romani people live in great poverty and are subject to mass evictions and tremendous harassment by right-wing groups in several countries. This photo is of a Roma settlement in Belgrade, Serbia, taken by Boja Vasic.

Yes, the “gypsies” were truly living outside of society; they were ostracized and they were discriminated against. They were not allowed into the local shop, and “respectable” people would never allow them inside their homes. This was the attitude decades ago; but many Roma (as they are officially named) are still fighting discrimination and living in poverty. According to Amnesty International, “Numbering between 10 and 12 million people, the Roma are one of Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged minorities.” They live in 38 countries. The majority live in Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Spain and Russia, according to the European Union (EU).

French police inspect an illegal Roma camp in Aix-en-Provence to control and check the identity of its residents on August 19, 2010. France sent dozens of Roma home on flights to Bucharest on Thursday in the first mass repatriation since President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a crackdown on crime and immigration with the dismantling of some 300 illegal camps that has been condemned by rights groups. Some 60 Roma left on a chartered plane from Lyon and about a dozen boarded a flight from Paris, the first wave of transfers in a campaign to send 700 people living in squalid camps across France back to Romania and Bulgaria by the end of the month.  REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson  (FRANCE - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS)

French police inspect an illegal Roma camp in Aix-en-Provence to control and check the identity of its residents on August 19, 2010. France has deported hundreds of Roma people since President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a crackdown on crime and immigration with the dismantling of some 300 illegal camps that was condemned by rights groups. The eviction of Roma communities has continued in France since 2010; last year hundreds were evicted from a camp in Lille. (REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson)

There are over 300,000 Roma people in Bulgaria. (Photo: BGNES)

There are over 300,000 Roma people in Bulgaria. (Photo: BGNES)

International Roma Day was officially declared in 1990 in Serock, Poland, the site of the fourth World Romani Congress of the International Romani Union (IRU).On April 8th 1971, the first World Romani Congress was held in Oprington, near London. The day highlights the plight of many marginalized Romani communities – but also celebrates their rich culture and traditions.

Roma families like the Baloghs have left Hungary in droves in the hope of finding freedom from persecution in Canada. Claudia Balogh, middle, hugs a relative, as her husband Miklos, left, looks on in their home in Budapest on Oct. 22, 2012. (Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images for CBC)

Roma families like the Baloghs have left Hungary in droves in the hope of finding freedom from persecution in Canada. Claudia Balogh, middle, hugs a relative, as her husband Miklos, left, looks on. (Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images for CBC)

International Roma Day.

International Roma Day.

So who are the Roma?

They are an ancient people. According to academic studies, the Roma originally came from India. The roots of the Romani language are there; and recent genetic studies also show they moved from north-west India around 1,500 years ago, eventually settling in the Balkans in the 12th century. In several countries, they became slaves or serfs of one sort or another during medieval times. From the 19th century onwards, large groups of Roma migrated to North and even to South America. Nazi Germany systematically persecuted the Roma; along with Jews, homosexuals, black people and those with disabilities, they were sent to concentration camps. Up to 1.5 million Romas are estimated to have been killed during this period. They did not fare well under Communist regimes either, however, with forced sterilization a common practice.

Romani children in Romania.

Romani children in Romania.

Roma carry their possessions through the village of Gyongyospata, eastern Hungary, in 2011 after a far-right vigilante group set up a training camp near their homes. (Bela Szandelszky/Associated Press)

Roma carry their possessions through the village of Gyongyospata, eastern Hungary, in 2011 after a far-right vigilante group set up a training camp near their homes. (Bela Szandelszky/Associated Press)

Although originally Hindu, and adhering to some Hindu family practices to this day, most Roma today are Muslims or Christians. It’s all quite mixed up though, depending on the country they live in. Romani people are very musical and greatly influenced many forms of European music over the centuries; they are famous for their wedding music, too. The Spanish flamenco musical form is actually Roma music.

Roman Catholic Roma and Sinti people (Sinti are related to the Roma) play during a pilgrimage in Germany.

Roman Catholic Roma and Sinti people (Sinti are related to the Roma) play during a pilgrimage in Germany.

Christian gypsies during the pilgrimage at Saintes-Maries de la Mer, France. Many Romani communities today are Muslims. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Christian gypsies during the pilgrimage at Saintes-Maries de la Mer, France. Many Romani communities today are Muslims. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement for International Roma Day, today (at least one million Roma live in the United States). Here it is:

Today of all days, all the American people are particularly thinking of the Roma around the world. We celebrate the rich Romani culture and contributions to our societies in Europe, the United States, and beyond. We also renew our commitment to remove the obstacles that keep millions of Roma on the margins of society and prevent them from realizing their full potential.

We each have a responsibility to speak out against hateful anti-Roma rhetoric and all forms of violence, wherever they occur. We must help provide Romani communities the opportunities they need to build a better future for their families.

The United States will continue to work with our European and international partners to promote tolerance, dignity, and equal treatment for all Roma.

A Romani woman walks on a street in France.

A Romani woman walks on a street in France.

Modern-day Roma continue to fight for the rights of their people. Magda Matache, who heads an NGO that defends the rights of Roma, observes: “I think the role of activists, but also of society, is to find the means to help those who lost hope and fell below the level of human dignity, in order to regain equality, so that, one day, we, the Roma, shall all feel and understand that expressing and giving continuity to our identity makes us honorable.” 

These comments, of course, could apply to many marginalized minority groups. A healthy democracy is not about the will of the majority; it is about how we protect our minorities and support diversity.

The Roma are a proud people whose often tragic past has been one of struggle for respect and dignity. Let’s hope for a better future for them.

Magda Matache, the Executive Director of Romani CRISS, an NGO that defends the rights of the Roma, notes: "I think the role of activists, but also of society, is to find the means to help those who lost hope and fell below the level of human dignity, in order to regain equality, so that, one day, we, the Roma, shall all feel and understand that expressing and giving continuity to our identity makes us honourable."

Magda Matache, Executive Director of Romani CRISS, an NGO that defends and promotes the rights of the Roma as full European Union citizens.

 

A Fondness for Fantasy

Forgive me, dear readers. Or rather, I should say, “I crave your indulgence, my lords and ladies.” 

Why the fancy talk? Well, in the space of just a couple of days, I have become addicted to – or perhaps enslaved by – the television series “Game of Thrones.” I was assured by friends that, if I did not immerse myself in the previous three seasons, I would not have a clue what was going on in the fourth. And I intended to watch the fourth (which started this evening). So, for the first time, I plunged in headfirst with three “marathons.” Yes, three.

I have never spent so much time on the couch before. I have had to remind myself to eat. I have done one or two basic household chores very swiftly, in between episodes. My husband has given up on me. Now, at the end of it all, my head is aching a little. But I am feeling replete – just as if I had finished a heavy meal and wish I hadn’t eaten quite so much, but not really regretting it.

"The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien.

“The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I have always had a weakness for fantasy and science fiction, having grown up on fairy tales in my youth. Some of my younger readers may not know, but in the late sixties and early seventies, when I was a wayward university student, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien became enormously popular among young bohemians. The sixties were a golden era for science fiction, and during our teens my brother and I had already devoured many of the great writers – Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Philip K Dick and so on. We didn’t live in the video age; it was all books. Anyway, “Lord of the Rings” almost became our bible. We taught ourselves to write runes, and speak Elvish even. And this was, of course, long before all the CGI stuff. The special effects were all in our imaginations.

A scene from Isaac Asimov's wonderful "Foundation Trilogy," a science fiction classic published in exactly the same era as "The Lord of the Rings" (the early 50s).

A scene from Isaac Asimov’s wonderful “Foundation Trilogy,” a science fiction classic published in exactly the same era as “The Lord of the Rings” (the early 1950′s).

This wedding feast scene at the end of last season ended in a bloodbath. It reminded me of the final scene of Hamlet, with some major characters littered about the set, and unfortunately not making it to Season 4.

This wedding feast scene at the end of the last season of “Game of Thrones” ended in a Shakespearean-style bloodbath. It reminded me of the final scene of Hamlet, with some major characters littered about the set – and unfortunately not making it to Season 4.

Anyway, “Game of Thrones” is based on books too – by George R.R. Martin (funny how the R.R. crept in). It’s like “Lord of the Rings” on steroids, and without the comforting quaintness of the hobbits. It’s definitely X-rated. Most of the main characters take their clothes off with the greatest of ease, and no one seems to wear underwear – at least, not the women. And then there’s the blood. Sometimes it goes slightly over the top, and I want the scene to move on so I can see what’s happening to What’s-His-Face or What’s-Her-Face. A lot of conversations seem to end in a fight of some sort, or a sexual excursion. But some characters actually manage to love each other.

One of the fearsome White Walkers. Not easy customers to deal with, as you can imagine.

One of the fearsome White Walkers. Not easy customers to deal with, as you can imagine.

How do I get one of these dragons? Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen.

How do I get one of those dragons? Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen.

So, how and why did I get hooked? Well, there is just the right dab of magic here and there, where it’s needed, and it’s not too heavy on the special effects. The sets, whether computer-generated or not, are beautifully done and very detailed. The locations are just perfect, from darkly dripping woodlands and snow-swept mountains to sunny Mediterranean cliff tops by a dreamy blue sea (it was filmed in six different countries). The music is moody, medieval and never intrusive (unlike the bombastic “Lord of the Rings” score). The costumes are beautiful. The dialogue is just right: a little flowery, a little clichéd at times, but that doesn’t matter in this genre. The story lines overlap and weave in and out of each other. There are several competing Houses vying for power; as my husband observed, it’s all a bit tribal.

Poor Jon Snow. I think he smiled during a love scene once, but he has a lot of inner angst going on. But it just makes him look even cuter.

Poor Jon Snow. I think he smiled during a love scene once, but he has a lot of inner angst going on. But that just makes him look even cuter. He is played by Kit Harrington.

 

Most of all, the myriad characters are a delight – from the once-debonair Jaime Lannister (now minus a hand but still rather endearing) to the cool slave liberator and dragon-momma Daenerys Targaryen; from the adorably tousle-haired, inwardly-torn Jon Snow (he doesn’t smile much) to the witty, smart and rather kind Tyrion. And several very interesting and strong female roles, which I love. There are not only grown-ups, but some very important children, too, who have their own adventures. Plus huge wolves, the aforementioned dragons, and a lot of dead people with bright blue eyes.

Queen Regent Cersei Lannister is a fascinating character, played by Lena Headey. She is cynical, secretive, bitter and only occasionally sympathetic.

Queen Regent Cersei Lannister is a fascinating character, played by Lena Headey. She is cynical, secretive, bitter and only occasionally sympathetic.

 

Lord Varys, the eunuch who knows everything about everyone at court, and is good at putting two and two together. Love him!

Lord Varys, the eunuch who knows everything about everyone at court, and is good at putting two and two together. Love him!

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie Lannister in the season premiere of “Game of Thrones” on HBO.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in the season premiere of “Game of Thrones” on HBO.

 

So I am going to bed tonight (as I did last night) with the clashing of swords, the thundering of horses’ hooves and the screech of dragons in my ears.

And of course, I can’t wait until next Sunday evening.

 

Earth Hour in Jamaica and the Caribbean

It was a warm night in Kingston, Jamaica. Down at the National Stadium, the annual high school athletics championships were drawing to an end, in a resounding climax of noise, vuvuzelas ringing (yes, we still have vuvuzelas in Jamaica, a throwback from the last football World Cup). For the sports fans and supporters of their respective schools (including those watching the live broadcast at home), there was no way that they were going to shut down for an hour.

Earth Hour at home in Kingston. Backdrop: Neighbors' loud party music!

Earth Hour at home in Kingston. Backdrop: Neighbors’ loud party music!

This was a pity, because from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time (everywhere, globally) millions celebrated Earth Hour by simply switching off. This was an easy thing for the two of us to do at home, since we had no interest in “Champs” anyway. We turned out all our lights and appliances at 8:30 p.m., lit candles and our oil lamp, and sat quietly in the dark, sipping wine and chatting. However, even then our reflective mood was completely spoiled by a close neighbor, who was having a party. Now, Jamaican parties are loud. They are non-negotiable. The music takes over. So we endured a great deal of distorted hip hop and dancehall music from our neighbor’s loudspeakers – before, during and after Earth Hour.

This tweet was sent with a photo of the acoustic concert: "Lanterns making their way to the sky in recognition of #EarthHourJA while #Nature brings "world peace" #greatmoment "

This tweet was sent with a photo of the acoustic concert: Lanterns making their way to the sky in recognition of #EarthHourJA while #Nature brings “world peace” #greatmoment 

Representatives of the telecoms firm Flow, together with Rootz Underground singer Stephen Newland (hidden, in the middle) release a lantern at the end of the Earth Hour acoustic concert in Kingston.

Representatives of the telecoms firm Flow, together with Rootz Underground singer Stephen Newland (hidden, in the middle) release a lantern at the end of the Earth Hour acoustic concert in Kingston.

This, too, was unfortunate – especially since our neighbors rarely indulge in parties these days, but chose this particular night to do so. Not too far away, though, a special Earth Hour acoustic concert was taking place at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre. The concert was free and open to the public; several local firms were sponsors, with some of them holding special Twitter events and photo competitions. It was really good to see the private sector on board; and to read the many comments from appreciative participants.  Lanterns were released into the night sky. There were glow sticks and bangles, and sparklers (what Jamaicans call “starlights”). There were “good vibes.”

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, other countries held their own celebrations – small, private or public, it mattered not. The important thing was to recognize and honor our Planet. After all, it’s the only one we’ve got.

Please see below some more photos of Earth Hour in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean… I don’t have live photos of all the events, however, although I gleaned as many as possible from Facebook pages.

Earth Hour Barbados.

Earth Hour Barbados.

Earth Hour 2015 in the Caribbean will be even bigger and better!

Earth Hour 2015 in the Caribbean will be even bigger and better!

Earth Hour at the University of Belize.

Earth Hour at the University of Belize.

Earth Hour Curacao.

Earth Hour Curacao.

 

Hora Del Planeta in Dominican Republic.

Hora Del Planeta in Dominican Republic.

Students from Bishop Anstey Trinity College East Sixth Form celebrating Earth Hour in Trinidad and Tobago.

Students from Bishop Anstey Trinity College East Sixth Form celebrating Earth Hour in Trinidad and Tobago.

Spiderman was out in support at the Trinidad Hilton.

Spiderman was out in support at the Trinidad Hilton.

Earth Strong TT and Trinidad Carnival Diary prepared solar-powered lanterns for Earth Hour.

Earth Strong TT and Trinidad Carnival Diary prepared solar-powered lanterns for Earth Hour.

Members of the Aruba Community Group get to work on some beautiful art for Earth Hour.

Members of the Aruba Community Group get to work on some beautiful art for Earth Hour.

Earth Hour at Fort Zoutman, Aruba. (Photo: Facebook)

Earth Hour at Fort Zoutman, Aruba. (Photo: Facebook)

The concert glowed...

The concert in Kingston just glowed…

Sparklers!

Sparklers! In Kingston

Flow's staff joined an Earth Hour promotion on Facebook.

Flow’s staff joined an Earth Hour promotion on Facebook.

Jamaica Yellow Pages' Earth Hour flyer.

Jamaica Yellow Pages’ Earth Hour flyer.

YOU beneficiary Khalia: “Here is home”

petchary:

I recently attended a screening of the powerful and moving documentary film “Songs of Redemption” at the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence. The occasion was a fundraiser for Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), a non-governmental organization that has been around for over 22 years in Jamaica. YOU has trained 2,200 volunteers as mentors and trained 46 organizations to establish their own mentoring programs. Young people need adult support. Adolescents are quite isolated in society and often left to fend for themselves, and mentoring (for 2-5 years each, in the case of YOU) is one of the most effective ways of boosting their self-esteem and helping them to achieve their goals. Here is a personal story, recounted by volunteer Kate Chappell, that shows the impact of YOU’s programs on one young Jamaican woman. For more information, you can contact YOU at 759-2080; email: info@you-jamaica.com. Website: http://www.you-jamaica.com.

Originally posted on Jamaican Journal:

Khalia and YOU's Office Manager Mrs. Margaret Denton

“Here is home.” With those three simple words, Khalia describes the impact Youth Opportunities has had on her life. Now 25, Khalia came to YOU at the age of 14, and while she now lives in Missouri, U.S.A., in some ways, she never left.

“YOU teaches you to be yourself,” she says. “The programs are designed for young people to express themselves, define themselves, and be themselves.”

For much of her childhood, however, Khalia was expressing herself in ways that were neither healthy nor positive. “Growing up, I was a very angry child,” she says, referring to her early years in Kingston with her hard-working mother. “It was hectic because my mother worked a lot to make ends meet.” Khalia, her mother and sister moved around a lot. All the turmoil and the lack of a father figure took its toll: in grade 7, she was suspended twice for fighting…

View original 320 more words

Fresh Sunday, March 23, 2014

We’re feeling a little freshened up after a nice shower. We give thanks.

The increasingly tabloidesque Sunday Observer kicks off its front page with a somewhat dubious story about a pastor accused of deliberately “spreading AIDS” (the latter word in huge red letters in the headlines). Moving quickly on, I have found a couple of good articles on…

I recommend the tweets of former Contractor General Greg Christie.

I recommend the tweets of former Contractor General Greg Christie.

The C-word: A lot of public officials and others have been gathering in the Cayman Islands this week to discuss what to do about corruption. The issue has been analyzed to death, and still no one has a solution. Or do they? Former Contractor General Greg Christie has come up with a 21-point plan to deal with corruption.  He suggests that Caribbean governments pursue “remedial counter-measures.” He also uses the word “immediately.” In my view, that word is not in the vocabulary of our political leaders, who have little or no interest in addressing the issue any time soon. While they are still trying to figure out what corruption is, though, do follow Mr. Christie on Twitter (@Greg0706). He will enlighten you.

Bishop Howard Gregory.

Bishop Howard Gregory.

I also applaud Anglican Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands Howard Gregory - one of the very few church people who talks about issues that are actually relevant. He insists that the Church play a heightened advocacy role on corruption (I see absolutely no sign of that happening, apart from his own utterances). He points to an issue that is always an irritant to Jamaicans: “Very often when public figures have allegations of corruption laid against them, they are quick to point out that they have not broken any laws. It is…important to understand that corruption is not just about laws, but is at base about ethics and morality in governance and social relations.” Well said, Bishop Gregory! He hits the nail on the head and his language is forthright.

And the last word from our Prime Minister: “On my watch, I pledge that we will reject governmental extravagance and be vigilant in eliminating corruption.”  (Inaugural speech, January 5, 2012).

Priorities: The Church raised the dreary old issue of a flexible work week, huffing and puffing about how disappointed it is with the Government. Of course, whether people take a day off on a Saturday or a Sunday is so much more important than corruption. Successive administrations have tried and failed to push this issue through to a sensible conclusion; the poor Labour Minister Horace Dalley must be fed up to the back teeth. The umbrella group of churches is now accusing him of avoiding them. All they want is for the right to rest and worship on specific days of their choice to be enshrined in law. Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund is breathing down the Government’s neck to get the thing sorted out (after several years of wrangling!) Enough already!

The Energy Monitoring Committee is headed by investment banker Peter Melhado. (Photo: Gleaner)

The Energy Monitoring Committee is headed by investment banker Peter Melhado. (Photo: Gleaner)

Lingering doubts: The private sector-led Energy Monitoring Committee (EMC) is confirming my doubts over the Office of Utilities Regulation’s (OUR) seemingly hurried decision to award a license to Energy World International (EWI) to build a major power plant. I wondered if the OUR is under some political pressure, and I think we should remain concerned. The EMC feels that EWI has still not provided enough financial information.  So what next?

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

On economic matters, you should always read Dennis Chung’s clear-eyed articles. They appear in Caribbean Journal online. In his latest article Dennis notes that public sector bureaucracy, coupled with inefficient and poor service, must be tackled to boost productivity. Here it is: http://www.caribjournal.com/2014/03/21/transforming-jamaicas-public-sector/

And what next on the Tivoli Gardens Commission of Enquiry? One supposes that the Government is scouting around for a replacement for the unsuitable Velma Hylton. Hoping for an update soon. I am generally feeling uncomfortable about the affair, which has certainly got off to an inauspicious start. The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party’s equivocation and contradictory comments do not bode well either.

Questions: Should garbage collection be privatized? What has changed after last weekend’s major dump fire? What will change?

Media star: Former Senior Superintendent of Police Reneto Adams, who once headed the controversial Crime Management Unit, appeared in a short television report on Al Jazeera English called “Island of Music and Murder” (oh, doesn’t that sound nice). Although retired, Mr. Adams is not shy of the limelight and we have to listen to his pearls of wisdom on how to solve our crime problem at frequent and regular intervals. At least now in interviews we can actually see his eyes; for years he wore dark glasses, even in television studios.

1795867_10152262378528604_7361095248393625392_o

And talking of human rights, there are two big events this week. Tomorrow (Monday 24th) at 6:30 p.m., the Jamaica Environment Trust and Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation will host a community meeting in Old Harbour Bay Square on the planned Goat Islands development. It’s my birthday so I don’t think I will be able to attend, but please come and support and spread the word! Nationwide News Network will broadcast from the event.

On Thursday, March 27 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. there will be the University of the West Indies’ “Great Debate” - a partnership with J-FLAG – on the topic “The Role of Leadership in Responding to Vulnerable Populations.” Students from three Jamaican tertiary institutions will participate. Not to be missed! And don’t forget to watch the interview with UWI’s debaters on “Smile Jamaica” (Television Jamaica’s morning show) on Tuesday morning!

The fearsome Reneto Adams in full battle gear. Some Jamaicans actually believe he should be our National Security Minister. If that happened I would be on the first plane out of here!

The fearsome Reneto Adams in full battle gear. Some Jamaicans actually believe he should be our National Security Minister. If that happened I would be on the first plane out of here!

Carnival Minister: Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna considers it entirely appropriate to share a photo of herself on Instagram, dressed in her skimpy Carnival costume, displaying what some online observers consider an enviable set of abs. Ms. Hanna clearly spends a lot of time and attention in the gym tending to her body. I hope she spends as much time tending to the young Jamaicans, many in desperate straits in juvenile correctional centers, that are her responsibility.  But I suppose once a beauty queen…

On some other political matters, I repeat: The level of political corruption and victimization in government agencies is appalling. I will say no more.” Sometimes, your face just does not fit…

 Major congrats to:

A Phase Three Productions truck ready for action. The multi media firm is celebrating 30 years.

A Phase Three Productions truck ready for action. The multi media firm is celebrating 30 years.

  • Phase Three Productions, a family firm working in the television and the wider media that has lasted thirty years through tough economic times. Congratulations to Dr. Marcia Forbes, husband Richard and son Delano for their hard work and focus on high standards. Last year alone, Phase Three produced over 500 hours of local content. Wishing you continued success!
JN Foundation volunteer Neville Charlton tries to figure out what to do next during first aid training over the weekend.

JN Foundation volunteer Neville Charlton tries to figure out what to do next during first aid training over the weekend.

  • The JN Foundation, which offered its volunteers free first aid training over the weekend. The Foundation is expanding and growing in all directions, and don’t forget its great “I Support Jamaica” program, which allows supporters to lend or donate to projects or small entrepreneurs.  I urge you to take a look and contribute what you can!  https://www.isupportjamaica.com
  • The Star – the Gleaner’s tabloid sister paper that comes out in the afternoons – is know for its strange, sometimes rather unpleasant headlines. Here’s a funny one though: “Cow escapes police custody.”

It is always very sad to list these names, but as always I extend my sympathies to the families who are left to mourn:

Jamario Ferguson, 15, Kingston 12

Melissa Duffus, 35, Logwood, St. Thomas

Anthony George Hudson, 25, Richmond District, St. Mary

Kevin Graham, 48, Claremont, St. Ann

An activist walks out of a meeting…

petchary:

I recently participated in a panel discussion on gender-based violence for International Women’s Day. This is a real cry from the heart from women AND men on our neighboring island of Barbados. We need to confront these issues, and to understand the forces that are at work as the Caribbean continues to battle with violent crime. We also need to seriously consider the role of the media (as in this particular instance).

Originally posted on Feminist conversations on Caribbean life:

A longstanding feminist activist in Barbados walked out of a panel discussion in protest of what she felt were misogynist comments from one of the speakers.

Said speaker is the recipient of the Gold Crown of Merit and has been on a near 15-year tirade of misogyny masquerading as support for men’s interests. His usual line is that women who are murdered by their intimate partners have provoked such violence against them by failing to act appropriately after men have “invested” in the relationship. 

The Nation reported his comments as being about how “some men reacted badly when they felt mistreated by women after “investing” in relationships”. Murder. A bad reaction.

Boyce said also that some men felt intimidated by their partners and that some women held more power in relationships than they let on, to the point where it seemed like “witchcraft”.

The activist (and private citizen) who walked out was…

View original 983 more words

“We Have to Shock the System”: Senator Imani Duncan-Price’s Presentation in Parliament, March 7, 2014

The past few days in Jamaica surrounding International Women’s Day have been powerful and progressive, I feel. Here is a contribution made by Senator Imani Duncan-Price in the Upper House last Friday. It is quite long but offers much food for thought on the need to “jump start” solutions to break down the Persistent Patriarchy and take meaningful steps towards gender equity.

Senator Duncan-Price put forward this Motion to Advance Women’s Leadership in Politics and Decision Making.  The debate will continue next Friday, March 14, and I and other supporters and interested parties intend to be there.

Here is the full, unedited text. Do take a read, share and discuss…

Women and Men Leading in Partnership: The Move Forward for Inclusive Development and Growth

“When women and men lead together, decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs of society. Countries and companies with higher levels of gender equality have higher levels of growth and performance.”

Michelle Bachelet

United Nations Women, Executive Director 2010-2013

Mr. President I stand today to lay the basis for the motion in my name which seeks to ‘Advance Women’s Leadership in Politics and Decision-Making’.

Of course, in bringing such a motion to this honorable Senate, I am quite aware and indeed humbled as I stand on the shoulders on the many brave and courageous women who have been the forerunners. I take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge and honor the work of all the Elders and Gender Pioneers/Champions who have worked so hard to get us to where we are today – the women who came together from the days of our people’s enslavement as real ‘Rebel Women’ to make a difference that we the daughters and granddaughters could benefit in truly life-changing ways. We thank Nanny, and all our enslaved foremothers, I thank Mary Seacole, Edna Manley, Aggie Bernard, Amy Bailey, Mary Morris-Knibb, Lady Bustamante, Rose Leon, Valerie McNeil and the team who fought and laid the base in the years leading up to 1974; Lucille Mathurin Mair who led the first Women’s Desk in the Office of the Prime Minister in 1974, Jeanette Grant-Woodham who became the first female President of the Senate in 1984. During the activism of the 1970s, Beverley Manley Duncan – the first President of the PNP Women’s Movement in early 1970’s – led courageously from within the male-dominated political party, and along with other Rebel Women such as Joan French, Linnette Vassell, Judith Wedderburn, Marjorie Taylor, Barbara Bailey, Jennifer Edwards to name a few – I thank all forerunners who linked hands with women across all social classes, who fought for  and won seminal legislation that created a shift in our society – No Bastard No Deh Again; Maternity Leave, Equal Pay for Equal Work.

Mr. President, I say thank you to my mother, Grace Duncan – the Rebel Woman who consistently held on to what she called “irrational hope” seeing to the building of 27 Schools of Hope across Jamaica, in the face of limited resources available – such was her commitment to disabled children and the community – she showed me daily what was possible as she also raised her family with the critical support of our ‘village’ – of which my father, Dr. D.K. Duncan was central – neither of them showed me limitations – only possibilities.

Mr. President, I say thank you to the organizations and leaders that continue the gender work today – Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), PNP Women’s Movement, Fathers Inc, the JLP’s National Organization of Women and Women Freedom Movement, UWI’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Young Women’s Leadership Initiative, International Women’s Forum, Women Business Owners and the 51% Coalition to name a few. I am honoured to have so many stalwarts here today with us in the Senate and indeed many young women who are committed to gender equity and equality in decision-making.

And indeed thank you to the Most Honorable Prime Minister Simpson Miller not only for the confidence reposed in me as a Senator, but also for:

having the fortitude and courage to put herself forward as a political representative 40 years ago and having the perseverance to stay the course, and ultimately becoming Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister

And, thank you to our Most Honorable Prime Minister for:

making definitive decisions that have contributed to this Senate being comprised of 28.6% females – the highest ever in our history and very close to the 30% target stated in the 2011 National Policy on Gender Equality – a policy whose frame was initiated in 2004 and which enjoys the support of both political parties.

And Mr. President, I say thank you to my husband Stephen Price – I have to ‘Big Him Up’ as my genuine partner. Our partnership is manifested in our love, our respect, our communication and equality in parenting – his unequivocal support enables me to contribute to national development in this way and I thank him.

My fellow Senators, on this day, March 7th, 2014, the day before International Women’s Day We honor all these women, and indeed the men who supported them, support us as women – we honor them all with love, respect and humility.

Indeed, Mr. President, on this day, the day before International Women’s Day we honor women’s advancement, while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life – and for the purposes of this motion today, specifically we look to the action to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in political leadership and decision-making.

For Mr. President, I move this motion not only as one culmination of 40 years of work – of sweat, tears, and sacrifice. Indeed the time for this motion is NOW, the timing for this motion is imperative because of the nature of the challenges that we face as a country.

These challenging times call for partnerships of no uncertain order.  These challenging times calls for Smart Economics.

So how is this linked to Women in Leadership and Decision-Making?

Gender Equality and Smart Economics

Drawing on various studies and analyses of different countries performance, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report states unequivocally that “gender equality is smart economics”.

Let’s explore this. What is Gender Equality?

Mr. President when I say gender equality – I mean men and women working together in partnership with more equal representation – sharing competencies and perspectives critical for effective development results. Gender is a relational concept, looking at men vis-à-vis women, and women vis-à-vis men – it is evidence based and data driven – based on disaggregated data, analyzed through race and class to drive insight and action. Mr. President, Gender equality does NOT mean women and men will or have to become the same. Gender equality does NOT mean that women want to take over from men. It means that the rights, responsibilities and opportunities for girls and boys, women and men will NOT depend on whether they are born female or male.  Gender Equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of men, women, boys and girls are taken into consideration, because of the diversity of issues faced and how these may impact them differently. Mr. President, equality between women and men is a human right, enshrined in our Constitution and my Motion is rooted in this Fundamental Law.

Indeed, my fellow senators, Gender equality ensures equal opportunity and equality of outcomes which allow for the possibility that women and men may make choices which benefit them and their families, without intervening systemic and structural barriers.

Let me elucidate how Gender Equality ties to Smart Economics:

  • Smart Economics means being responsive to your customer base – in this instance, the women, who in the majority make decisions about expenditure in the market place and who in the majority also, work in our political processes.
  • Smart Economics is essentially what the Most Honourable Prime Minister has charged her team with – Balancing the Books while Balancing People’s Lives – enabling women and men to move from ‘‘welfare to work and from work to wealth creation’.
  • Smart Economics means our best resources, men and women together, are optimally engaged to establish and strengthen the base for growth in our economy.

But how do we get there in a practical way, in an urgent way?  This brings us to Gender Equality. For Gender Equality is Smart Economics!

Let’s think about it – with gender equality, the experiences, abilities and insights of both women and men are a win-win solution for Jamaica. We know that women’s experiences across sectors, as professionals, as consumers, as primary care-givers of children – daughters AND sons – caregivers of the elderly, as managers of family resources, as practitioners of one kind or another will bring different and diverse abilities, expertise and skills to their performances at the different levels of leadership, which men by virtue of their different gendered roles will not.  Men bring other positives to the table. We need both sets of talents for better results! And I think we can all agree that Jamaica needs extraordinary results now.

Indeed, the 2012 World Bank reports unequivocally that

  •  Gender Equality enhances economic productivity
  • Gender Equality improves development outcomes for the next generation
  • Gender Equality makes institutions and policies more representative and so the laws do more for all the different groups of society, especially the marginalized.

In short, Gender Equality is Smart Economics! And no one can deny that Jamaica needs smart economics NOW.

Mr. President, please note that I do not simply hang my argument based on the World Bank’s view, but the actual results tell a powerful and compelling story.

From a private sector perspective, studies published by Forbes magazine and Catalyst (a research NGO) in 2011 indicate that Companies with a higher number of women on their Boards had a “53% higher return on equity, 66% higher return on invested capital and 42% higher return on sales.”

In fact, since women tend to be more risk averse than their male counterparts, other surveys have shown that companies with gender-diverse boards came through the recession faster and better than companies with all-male boards. In addition, a survey of over 600 board directors found that at the board level where directors must take the views of multiple stakeholders into account, women’s more cooperative approach to decision-making created better performance for their companies.

Why wouldn’t we in Jamaica want to create similar conditions and results as a country?

Don’t the taxpayers of our country, don’t the citizens of our country – the voters, who are akin to shareholders of companies, deserve extraordinary results?

We have the power to support this motion and put in place quotas as a structural enabler that can lead to better results – for Gender Equality is Smart Economics. And Jamaica needs Smart Economics now.

The current state of Gender Equality in Financial resources… in Political Leadership

The lived experiences of women and men remind us that patriarchy is alive and well. I wish to emphasize that Patriarchy is not a code for or against men, and does not refer to any individual or collection of men.  Patriarchy is a reference to a kind of society in which men and women are in unequal relations of power which affects relationships in all spheres.  It encompasses the organization of social systems, practices and structures (home, work, churches, political parties, parliaments) in which men and women live and work, and have relations.

And yes Mr. President, in spite of all the gains, in spite of the fact that women are involved in areas previously thought to be non-traditional, it is important to recognize that Patriarchy is alive and well in Jamaica.  So that even when there is a woman as Prime Minister of our country and we have a high % of women in our universities (62% women versus 38% men registered) and 55% of the graduates of HEART in 2012 were women; and women are leading certain arms of Government (like the Judiciary with the Hon. Mrs. Justice Zaila McCalla), patriarchal power “runs things”. The power dynamics of this are real and shape the relationships between women and men in all aspects of our lives. Women are not in equal numbers at the table, in decision-making – equally participating throughout society. Women are still twice as likely to be unemployed or employed in low-paying jobs compared to men in Jamaica[1]. In fact, a 2010 IDB study revealed that on average women in Jamaica at all levels earn approximately 12.5% less than males for the same jobs.

This clearly indicates that notwithstanding the significant numbers of women trained to contribute to the local economy as well as educationally and professionally qualified for strategic decision making positions, the system of equal opportunity and/or rewards remains inequitable. Indeed, the system remains inequitably favorable towards men.

As a percentage, “one or two” women are let in from time to time but the power remains firmly in the hands of male privilege. It’s amazing actually if you think about it, it’s also an example of how systems persist and perpetuate themselves – a few get through so you can always point and say “see – they did it” – but the underlying structure of the system actually has not changed, the patriarchy system is resilient and resistant to change. So we still see contemptuous attitudes and offensive behaviors towards women often manifesting in abuse – verbal, physical, sexual and otherwise.

Patriarchy also harms men by defining manhood, defining what it means to be a man in Jamaica, defining masculinities in ways that drive SOME men and boys into risky anti-social and dangerous behaviors and to, in many ways, devalue education, for example and hurt our families and society.

Mr. President, the patriarchal system is alive in the results we see in leadership representation in politics and perpetuates the system itself.

My fellow Senators, think about this, the participation rate of women in general elections and local government elections as candidates is significantly low and thus the subsequent representation rates of women (those who actually win) are also significantly lower than men. And this reality is one that has persisted from 1944. Indeed, data from the Electoral Office of Jamaica indicates that of the 835 persons elected to Parliament in the 70 years since 1944, only 67 have been females – 8%.

According to the current data for 2014, women now represent a mere 12.7% of the Members of Parliament, 20% of the Cabinet, and 28.6% of the Senate. The  highest ever achieved for the Members of Parliament was 15% and that was in 1997.  This is not good enough.

Indeed, as Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Women, Executive Director 2010-2013 stated,

“When one woman is a leader, it changes her. When more women are leaders, it changes politics and policies.”

Despite the gains, our situation in Jamaica, our results have been persistent. This is not good enough.

  •  Not good enough when women make up 51% of the Jamaican population
  • Not good enough after 50 years of political independence
  • Not good enough after 70 years of Universal Adult Suffrage, when in 1944, Iris Collins of the JLP successfully ran and won her seat as the first female Member of Parliament.

When I researched and analyzed the background to this – the fact is that women accounted for only 35% of those running for political office in the 2011 General Elections. Women weren’t even ½ of the possibility set.  Of the sixty-three (63) seats contested, twenty-two (22) seats were contested by women.   As indicated before, of that 22, only 8 or 12.7% won their seats.

As legislators, as leaders in this Honorable Senate, I’m asking you for just a moment to think about this. I believe we need to be aware of the reality around us that generates this result consistently for over 40 years – it’s the paradigm we grew up in, are living in. And by paradigm, I’m referring to the definition from Landmark Corporation that says “essentially a paradigm defines the limits of the way we perceive or see things”. The figures to-date serve to show that a deliberate and strategic approach must be taken towards improving this imbalance in gender-power and in decision-making given the active role women continue to play in the shaping of politics, its associated institutions and national development. Women must be seen as integral components for effective development planning and this should therefore be reflected in the very numbers which are appointed and elected to higher office.

I ask you to really consider this because it this persistent reality that necessitates the need for temporary special measures – we have to shock the system – we, as women and men, have to rally against this system not only because:

  1. It’s right, a human right that spaces are made at the table for 51% of the population. We need all talents at the table.  And,
  2. All talents being engaged at the table for Jamaica’s benefit as gender equality is smart economics. And Jamaica needs Smart economics now.

Gender Quotas to Generate Gender Equality in Political Leadership and Decision-making

Given the slow speed by which the number of women in politics has grown, the time is therefore now for more efficient methods reach a gender balance in political institutions. Quotas, as a temporary special measure, present ONE such mechanism that has proved to be effective. You see Mr. President, I am not proposing we step into unchartered waters.

In recognition of the persistence of the patriarchal system that men and women have grown up in across the world accounting for low % globally for women in decision-making roles, many countries across the world now have moved beyond mere discussion about the possibility of instituting a Gender Quota/Gender Parity policy as integral to the functioning of the political system, to having ensured the place of women as necessary to the equitable and effective functioning of their democracies.

Countries and case examples are numerous in different parts of the world with different cultures and stages of democracy. Of significant prominence in Europe is Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden. In terms of countries which have emerged not only as newly democratic, but out of situations of war and stark female discrimination –Rwanda, in particular, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Tunisia and South Africa are all success stories where employing gender quotas of different types has not only improved and cemented a commitment to inclusive democracy, but in particular, has assisted in solidifying the critical role of women in political decision making. This wave of transformation has also moved throughout Latin America. Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay, Columbia, Brazil, Chile and even the former dictatorship Bolivia have all been proactive in forging ahead with ensuring more equal representation of women in politics at the national and local government level. Closer to home, Guyana is the only CARICOM Caribbean country with a legislated Candidate Quota system, introduced as a Constitutional measure. On each political party list, one third of candidates must be women (they have 30% women in their National Assembly).

This advancing of gender quotas in the political sphere therefore presents a unique opportunity for Jamaica who has often been at the vanguard in international progressive movements to be a part of the process, given the possibility of such a system to be more politically inclusive of women leading to better results for our country. All this as Gender Equality is Smart Economics.

And Mr. President, please be reminded that when I say Gender – that means women AND men, Gender refers specifically to the relationships between women and men, in the many different spaces that they share. WE here can take on the fight for Women and Men recognizing value in both perspectives and experiences. By virtue of the ways in which we are raised, the different experiences and expectations that men and women have across class and race in Jamaica  lead to us as men and women seeing things differently, we have discourse and discussions differently – and both ways are valuable – the combination of both leads to smart economics, smart leadership. Furthermore, Mr. President, we must acknowledge women’s rights as human rights, and that like men, they should be equally present in these decision-making spaces.

As a country, we must find the way make the best use of the capabilities of women at the highest levels of decision making. In the search for our solutions, we must cause changes in the way we organize our society, that is, if we are serious about overcoming current challenges and placing Jamaica on a sustainable path for economic growth and development.  We need a game-changer – we must shock the system!

So how do we get there?

My recommendation: Draft Terms of Reference for Joint Select Committee – bi-partisan and gender balanced

I look forward to the debate in this Honorable Senate on how best to improve the place of women in the political leadership sphere and decision making process.

Let me state unequivocally, as a young woman I started out with the view that the incremental approach, the time-based approach would be sufficient – in time as more and more women were trained, built the confidence, they, we would find a place at the table. However, working in the private sector in Executive Leadership, working in the Political parties in the current political culture, becoming a mother, caring for a dying parent – my own mother – and looking at the systems of support, looking at the decisions made on policies and programmes for public benefit, looking at who has access to power, and who continues to make the decisions and the process for equity in gender in leadership and decision-making, I’ve come to the view that we need a definitive game-changer so more women across different socio-economic classes have an opportunity to pursue whatever aspirations that may have – as we would have effectively addressed some of the barriers.

And please note, Mr. President, this is not because our men are not smart and well-meaning – they just have a perspective that is grounded in their upbringing and experience as men – which is valuable but not balanced nor allows for the full picture for balanced laws, policies and programmes. For remember, the system in which we all live and work is grounded in patriarchy – which inhibits not only women as a group, but also some men based on their social and economic status.  This has contributed to the slow pace at which we have tackled this and other women’s issues over the last 40 years.

Given this persistent situation, I propose that we convene a Joint Select Committee – that is a committee comprised of both Senators and members of the Lower House, 50:50 bi-partisan, and grounded in gender equality. This Parliamentary Committee so constructed can make a practical difference for Jamaica and the time is right given our electoral 5 year cycle, as candidate selections will likely occur within the next 18 months. How can we make an effective difference this time around? A difference that will lead to creating greater gender equality – a difference that will lead to ‘smart economics’. There is no time to wait and we must plan properly for the desired results of inclusive development – indeed Jamaica needs Smart Economics and Smart Leadership now.

I recommend that this Committee seek to:

  1. Identify specific, practical recommendations for the political parties to activate in light of the barriers that women face in engaging the political sphere as leaders as identified in the National Policy on Gender Equality
  2. Review and recommend the types of Temporary Special Measures such as gender quotas, that would work most effectively in our political culture given the objectives of gender equality in political leadership

Given my analysis of the situation, I would ask that the Committee review my proposal regarding the latter. I believe the best way forward is to employ a Temporary Special Measure by way of instituting a Gender Neutral Quota system for the Senate and for the Candidate Slate of Political Parties which ultimately results in the gender composition of MPs in the Lower House. Within this frame, neither gender would fill more than 60% nor less than 40% of the appointed or elected positions in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Such a move will also ensure that our men, whose contribution is valuable in the governance process are not in turn subject to discrimination.

For the Senate, I believe that a legislated Gender–Neutral Reserved Seat system of 60%/40% should be in place in terms of recommendations for appointments. This goes further than the 30% stated in the National Policy on Gender Equality – this is so because women make up 51% of the population and it takes us closer to true representation.

For the Lower House, to maintain the efficacy of democracy – the right of the people to vote for who they desire to represent and lead them, I do not recommend reserved seats. Instead, I recommend instituting a minimum 40% Gender Neutral Candidate Quota System from each political Party’s slate. This could be legislated or voluntary. In either case though, the rank order of the candidates on the lists would be regulated, so that women candidates are not just placed at the bottom of the lists with ‘unwinnable seats’. Sanctions for non-compliance would also be important to look at.

I recommend that such a system of special measures be instituted for only two terms or for a 10 year period while we also implement the plans laid out in the National Policy on Gender Equality, which seeks to change and improve the systemic problems – the social, political, economic, and psychological barriers which have prevented both men and women from achieving an enlightened understanding of the critical role of women in all spheres of decision-making.

Some will argue that it is the very systemic issues with the wider negative societal socialization about women as leaders which have hindered the gradual progression and accession of more women into representational politics and other positions of leadership external to ‘politics’. It may even be further proposed by some, to just deepen the focus on the socialization and re-socialization of our young men and women in order to address the barriers to female leadership-much of which has been psychological – before or even instead of taking this step of temporary special measures, Gender quotas.

I argue that the data clearly speaks to the reality – the patriarchal reality – and so the system needs a game-changer – the system needs a shock to achieve Gender Equality necessary for more inclusive and effective decision-making. But this game-changer to create that necessary shift MUST be done in conjunction with programmes highlighted in the National Policy on Gender Equality to effectively address the systemic issues.  For if we do not do the latter, when the recommended timeframe for the temporary special measures elapses – the society would not  have fundamentally shifted and provide a consistent flow of female leaders to be present in the Senate, in the Lower House, on Public Boards etc.

And please note, Mr. President, when I speak of quotas – it does not mean giving women space just for the sake of them being women as I do not advocate or support a man getting a position just because he’s in the boy’s club. This is our country’s political leadership – this is decision-making regarding policies and programs and our nation’s resources. As such, I expect that both women and men who put themselves up for representation and those who are called on for duty must meet standards for leadership and qualifications. These standards and qualifications are not dictated by a tertiary degree as that is not the end all be all, but may include experience and exhibited competencies in leadership within their community or other organization(s), they will be critical and analytical thinkers, they will have heart, they will hold that leadership at this level is a privilege, they will hold themselves to high standards of integrity and honesty taking into account the principles of good governance and they will be genuinely committed to the process of development of our Nation.

Conclusion

So Mr. President, I submit that we in this Honorable Senate can take the bold steps to pursue both the necessary long-term changes and the game-changer necessary to create the platform for greater gender equality in political leadership. Let us openly and unreservedly start the deepening of the participatory process. Let us here in this honourable Senate explicitly acknowledge the critical importance of a balanced gendered approach to participatory governance and the decision making process, which will eliminate the notion of a male dominated political system and create a true partnership of men and women working together with all of society benefitting from the insights, talents, resources and skills from a wider cross-section. Let us lift up our women as a group in this Nation – stating unequivocally that Gender Equality is Smart Leadership – and this a means to peace and prosperity for Jamaica, land we love.

Thank you.


[1] In 2007, according to the Jamaica Economic Statistics Database (JESD), unemployment by gender as a percentage of the total unemployed labour force stood at 14.3 percent for women, while unemployment for men was 5.5 percent.  Fast forward to October 2013, unemployment for women has moved to approximately 20 percent, while male unemployment has risen to 14.6 percent, still comparatively lower than that of unemployment of women.

International Women’s Day is Nearly Here…

Jamaica is celebrating International Women’s Day in a slightly different way this year. One of our terrific non-governmental organizations, the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) is partnering with the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Institute of Gender & Development Studies, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and the United Nations Population Fund in a special celebration and expo, with all kinds of interesting and fun activities planned.

Ms. Jacqueline Sharp, President/CEO of Scotiabank Jamaica Group.

Ms. Jacqueline Sharp, President/CEO of Scotiabank Jamaica Group.

The event will take place on UWI’s Mona Campus in Kingston. The guest speaker to kick off the proceedings will be Ms. Jacqueline Sharp, who is the first woman CEO/President of Scotiabank Group Jamaica – a major private sector entity.

Join us for a celebration and sharing, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  We are very much hoping to see you there! Bring the family. (Oh…and it’s all free!)

International Women's Day Expo

International Women’s Day Expo

Family Matters: Early Morning Thoughts

Rainy tropical dawn.

Rainy tropical dawn.

“Family isn’t something that’s supposed to be static, or set. People marry in, divorce out. They’re born, they die. It’s always evolving, turning into something else.” 

A popular writer for teens, Sarah Dessen, wrote this, and it is so true. I always wanted my family to stay the same; encapsulated in a kind of time warp. In particular, I wanted my parents to be immortal, eternally middle-aged. But of course, family members come and go; the family remains.

I woke before dawn this morning, thinking about our far-away family that is certainly evolving – the English side of it, that is. Just a few days ago, we had a birth in the family. Of course, like all babies, he is instantly adorable; babies are built that way. But he is special, because he is family. He is chunky – a robust nine pounds plus – with small, round fists, intense dark blue eyes and a delicately pursed mouth. A little pout, perhaps. 

And then, yesterday, I learnt that one of the oldest members of our small, but close family has died. The news arrived on my smartphone via Facebook. Yes, modern methods of communication – but transporting me instantly back to the old-fashioned London house where I spent a great deal of my early childhood. Low winter sunlight, dusty windowsills, the radio playing.

So I woke up before five in the morning, in the tropical city that is now my home. It is whispering quietly to itself. Soft rain dripping from the awnings after an overnight shower. The White-Winged Doves begin to call in the garden, gentle precursors to the daylight, but still in the dark. Daylight arrives swiftly and stealthily here; in the space of half an hour, we move from street lights to bright sunlight. This morning, though, is subdued and grey. I am watching the BBC News about the Crimea, where masked Russian soldiers stand with expressionless stares. You can only see their eyes and hands, and guns. In Kiev, the voices of men rise with the smoke in the square. It is as if the region is shuffling backwards, into its bitter history.

Brad Pitt has a big family. Having been entranced by his youthful beauty, I now admire his love of family. What he said once is so true, and it’s how I also feel:

A family is a risky venture, because the greater the love, the greater the loss. But I’ll take it all.

The Brangelina tribe.

The Brangelina tribe.

Join the Million Woman March…in Jamaica

176 million strong, rising up as one!

Who are all these women, and why will they be marching, you ask?

Well, it is a fact that over 176 million women around the world suffer from the debilitating, disabling and painful disease that is endometriosis.

Shauna Fuller Clarke's B.A.S.E. Foundation

Shauna Fuller Clarke’s B.A.S.E. Foundation

So, on Thursday, March 13, 2014, women in more than 53 cities globally – including Kingston – will march to raise awareness of the disease. In Jamaica, Shauna Fuller Clarke’s B.A.S.E. Foundation is spearheading the march (B.A.S.E. stands for Better Awareness & Support for Endometriosis).  “After eight years of having symptoms of endometriosis, a collapsed lung, misdiagnosis and three surgeries, I was finally diagnosed in 2010 with Stage IV endometriosis,” says Ms. Fuller Clarke, who co-founded B.A.S.E. Foundation with her husband Ricardo Clarke and mother Sonia Fuller. By the way, this is the average length of time for it to be correctly diagnosed in other countries, too. Jamaica is no different from elsewhere. And no cure has yet been found.

OK. Here is the information you need on the Million Woman March in Jamaica:

  • On March 13, the march will depart Devon House at 11:00 a.m. for Emancipation Park. It’s approx. one mile; even I can manage that. We will be accompanied by a marching band. Her Excellency the Most Honorable Lady Allen will join the march.
  • There will be a rally and concert in Emancipation Park over the lunchtime period. Do drop by during your lunch hour.
  • The event will be streamed live and/or recorded and played later at the march in Washington, DC.
  • Wear yellow! Even if you are unable to join the march, wear yellow in support. I believe there may be T-shirts…
  • Men are of course welcome! We need the support of our husbands, partners, fathers, brothers, friends…
  • Registration is open now: go to http://www.basejamaica.com. Encourage your friends to join you!
Million Woman March in Jamaica.

Million Woman March in Jamaica.

The march is not just about making more people aware of the disease. The B.A.S.E. Foundation has specific goals. Firstly, it is lobbying the Jamaican Government to list endometriosis as a chronic disease under the National Health Fund, thus allowing for cheaper drugs; and wants the Ministry of Health to set up an office dedicated to the disease, with the aim of improving research and treatment for sufferers. B.A.S.E. is also seeking the assistance of the Ministries of Health and Education to start a nationwide screening program in schools. It is demanding much greater focus in medical and nursing schools, educating health professionals at all levels on the disease. It is also asking for greater media support in a heightened public education campaign; and is asking the private sector to support researchers to develop non-invasive tests and move towards finding a cure for endometriosis.

Shauna Fuller Clarke: "Stepping out of the shadows" as a champion for women's health.

Shauna Fuller Clarke: “Stepping out of the shadows” as a champion for women’s health.

During March (Endometriosis Awareness Month) there will also be a church service at the New Testament Church of God, 65 Waltham Park Road, Kingston 11 at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 2; a Public Forum at the Hugh Wynter Fertility Management Unit, University Hospital of the West Indies at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 20; and an online chat on the B.A.S.E. at 12:00 noon on Friday, March 28.

Women of action (l to r): Shauna Fuller Clarke and her mother Sonia (seated); Juliet Cuthbert, Krystal Tomlinson and Molly Rhone (standing).

Women of action (l to r): Shauna Fuller Clarke and her mother Sonia (seated); Juliet Cuthbert, Krystal Tomlinson and Molly Rhone (standing).

The event also has some great Ambassadors: Krystal Tomlinson is a youth leader, research assistant at the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of the West Indies and Miss Jamaica Festival Queen 2013. Molly Rhone is currently president of the International Federation of Netball Associations and former head of the Jamaica Netball Association. Gina Hargitay is the reigning Miss Jamaica World. Juliet Cuthbert is a businesswoman and former sprinter and Olympic medallist. Mario Evon is a soulful singer and graduate of Berklee College of Music. Dr. Terri-Karelle Reid is a qualified veterinarian, former Miss Jamaica World and online brand manager at the Gleaner Company.

Described as one of the ten most painful diseases, endometriosis affects an estimated one in eight women and girls. And yet, many Jamaicans have never heard of this disease. Why is this so? Partly because in Jamaica (and many other societies) we don’t talk openly about issues such as infertility (a common impact of endometriosis). We don’t talk about women’s organs, or menstrual periods. Lady Allen calls it a “silent disease,” a bit like high blood pressure. And it is often misdiagnosed or dismissed as “bad periods,” which creates problems for teens in particular.

Support thousands of young girls and women in Jamaica who live with endometriosis and other pelvic conditions on March 13, 2014. And if you know someone who is suffering, please help them to get help. Don’t let them suffer in silence.

To learn more about the work of the B.A.S.E. Foundation, go to “Shauna Fuller Clarke’s BASE Foundation” Facebook page. Website: http://www.basejamaica.com. Follow on Twitter: @basejamaica. For information on the worldwide campaign, go to: http://www.millionwomenmarch2014.org/

Shauna’s sponsors are: EU Delegation; Kingston Bookshop; Guardian Group; Nationwide 90 FM; Lifespan Spring Water; Jamaica Observer; Shipwize.

Partners: Newstalk 93 FM; Zoukie Trucking; SunCity Radio; TVJ.  Endorsed by the Ministry of Health.

Endometriosis.

Endometriosis.