Caring for Jamaicans with Special Needs

The Digicel Foundation continues its focus on strengthening educational and care facilities for Jamaicans with special needs, and they are really making a difference. I was not able to attend the opening of a multi-functional centre – the Care Plus Centre of Excellence – at the Jacob’s Ladder community in Moneague, St. Ann, last Wednesday, March 26. But I can tell you a bit about it.

From left: Thyra Heaven, board member, Mustard Seed Communities, Judine Hunter, programme manager - Special Needs, Digicel Foundation, and Sandy Wallace, resident of Jacob's Ladder, cut the ribbon to officially open the Care Plus Centre of Excellence. (Photo: Carl Gilchrist/Gleaner)

From left: Thyra Heaven, board member, Mustard Seed Communities, Judine Hunter, program manager – Special Needs, Digicel Foundation, and Sandy Wallace, resident of Jacob’s Ladder, cut the ribbon to officially open the Care Plus Centre of Excellence. (Photo: Carl Gilchrist/Gleaner)

Jacob’s Ladder is a place in rural Jamaica where the wonderful Mustard Seed Communities (MSC) care for seventy Jamaican adults with special needs. It is the only facility of its kind in Jamaica. A bauxite company, Windalco, donated the 100 acres of land on which it is situated to MSC. The focus is on family homes, as well as on sustainable agriculture, living in harmony with communities close by.

The J$17 million Care Plus Centre of Excellence in Moneague will take one additional, major step forward, by providing a skills training curriculum in the areas of culinary skills, art and craft, information technology and occupational physiotherapy. Additionally, the Centre will provide a facility to host awareness forums and workshops for families in the surrounding areas that require experience and training in dealing with persons who are differently abled. This is one of ten Centres of Excellence that the Digicel Foundation plans to open this year in celebration of its ten-year anniversary.

 

 

“The vision of Digicel Foundation augurs well for the lives of persons living in the Special Needs Communities,” remarked Darcy Tulloch-Williams, MSC’s Executive Director. “We are extremely grateful for this partnership as it will allow us to move beyond offering simply room and board, and giving them industry. This will undoubtedly build their self-esteem and enable them to become more educated.”

A joyful ribbon-cutting! Sandy Wallace, Resident at Jacob’s Ladder is embraced by a Mustard Seed Community  volunteer as she cuts the ribbon for the official opening of the Care Plus Centre of Excellence on Wednesday, March 26. Joining her is Judine Hunter (left), Programme Manager, Special Needs, Digicel Foundation and Thyra Heaven, Board Member, Mustard Seed Communities. Care Plus Centre of Excellence, equipped with rehabilitative and therapeutic facilities, was erected as part of the Foundation’s 10th Anniversary goals, to build 10 Centres of Excellence for Special Needs schools across the island this year. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

A joyful ribbon-cutting! Sandy Wallace, Resident at Jacob’s Ladder is embraced by a Mustard Seed Community volunteer as she cuts the ribbon for the official opening of the Care Plus Centre of Excellence on Wednesday, March 26. Joining her is Judine Hunter (left), Programme Manager, Special Needs, Digicel Foundation and Thyra Heaven, Board Member, Mustard Seed Communities. Care Plus Centre of Excellence, equipped with rehabilitative and therapeutic facilities, was erected as part of the Foundation’s 10th Anniversary goals, to build 10 Centres of Excellence for Special Needs schools across the island this year. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

Samantha Chantrelle, CEO of the Digicel Foundation, stressed the Foundation’s commitment to the Special Needs sector in Jamaica. She said, “The work of the Mustard Seed Communities reflects the conviction of the Digicel Foundation that the opportunities for those in our society that are differently abled should not be limited due to lack of resources or adequate training for their caregivers. So we are pleased to partner with them for the building of this facility and will remain committed through our Centres of Excellence programme to provide the highest quality resources that will enable our Special Needs community to thrive.” 

The Care Plus Centre of Excellence at Jacob's Ladder, Mustard Seed Communities in Moneague, St. Ann. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

The Care Plus Centre of Excellence at Jacob’s Ladder, Mustard Seed Communities in Moneague, St. Ann. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

As I noted above, there are no other facilities in Jamaica – governmental or otherwise – that cater to the needs of people with mental and physical disabilities who are over the age of eighteen years. Children who are cared for by the government, with or without disabilities, are basically on their own after that age. This brings me to comments made by Chairman of the Gleaner Company, Oliver Clarke, at the opening of the new Centre of Excellence. He touched on something that has always been of great concern to me. According to Mr. Clarke, the government only pays local NGOs a fraction of the amount that government agencies receive to do similar work. Jacob’s Ladder’s administrator, Denyse Perkins, confirmed that they receive about one quarter.

Amazing organizations like the faith-based MSC, and many other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating almost on a “shoe-string” in Jamaica, provide crucial social services for Jamaicans. Neither the Jamaican government (nor the public at large, in fact) adequately recognize the work they do. Without the NGOs, many Jamaicans who are marginalized and in need would fall by the wayside. The NGOs pick up the slack, time and time again.

“I think that where charities take over looking after wards of the state, the organization, such as Mustard Seed, should receive the same contribution from the Government, as if it was a state-run institution,” Mr. Clarke said, according to a Gleaner report. I could not agree more. 

Judine Hunter (front row-second from left), Programme Manager, Special Needs, Digicel Foundation, Father Garvin Augustine ,Executive Director of Mustard Seed Community  International, and Samantha Chantrelle, Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation join the staff of MSC for a group shot following the opening of Care Plus Centre of Excellence on Wednesday, March 26. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

Judine Hunter (front row-second from left), Programme Manager, Special Needs, Digicel Foundation, Father Garvin Augustine ,Executive Director of Mustard Seed Community International, and Samantha Chantrelle, Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation join the staff of MSC for a group shot following the opening of Care Plus Centre of Excellence on Wednesday, March 26. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

Contact Mustard Seed Communities at P.O. Box 267, Kingston 10, Jamaica. Phone: (876) 923-6488  Email: info-jamaica@mustardseed.com Website: http://www.mustardseed.com

A word about Digicel Foundation:

The Digicel Foundation is the largest local private sector foundation in Jamaica. Since its inception in 2004 the Foundation has invested over J$1.2 billion in communities in which Digicel operates islandwide. The Digicel Foundation has been proactive in the areas of Education, Special Needs, and Community Empowerment.

The Digicel Foundation has:

  •  Invested over J$100 million in their Enrichment Initiative in partnership with the Ministry of Education to improve literacy at the primary school level islandwide.
  • Invested over J$38 million in resource rooms, including science and IT labs, in high schools islandwide.
  • Committed to building three Special Needs schools, two of which, the STEP Centre, and NAZ Children’s Centre broke ground in 2012.
  • Invested over J$60 million in Community Empowerment initiatives over the past four years, including $10 million annually and $15 million in 2012 to support the National Best Communities Competition and Program.
  • Invested $13 million in the ‘Back to Roots—Stronger Roots, Stronger Communities, Stronger Nation Project.’ The programme aims to help community organizations become more self-reliant by facilitating their transition to social enterprises, by teaching them how to run sustainable community businesses.

For more information visit: www.digiceljamaicafoundation.org  Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/digiceljafoundation  Twitter:  (@digiceljafdn) https://twitter.com/DigicelJaFdn

Speaking of disabilities issues, this is a reminder that tomorrow (Wednesday, April 2) is World Autism Awareness Day. The Jamaica Autism Support Association will be partnering with the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Department of Child and Adolescent Health to “Light It Up Blue” in recognition of the day at 4:00 p.m. at UWI Undercroft. Do go along, learn and support…

World Autism Awareness Day event at the University of the West Indies.

World Autism Awareness Day event at the University of the West Indies.

Planned April 1 Raid to Evict Homeless LGBT Youth

petchary:

Just a few days ago, at the University of the West Indies (UWI), we were discussing the role of leadership in protecting vulnerable populations. Jamaica’s homeless – including this particular group of LGBT youth, as well as mentally and physically disabled Jamaicans and children who roam our streets daily – are arguably the most neglected and marginalized of all. This is an account by CUSO volunteer and fellow blogger Kate Chappell of the pending police raid to evict this group of young men, who live in a gully in New Kingston. Perhaps before the UWI event, the debaters should have paid them a visit. It might have been a good dose of reality, and given a little more edge to their presentations. Homelessness is not a “gay issue” in Jamaica. It is a human rights issue.

Originally posted on Jamaican Journal:

April 1 is apparently the deadline for the police, headed by Inspector Murdock, to perform a “raid” and force the young men out of the gully. This is where they live as they are disenfranchised from society and rejected by their families.

A judge recently ruled against an order to have them evicted, as it is a public place, but the police insist that their occupation is a health hazard.

On Saturday night, the final night of high school athletic competition Champs, the police chose this time to warn the guys that they will be forced to leave. (Read another account of this evening here.)

In terms of avoiding the further inflammation of the situation, this could not have been a worse time. I was driving by and witnessed throngs of young men and women walking by, some of them clumped around the gully. I heard several calls of…

View original 257 more words

A Lively Week: Sunday, March 30, 2014

What with the UWI Great Debate and other discussions in and out of the media, the week has been more than usually combative and lively. That’s Jamaica for you!

Cynicism abounds: The dismissal of the corruption charges against former Member of Parliament and Junior Minister Kern Spencer and his personal assistant last week continues to spark some deeply satirical commentary. Mark Wignall’s column in the Sunday Observer is headlined “Kern Spencer for Prime Minister.” 

Happy Mr. Kern Spencer outside the courthouse after corruption charges against him were dismissed.

Happy Mr. Kern Spencer outside the courthouse after corruption charges against him were dismissed.

Vybz Kartel going into the courthouse last week.

Vybz Kartel going into the courthouse last week.

Jailhouse rock, or equivalent: So now the judge is trying to decide whether dancehall star and convicted murderer Vybz Kartel will be allowed to make recordings while in jail (but not actually earn money from them). Another convict musical star, Jah Cure, who was doing time for rape, did make music while behind bars and the proceeds went towards his rehabilitation. He is out of jail now and apparently rehabilitated.

Protesting too much: I am not convinced by the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) concerns that the human rights of the Jamaican people should be of paramount importance in the upcoming enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre of May, 2010. Their administration did not appear unduly concerned at the time about such matters. I think the JLP must be dreading the Enquiry. Meanwhile, the JLP Member of Parliament for the area Desmond McKenzie is supporting the Public Defender’s and Independent Commission of Investigation’s (INDECOM) view that the Enquiry should not go ahead before incomplete ballistics reports are available. The Minister of Justice says the reports are not necessary for the purpose of the Enquiry. The plot is likely to thicken.

The Patriarchy strikes back, again: A (poorly edited) opinion column on the editorial page of the Sunday Gleaner by a “freelance journalist, author and entertainment consultant” named Milton Wray had my head spinning. Under the headline “Are women natural leaders?” I read the most sexist, misogynistic, demeaning and at times truly offensive ramblings. Mr. Wray sees “modern woman” as a “threat” to the family and the society at large. It’s accompanied by an awful photograph of “the female senator” (he does not name her) Imani Duncan-Price, who recently introduced the issue of quotas for women in some areas of public life. The photo makes her look quite frightening (which she isn’t!) What century are we living in, Mr. Wray?

I suppose the Gleaner is seeking to be controversial again, to spark discussion and so on. Meanwhile it is deleting online comments that disagree with the article. I suppose it has the right to do so but what is the aim here – to manipulate the reading public’s opinions? As I have said before, the standard of commentary in the Sunday Gleaner in particular continues its downward slide. And although some believe it’s not worth responding to… One has to register a protest at this.

Don’t panic:  Financial writer and Executive Director of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica Dennis Chung says the government must hang in there and not be panicked into imposing new taxes in the upcoming Budget, despite the fact that tax revenues have been below target. But can we stay the course? It needs a cool head, but thankfully Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ approach is much more measured than his predecessor Omar Davies’ predilection for incurring debt.

Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Why do we need a National Cultural and Creative Industries Commission? Well, the Prime Minister wanted one, so she has got it. She and various stakeholders will hold meetings from time to time, and talk a lot. “We need to recognise how important these industries are for both economic growth and national development imperatives,” says the PM. Don’t we already have the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC)? What about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), which the rest of the world is forging ahead with? How are we doing with that? Not to say culture does not have its place, but… Quoting from a headline in Mark Wignall’s column today: “Fast runners and slick deejays cannot help Jamaica’s development.” Let’s not fool ourselves.

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (3rd left), signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Also participating are (from left): Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; and Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. In the back row (from left) are: Commercial Counsellor at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Mrs. Lei Liu (left); Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Mrs. Audrey Sewell and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Dr. Alwin Hayles. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (3rd left), signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Also participating are (from left): Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; and Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. In the back row (from left) are: Commercial Counsellor at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Mrs. Lei Liu (left); Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Mrs. Audrey Sewell and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Dr. Alwin Hayles. (Photo: JIS)

Retirement Dump, Montego Bay on Friday, March 28, 2014. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Retirement Dump, Montego Bay on Friday, March 28, 2014. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Next up…Bog Walk Gorge: So on Friday, quite out of the blue, Minister of Transport and Works Omar Davies signed a Memorandum of Understanding with – yes, you’ve guessed it – China Harbour Engineering Company, to dam the Rio Cobre on the picturesque Bog Walk Gorge. Now where did that come from? Were there any other bidders? Was it discussed in Parliament? What are the possible environmental impacts? Will it really produce much in terms of hydro-electric power, and at what cost? What will happen to the historic Flat Bridge, which is over 200 years old and still in use?

Meanwhile, the logistics hub PR machine churns onward, with the appointment of Ms. Tastey Blackman (is that really her name?) to a new position, that of Manager of Logistics and Emerging Markets at JAMPRO, the government’s investment agency. She is taking a delegation to the LATAM Ports and Logistics Summit in Panama next week. We await more government press releases, with bated breath.

Former banker Dunbar McFarlane.

Former banker Dunbar McFarlane.

An interesting development: I felt sad when we passed by the empty Palmyra luxury resort development near Montego Bay recently. Well, a New York-based firm, Philangco Corporation, is reportedly interested in bidding for the condominium towers in Rose Hall. The firm is planning to use a new hydrogen-powered fuel system to provide power called Elhydro. I note the firm’s chief financial officer is former Jamaican banker Dunbar McFarlane. Philangco may partner with the Jamaican Government in developing the energy source, which McFarlane’s partner Phillip Scott has developed and patented in the United States and Jamaica. We shall see.

Kingston College students march along Tom Redcam Avenue to the Boys' and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Kingston College students march along Tom Redcam Avenue to the Boys’ and Girls’ Championships at the National Stadium. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

The annual ritual that is “Boys’ Champs” is playing itself out at the National Stadium as I write. The wailing of distant vuvuzelas fills the air (no, the students haven’t given up on those hideous inventions, yet) as the high schools compete for glory. Roads around the Stadium are jammed with traffic. The flags of the major competing high schools flutter from cars on the road. This time there was a “peace march” by some 350 students to start off. I hope that some seriousness was attached to it. And I hope the authorities will consider drug testing for the student athletes. Yes, I think it should be done.

Jamaica time: I participated in no less than three separate activities in different parts of the UWI campus on Thursday. All three started between twenty and thirty minutes late. The other day I was telling someone I thought Jamaicans were becoming more punctual. I may have to reconsider that statement…

Big ups and thanks to:

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second left) participates in the symbolic presentation of a $123-million (US$117,176) grant agreement being provided by the Government of Japan to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for the acquisition of vital medical equipment, following Wednesday’s signing ceremony at the institution. Also participating are the hospital Chief Executive Officer Anthony Wood (left); Chargé d’Affaires at the Japanese Embassy in Jamaica Koji Tomita (second right); and the South East Regional Health Authority’s acting chairman, Dr Andrei Cooke. (PHOTO: JIS)

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second left) participates in the symbolic presentation of a $123-million (US$117,176) grant agreement being provided by the Government of Japan to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for the acquisition of vital medical equipment, following Wednesday’s signing ceremony at the institution. Also participating are the hospital Chief Executive Officer Anthony Wood (left); Chargé d’Affaires at the Japanese Embassy in Jamaica Koji Tomita (second right); and the South East Regional Health Authority’s acting chairman, Dr Andrei Cooke. (PHOTO: JIS)

  • The Government of Japan for its support for important social needs in Jamaica. The Japanese Embassy donated J$123 million to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for urgently needed equipment. Thank you!
Supreme Ventures logo.

Supreme Ventures logo.

  • Supreme Ventures, for their generous, ongoing support for Eve for Life, the non-governmental organization that supports teenage and young mothers living with HIV and their children. We are truly grateful for your recent donation and for all your support in the past!
Randy McLaren in performance at the University of the West Indies last Thursday. (My photo)

Randy McLaren in performance at the University of the West Indies last Thursday. (My photo)

  • Randy McLaren (the “Kriativ Aktivis”) who presented an entertaining lunchtime concert at the University of the West Indies (UWI) last week – entertainment with a biting social commentary. Well done, Randy – I can see you are maturing very nicely as an artist.
Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernie Ranglin.

Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernie Ranglin.

  • It’s hard to believe that the wonderful guitarist Ernie Ranglin is 82 years old. The Gleaner calls him a “ska and reggae guitarist” and indeed Mr. Ranglin has played in many genres. I think he is most famous for his jazz style, these days (and I heard him in concert some ten years ago, a marvel!) He has mostly played overseas, and his latest album is called “Bless Up,”  with international musicians Inx Herman, Jonathan Korty, and Yossi Fine. Good to hear he’s still going strong!
A friend's Earth Hour "selfie" - truly lights out!

Where are you? A friend’s Earth Hour “selfie” – truly lights out!

  • All those involved in the organization of the Earth Hour Acoustic Concert last night, which by all accounts was a great success. Special kudos to Rootz Underground’s Stephen Newland, who is often at the forefront of environmental awareness programs. It was good to see so many young people enjoying the music and understanding the message too!
Calabar High School’s Class Three sprint king Tyreke Wilson poses beside the display board showing his impressive new record achieved in the 200m. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Calabar High School’s Class Three sprint king Tyreke Wilson poses beside the display board showing his impressive new record achieved in the 200m. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  • Calabar High School (boys) and Edwin Allen High School (girls) athletes, who came out on top in the ISSA GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships, which ended yesterday at the National Stadium. As usual, the competition was fierce, and many records were broken.
Edwin Allen High's Marleena Eubanks salutes her supporters as she crosses the line to win the Class One 800m final in 2:06.51 at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. - Photo by Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner

Edwin Allen High’s Marleena Eubanks salutes her supporters as she crosses the line to win the Class One 800m final in 2:06.51 at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Flyer for Edna Manley School of Dance 18th Season of Performances.

Flyer for Edna Manley School of Dance 18th Season of Performances.

  • And if you enjoy dance, come out next week and support the students of the Edna Manley College School of Dance in Kingston for their 18th Season of Dance. There will be several performances throughout the week, culminating in their Gala Night on Sunday, April 6.

My condolences to the families and friends of the following Jamaicans who lost their lives violently over the past four days.

Kirk Palmer, 42, Cornwall Courts/Montego Bay, St. James

Bryan Martin, Orange Street/Montego Bay, St. James

Shanice Williams, 27, Hopewell, Hanover

Peta Rose, 64, Lumsden, St. Ann

Rushawn Myers, 20, Port Antonio, Portland

Lebert Balasal, 61, Little London, Westmoreland

Killed by police:

Paul O’Gilvie, 20, Alexandria, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Alexandria, St. Ann

On the road: 24-year-old Police Constable Christopher Foster appeared to have been speeding when he crashed into a stationary truck on Thursday morning in Manchester, and died. The car was virtually flattened. Over the weekend, three people were killed in two car crashes on the north coast, both apparently caused by speeding.

Police Constable Christopher Foster died in a tragic car crash.

Police Constable Christopher Foster died in a tragic car crash.

Leadership Embracing Diversity

The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Regional Headquarters, with its pale blue roof, is quite grand on the outside. Inside, it is beautiful and functional. Last Thursday afternoon, we walked through a cool hallway lined with paintings of past heads of the University to the spacious room where the “Great Leadership Debate” was about to begin.

Prizes included book tokens and other goodies.

Prizes included book tokens and other goodies.

The debate was coordinated by UWI Leads, an organization that helps to develop leadership skills among the students. It started in 2010 and supports several programs: Quality Leadership; The Live and Lead program; The Leadership Exchange Program; The Peer Leaders Program and the Leadership and Service Program. UWI Leads members were clearly visible in their red polo shirts; peer leader Adriel Howell served as a soft-spoken and charming chairperson.

UWI Leads

UWI Leads

For this debate, now an annual fixture in the calendar, UWILeads partnered with the LGBT rights group J-FLAG, under the theme “The Role of Leadership in Responding to Vulnerable Communities.” But this was not the exact topic under debate, which was: “This House would prosecute employers for all forms of discrimination.” The four competing teams had to prepare their arguments in just fifteen minutes after the topic was presented to them. A tall order, indeed.

J-FLAG logo

The J-FLAG logo includes the colors of the Jamaican flag (black, green and gold).

This was “an English parliamentary-style debate,” so there was a Prime Minister and his Deputy (University of Technology), an Opposition Leader and his Deputy, and then an additional team on each side of Parliament, so to speak – including a Whip. There was a team of adjudicators, and a moderator who was very strict. I was startled by the occasional sudden handclap from the judges and the moderator in the middle of a presentation, and to be honest didn’t understand the purpose of that. I tried to focus on the arguments. Sometimes one side tried to interrupt and the speaker would say, “Not accepted at this time!” and continue.

The room was "standing room only."

The room was “standing room only.”

After Program Director for UWI Leads Nadeen Spence had welcomed everyone (and the room was full by now) UWI’s Deputy Principal, Dr. Ishenkumbah Kahwa mentioned the importance of self-development. Education is not just about grades, he reminded the mainly student audience. He recalled his interview for a Fulbright Scholarship, and his surprise that some volunteer work he had been involved in seemed of greater importance to his interviewers than his paper qualifications.

The all-male panel of judges.

The all-male panel of judges.

One of the entities endorsing the debate was the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, which has been particularly strong in its support for LGBT rights. Public Affairs Officer Christopher Degnan informed the audience that there will be a special event at the U.S. Embassy on Friday, April 11 at 2:00 p.m. with LGBT rights activists Dennis and Judy Shepard – the parents of the 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepherd who was murdered in 1998 because of his sexual orientation. The event, “Erase the Hate: Promoting Respect and Social Tolerance,” will include a film screening of “The Laramie Project.”  More on this later.

The "Prime Minister" speaks. Apologies for the rather distant photographs  - we did not want to get too close to the speakers for fear of distracting them.

The “Prime Minister” speaks. Apologies for the rather distant photographs – we did not want to get too close to the speakers for fear of distracting them.

Ms. Rose Cameron, Director of Student Services and Development at UWI, stressed the importance of “peaceful discussion” rather than the shouting matches that too often occur. Debates such as these “break down boundaries,” Ms. Cameron suggested.

“Equality for all,” declared the “Prime Minister” (from last year’s champions, the University of Technology) as he opened the debate. There is no doubt that he and his very sharp Deputy had a much easier task than the Opposition; it’s hard to justify discrimination of any kind in the workplace. Non-discrimination, the PM and his colleague contended, would help to create a “more harmonious society,” especially important in a country like Jamaica which is seeking to develop itself.” There should be a public education program on discrimination; and clearly, an environment that  creates happier employees and greater productivity. The prosecution of employers does not, of course, guarantee that victimization will go away, but it sets a precedent and establishes boundaries. Later, the PM and his deputy stressed that the government has a “moral responsibility” to protect the vulnerable in society; they must have a sense of belonging. Employers, too, must follow the same philosophy; they have a duty to the public at large.

An "Opposition" member speaks.

An “Opposition” member speaks.

The Opposition battled valiantly – and at times, incoherently. Affirmative action was the answer, they suggested, not prosecution; but they did not clarify how this would work in practice. The Deputy Opposition Leader had a sudden fit of nerves and had to return to his desk after failing to present his argument (or even to finish a sentence). This was unfortunate, provoking comment from the audience – who were, for the most part, well-behaved, although there were waves of mutterings and the odd, pointed remark from a person in the back row.

The problem was this: Neither side effectively addressed that question “How?” They put forward (and repeated) several nice-sounding phrases. There was quite a bit of philosophizing, and the tone of the debate was admirable. But the discussion never got down to the strategies and implementation. Perhaps that would have been too much to ask. Each presenter had just seven minutes to speak, and with only fifteen minutes of preparation beforehand it would have been hard to flesh anything out. The matter of what kind of fine employers would incur did arise, along with the suggestion that a Ministry board could set up a quota system.

The winning debater from UWI Western Campus. He spoke with a flourish.

The winning debater from UWI Western Campus. He spoke with an emphatic flourish.

There were dozens of tweets from the audience and the organizers before, during and after the event. “Talks about vulnerable minorities should not stop” now that the debate has ended, said one. Another tweet said, “When you assume a leadership role, don’t be partial in your representation.” Who will speak for those vulnerable groups, if our leaders do not defend them? In closing, Rasheen Roper, the Coordinator of the UWI Leads (Gold) Program, commented that “leadership has no day off,” adding that “we need to extend ourself beyond what is safe.” Were we adequately challenged to do so, I wonder?

The winners pose for their picture.

The winners pose for their picture.

Who won, you may be asking? Not surprisingly perhaps, the “Government” side won – in the shape of UWI’s Western Campus team, who had come all the way from Montego Bay. Their presentations were energetic and focused. UTech came second. The two “Opposition” teams did not fare so well: UWI Mona Campus came third, and The Mico University fourth.

As the U.S. Embassy’s Christopher Degnan pointed out, “The vulnerable do not simply disappear, if we refuse to see them.” There is a great deal more to say on this subject. This debate was a valuable and useful exercise, but just scraped the surface.

May the discussion continue.

P.S. I wasn’t too happy with the gender balance, by the way. Out of the eight debaters, only two were women; and all five judges were men. Please, UWI Leads, do better next time, please.

Some quotes on leadership from UWI Leads:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense: in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” – Warren Bennis

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

 

 

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica: Offering Support for a Neglected Community

Tomorrow at the University of the West Indies’ Regional Headquarters on the Mona, Kingston, campus a Great Debate will take place on the topic: “The Role of Leadership in Responding to Vulnerable Populations.” The debate, to include students of the University of Technology and The Mico University will start at 2:30 p.m. and it is free and open to the public. The debate is organized by UWILeads, a group that works to develop leadership among students, in partnership with the LGBT rights group J-FLAG.

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) is a young non-governmental organization that is making a difference in the lives of one vulnerable and often forgotten community – lesbian, bisexual and women who have sex with women. Here is a recent Q and A I did recently with QCJ’s Executive Director Angeline Jackson:

Petchary: How did QCJ get started?

Angeline: QCJ officially began on January 22, 2013. Jalna (Broderick) and I had been mulling over the idea for a while and one of the major challenges we foresaw was receiving grants from international donors, (yes even before we started we were looking at that). We wanted to have a temporary way to receive funds that donors would be comfortable with. With that thought Jalna and I met with Dane Lewis to discuss the possibility of J-FLAG being our fiscal sponsor until we were registered. Dane agreed and on the same day we made the Facebook page live and officially established ourselves.

QCJ began without funds. Though we thought we had the potential to receive funding, we had decided that our work would never be solely dependent on such external support. However, with the help of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and AIDS Free World, QCJ became incorporated as a charity in September 2013 and on January 21, 2014, we received approval for non-profit status. We are the first and only registered organisation for lesbian and bisexual women in Jamaica – and as far as we know, within the English-speaking Caribbean.

Petchary: What are your plans for the next few years?

We want to become known by our constituents as an organisation that has their best interest at the forefront of all we do. Our goals are to educate, empower and enlighten lesbian, bisexual and women who have sex with women (LBWSW); to speak from a point of knowledge for the invisible community through factual data; to become the organisation that individuals look to locally, regionally and internationally for data and collaboration on LBWSW issues in Jamaica; and to broaden our scope to meaningfully serve and empower the trans* community.

Of course we would love to have an office space that our constituents can access and where we can provide services. We’d also love to have paid staff!

Petchary: What is your vision? Why do see the need for such an organization at this time?

Angeline: Our vision is to foster the enhancement of healthcare, including mental health, for lesbian, bisexual and women who have sex with other women in Jamaica ; to increase LGBT youth participation in all spheres of youth activity; and to bring awareness to our constituents on matters of health, HIV and human rights.

There is no organisation that aims to identify the needs of lesbian and bisexual women through research. For too long the needs of this community have been neglected – and at worst ignored – on the basis that there is no risk (or very low risk) for HIV. Therefore, the belief was that the community did not need much attention. As lesbians, Jalna and I found these repeated assertions unsatisfactory. As such we took the stance that since no one else was doing it and this was something that was needed, we would step in and get it done. It also helped that we had encouragement from friends.

Petchary: What was the thinking behind the name? Why did you call it QCJ?

Angeline: In July 2012, I attended the World AIDS Conference through the sponsorship of St. Paul’s Foundation. The Foundation had arranged a meeting at the World Bank; there I heard the term “quality of citizenship” from Julie Oyegun. The explanation of this phrase was that every citizen of a country, including LGBT citizens, must have the same “quality of citizenship.”  The term stayed with me.

When I got back to Jamaica I shared this idea with other activists. Perhaps my approach was wrong: I argued that the ‘donkey’ of HIV has been whipped so much that we should look at integrating citizenship into our discourse. Not everyone agreed with me, but the concept did arise in other discussions.

The name allows us to say so much, without many words; it is wide-reaching and can encompass so many issues, even under the LGBT umbrella.

Petchary: Are you optimistic about Jamaica and its issues regarding inclusiveness and diversity? How would you like to see Jamaica evolving in 10, 20 years’ time?

Angeline: I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. Activism is the rent I pay for my time on this earth.

Jalna:  Growing up I had no one to talk to, no one to help me understand what I was feeling. My goal is to ensure that no one else has to live my experience.

If we weren’t optimistic then there would be no point in working towards something better. I think things will get better, that change will come and that as LGBT Jamaicans we will be afforded the same quality of citizenship as heterosexual Jamaicans.

10 to 20 years is a good amount of time! In 10 years I would love to see a Jamaica free of that old buggery law and with it a real changing attitude among Jamaicans, which includes reduced discrimination of LGBT people, a legal system that protects victims and survivors and has a comprehensive definition of rape and an improved discourse on trans* issues and needs. In 20 years I would love to see LGBT people being able to enjoy all the benefits of being an equal citizen within this country and I would also love to see the full rights of trans* people moving forward.

Petchary: Who inspires you? Do you have role models, international or Jamaican?

Angeline: When I started activism in 2008 I had the opportunity of meeting Yvonne McCalla Sobers and Maurice Tomlinson. Both persons inspired me to aspire to justice for all, for equality. I’ve since worked closely with both and still view them as role models for me in this oftentimes daunting, terrifying and ‘political’ cause. Hilaire Sobers (often referred to as Pa) has been that person who encourages me to do, to move, to get it done! I don’t really have any international role models; however the lives and work of David Kato, Harvey Milk, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi inspire and influence how I work and give me a drive to push on and forward. Because there must be change. As Dr. King Jr says “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Jalna: Angela Jones, one of the founders of Women’s Inc., who used her experience to create a space that could empower Jamaican women, showed me that women did not have to stand in shadows, that we could speak out and do for ourselves. Ian McKnight helped develop my desire to right wrongs and strive to implement change around LGBT issues. They both impacted on the person I am. I admire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi and all the women suffragettes of the world who strove to empower, educate and inspire women to reach their full potential – women such as Margaret Sanger. However the person I admire the most is Angeline Jackson – a young woman with a fire in her belly to right the wrongs of this country and the world. She came with a drive that inspired me to put my own ideas and dreams into action; and she pushes me daily to make myself a better person.

We both try to not put the people we admire on pedestals. We recognise that they are human with their frailties and are never perfect; and we acknowledge the same within ourselves.

If you would like to support Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, the organization is on Facebook and on Twitter @qcjwomyn. You can also read much more about their achievements and activities in their first year of existence here: http://qcjm.org/yearone/ 

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

Debating Human Rights in Jamaica

Jamaicans do love a debate. And the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus keeps up the tradition every year. For 2014, UWI is partnering with J-FLAG to consider: “The Role of Leadership in Responding to Vulnerable Populations.” Tertiary level students from the University of Technology, UWI’s Western Campus and The Mico University (Jamaica’s oldest teacher training institution) will participate alongside UWI’s debaters. The “Great Debate” will take place on Thursday, March 27 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at UWI’s Regional Headquarters (that pretty building opposite the Main Gate – you can’t miss it).

J-FLAG logo

The J-FLAG logo includes the colors of the Jamaican flag (black, green and gold).

UWI Coat of Arms.

UWI Coat of Arms.

The debate will be parliamentary-style. Elizabeth Lee Martinez, Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston and Dr. Leith Dunn, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) Mona Unit will bring greetings. A panel discussion moderated by the IGDS’ Annecka Marshall will follow.

Dr. Annecka Marshall is a Lecturer at the Institute of Gender & Development Studies, UWI. (Photo: UWI)

Dr. Annecka Marshall is a Lecturer at the Institute of Gender & Development Studies, UWI. 

Dr. Leith Dunn, Institute of Gender & Development Studies, University of the West Indies. (Photo: UWI)

Dr. Leith Dunn, Senior Lecturer/Head, Institute of Gender & Development Studies, University of the West Indies. (Photo: UWI)

Elizabeth Lee Martinez, Charge d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy Kingston. (Photo: U.S. Embassy)

Elizabeth Lee Martinez, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Kingston. (Photo: U.S. Embassy)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you will find yourself there. The event is open to the public, and free. If you really can’t make it, Nationwide News Network will broadcast the event, and they have live streaming so you can listen from anywhere. (http://tunein.com/radio/Nationwide-90FM-s96597/)

Nelson Mandela, the founder of modern post-apartheid South Africa, is revered in Jamaica. However, local human rights activists are often met with skepticism. (Photo: Don McPhee/Guardian UK)

Nelson Mandela, the founder of modern post-apartheid South Africa, is revered in Jamaica. However, local human rights activists who reflect the views he espoused are often met with skepticism. (Photo: Don McPhee/Guardian UK)

There remains a strange amount of confusion on human rights issues in Jamaica. Half-truths, misconceptions, even lies. While global figures like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and others are revered, the term “human rights activist” at some point took on negative connotations when used in the domestic context. So it’s high time for such a discussion, which aims to present a wealth of research on human rights issues to the public. Moreover, it is hoped that participants and audience will come away with a deeper understanding of the need to respect the rights of every individual.

Where are the major concerns? The debate will focus on the most vulnerable in Jamaican society. We need to think about those Jamaicans forced out of their homes and communities because they are (or are suspected of being) lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). What about the young Jamaican women living with HIV, who are struggling to keep their dignity and to support themselves financially? Spare a thought for the Jamaican women who live in constant fear of physical and mental abuse from their partner; and the Jamaican girls who are “groomed” for sex and harassed by older men. What about the Jamaican men, women and children with mental and physical disabilities who are ridiculed, abused or simply ignored? Imagine living their lives for one day…

The “Great Debate” promises to be passionate, thoughtful, solutions-oriented. Let’s all ask ourselves: What happened to Jamaica’s motto, “Out of Many, One People”? Are we really living up to it?

In other words, are we embracing the beautiful diversity of our people? Are we showing respect to our fellow Jamaicans?

For further information, please contact Rasheen Roper, tel: (876) 351-0133; email: rasheenroper@gmail.com OR Latoya Nugent, tel: (876) 849-1403); email: theignosticnugent@gmail.com. 

Sunday, March 9 – Wednesday March 12, 2014

Sorry, this is going to be one of those combination, or rather belated posts on what’s happening in Jamaica. Somehow I didn’t manage my Sunday bulletin, so am carrying it all over to Wednesday. Forgive me.

Over in St. Vincent, a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Inter-Sessional summit (please don’t ask me to explain what that is) is debating those two old favorites: the legalization of ganja and reparations for slavery. Education? Employment? Crime? Freedom of movement for CARICOM nationals? Economic opportunity? Hopefully they will get a mention, and I believe the weakening economies of member states will be under discussion. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is there, in her capacity as “Chairman of the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on External Negotiations.” Not sure we knew about that before, but we know now. I wonder if we can expect a briefing (by “we” I mean the Jamaican public) on what transpired, on the PM’s return. She has taken quite a large delegation with her again, one notes.

Back home, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is making a great deal of noise now about the forthcoming Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre. A team of lawyers, headed by Opposition Justice Spokesman Alexander Williams, has been appointed to represent the interests of the residents. Things are very murky. It seems to me the JLP should have got properly involved in the proceedings from Day One. They are whining now, but were very equivocal prior to this – for reasons some of which were quite clear. The JLP is now threatening legal action if the controversial Ms. Velma Hylton remains in place as a selected Commissioner. It is accusing the ruling People’s National Party of politicking, but both are equally guilty, it seems to me. The whole thing is a royal mess already, and it hasn’t even started yet. I agree with the Gleaner: Ms. Hylton, please step aside, gracefully!

Church members protest against crime in West Kingston last Sunday. (Photo: Gleaner)

Church members protest against crime in West Kingston last Sunday. (Photo: Gleaner)

And over the weekend, the people of West Kingston went on a peace march. Minister Bunting and the Commissioner of Police were there, and a lot of hymns were sung. Television footage showed an elderly lady sitting on a rickety bench calling on the “blood of Jesus” to help them. Though all this might make people feel a little better, I doubt it will have any effect whatsoever. The Minister exhorted residents to turn “informer” on the criminals. Enough is enough, the residents parroted. I have heard that phrase many times before, and somehow it never is enough… I also suspect that a lot of people stayed at home.

All is not well in some government agencies. The entire board of the Housing Association of Jamaica has resigned; and recently the Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs was sent on leave pending investigations into irregularities at the agency, where she has served for nearly twenty years. And the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Culture is also on leave, as discussed before. The media talk about “crisis” and “controversy,” rumors flybut none of us really knows what goes on behind the scenes. We realize that sometimes people’s faces don’t fit, politically; or are they too non-political?

Discussions under the mango tree at Jamaica Environment Trust, last week. (My photo)

Discussions under the mango tree at Jamaica Environment Trust, last week. (My photo)

I wasn’t expecting much, but the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) stance on the proposed shipping port at Goat Islands is disappointing. The JLP has left its Member of Parliament Gregory Mair out in the cold…under the mango tree at Jamaica Environment Trust, where he spent some time last week. Mr. Mair’s private member motion has dropped off the order sheet in Parliament, and will not be revived, it seems.The JLP is talking out of two sides of its mouth at the same time. I guess it u weighing their options, and quite happy to sell Jamaica’s birthright down the river for the chance of backing the right horse and getting themselves elected next time around. JLP leader Andrew Holness reportedly told the Jamaica Observer that “the party is in support of the development of the hub/trans-shipment port on condition that there is no environmental threat to the Portland Bight Protected Area.” But Mr. Holness, the threat has already been established, as you well know. This may backfire on the Opposition further down the line. We shall see. Meanwhile political expediency comes first.

Oh! Our city dump is operating illegally… As we would say in social media, “smh.” I truly wonder about this government agency called the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA). I would also love to get some information on the air quality in the city from them. Does NEPA measure air quality? 

The National Environment & Planning Agency mentioned in passing last week that the Riverton City dump in Kingston is operating without a license. (Photo: Gleaner)

The National Environment & Planning Agency mentioned in passing last week that the Riverton City dump in Kingston is operating without a license. (Photo: Gleaner)

Short-sightedness: We have often said that our leaders (political and otherwise) have short-term vision only (not even medium-term, let’s face it). But there is Vision 2030. Does anyone know what it is? Is it mere words? I plan to examine the Vision 2030 document in future blog posts…

Patrons at the opening night of Bacchanal Fridays in Kingston last week…in anticipation of Carnival. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

Patrons at the opening night of Bacchanal Fridays in Kingston last week…in anticipation of Carnival. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

Meanwhile, young uptowners are girding their loins for the upcoming Carnival celebrations. Hugely expensive costumes are on sale I believe, and every Friday there is a major session to get everyone warmed up for the road march and other gyrations. If it’s your thing…enjoy! I feel nostalgic about the days when Carnival was less sophisticated and exclusive – it didn’t matter if you didn’t have a costume. And the Children’s Carnival in early years was great (we have photos of our son in various costumes, the kids just loved it). Those were the days…

Residents of West Kingston march for peace over the weekend. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

Residents of West Kingston march for peace over the weekend. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

Major Petchary bouquets for:

Senators Imani Duncan-Price (left) and Kamina Johnson-Smith, who presented on advancing leadership and gender equality in Jamaica's democracy in the Upper House last Friday. (Photo: Facebook)

Senators Imani Duncan-Price (left) and Kamina Johnson-Smith, who presented on advancing leadership and gender equality in Jamaica’s democracy in the Upper House last Friday. (Photo: Facebook)

  • Senators Imani Duncan-Price and Kamina Johnson-Smith, who presented on advancing leadership and gender equality in Jamaica’s democracy last Friday, March 7 in the Upper House. I posted Senator Duncan-Price’s presentation in my last blog post and hope to have her Opposition counterpart’s presentation shortly to share with you. A group of supporters was there, and I plan to be among them this coming Friday! All who would like to come and listen to the ongoing debate should check into Gordon House a little before 10:00 a.m. (It’s very sad that some Senators, on both sides of the political fence, chose to heckle and comment loudly throughout the presentations that these women had worked so hard on, to the extent that the Speaker of the House had to ask them to be quiet. Shame on them).
  • Food for the Poor, the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation and the Solo Jamaica Foundation on their partnership to provide badly-needed school furniture for 1,000 students – a container full. I hope that FFP will be able to achieve their goal of 30,000 desks and chairs. 
  • Tamara Nicholson, graduate student at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies and “Half the Sky” Ambassador, for her initiative in showing the film and organizing a stimulating panel discussion on sexual and gender-based violence two days before International Women’s Day. I was a panelist along with three brilliant women – Jalna Broderick of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, Georgia Love of WMW Jamaica and Inspector Winifred Moore of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA). The film “Half the Sky” can be viewed online. More in a later blog post.
Jay and me at last year's World AIDS Day event at the University of the West Indies.

Javan and me at last year’s World AIDS Day event at the University of the West Indies.

  • Youth activist Javan Campbell, one of the coolest young men I know, who has been selected as Jamaica country coordinator for the International Youth Alliance on Family Planning (IYAFP). Jay will seek to support an alliance of young individuals, youth associations, youth organizations or communities with a common mission to support provision of comprehensive reproductive health care services with a particular focus on family planning for vulnerable populations, especially youth.
Founder and chair of Alligator Head Marine Lab Francesca von Habsburg, and Principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona, Professor Archibald McDonald sign the partnership agreement for the establishment of Alligator Head Marine Lab and seven projects designed to restore the marine environment in the area. Witnessing the signing are Director of the Fisheries Division at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Andre Kong (left) and Director of the Centre for Marine Science, Professor Dale Webber. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

Founder and chair of Alligator Head Marine Lab Francesca von Habsburg, and Principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona, Professor Archibald McDonald sign the partnership agreement for the establishment of Alligator Head Marine Lab and seven projects designed to restore the marine environment in the area. Witnessing the signing are Director of the Fisheries Division at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Andre Kong (left) and Director of the Centre for Marine Science, Professor Dale Webber. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

  • Baroness Francesca von Habsburg and her art foundation Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA 21). The Baroness opened the Alligator Head Marine Lab in Portland over the weekend, on her property. The University of the West Indies (UWI), the Portland Environment Protection Association and Reef Check Dominican Republic are partners in the project, which has seven specific goals. Much needed!
Jamaica Observer's Environment Editor Kimone Thompson at a recent biodiversity workshop organized by Panos Caribbean. (My photo)

Jamaica Observer’s Environment Editor Kimone Thompson at a recent biodiversity workshop organized by Panos Caribbean. (My photo)

  • And kudos to the Jamaica Observer’s environment editor Kimone Thompson. She is doing an outstanding job in pursuing the issues and some solid reporting has resulted.

The police have released composite pictures of two men wanted in connection with the murder of a man and an infant in “Dunkirk” on Valentine’s Day. Take a look: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Police-release-sketches-of-suspects-in-Dunkirk-double-murder I guess it’s not always possible, but it would be good if they could do this for all wanted men. These actually look like real, identifiable people, so good job. Meanwhile, my deepest condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives to violence in the past week. Ms. Williams was attacked, stabbed and robbed while walking home from church…

Syril, Papine Market, St. Andrew

Livingston Garvey, 68, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine

Mario Cross, 26, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine

Keldon Wade, 31, Clifton District, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, McCook’s Pen, St. Catherine

Damion Callum, Alexandria, St. Ann

Phyllis Williams, 79, Mango Walk, Montego Bay, St. James

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington (left) meets Shackelia Jackson sister of deceased Robert Nakeia Jackson while he toured the Orange Villa community with Minister of National Security Peter Bunting after the shooting. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington (left) meets Shackelia Jackson sister of deceased Robert Nakeia Jackson while he toured the Orange Villa community with Minister of National Security Peter Bunting after the shooting. Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie is on the right. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Meanwhile, Special Constable Leighton Rose who was charged in the January 20, 2014 fatal shooting of Nakiea Jackson, a cook shop operator in Downtown Kingston, is to appear in court today.

On the road: Three people were killed in a terrible bus crash on Highway 2000 in Clarendon last night. The driver “lost control” of the vehicle (a euphemism for speeding) and was killed along with two passengers. Fourteen others remain in hospital. A 61-year-old woman was hit by two cars and killed, as she tried to cross the road near Ferry, on the Mandela Highway; and a two-year-old was killed by a motorist in Portland, as he and his mother got off the bus. Many of the pedestrians killed on the road are older persons, and the very young. Please take care!

And the back of Jay's shirt! (My photo)

And this is what Javan Campbell is all about! (My photo)

1st Annual Portland Bight Green Run!

1st Annual Portland Bight Green Run!

“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.

The Jamaica-Crimea Connection

Sounds rather odd, doesn’t it? But actually, there is one, and it’s rather interesting.

A quiet afternoon at Mary Seacole Hall. (My photo)

A quiet afternoon at Mary Seacole Hall. (My photo)

A couple of days ago I was at a women’s residence on the University of the West Indies’ Kingston campus, Mary Seacole Hall. I spoke to a group of students from the I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation, which mentors teenage girls. It was a quiet Ash Wednesday holiday; small groups of students relaxed in the courtyard in the pale sunlight. Rain hovered in the hills surrounding the campus, but none fell. Nadeen Spence (a member of the 51% Coalition), who established the group, was talking about “The Realities of Girls in Jamaica” when I arrived.

This bust of Mary Seacole is tucked away to one side of the hall of residence at the University of the West Indies. Sorry I didn't grab a more close-up photo.

This bust of Mary Seacole is tucked away to one side of the hall of residence at the University of the West Indies. Sorry I didn’t grab a more close-up photo.

The only known photographic portrait of Mary Seacole, courtesy of the Amoret Tanner Collection.

The only known photographic portrait of Mary Seacole, courtesy of the Amoret Tanner Collection.

The residential hall was named after Mary Seacole in 1957. As a woman of mixed race, she also faced many tough realities, back in colonial Jamaica and in the UK where she lived for much of her life (and where she is buried). Ms. Seacole was born in Kingston in 1805, the daughter of a “free” Jamaican woman and a Scottish army officer. (I put “free” in quotation marks because many civil rights were still denied to Mary’s family). Her mother ran a home for invalid soldiers in Kingston and this started Mary’s interest in nursing. She was married for eight years, then widowed. Then she went off on her adventures – a few years after the “full free” of Emancipation (that was August 1, 1838). Over the next few years she worked as a nurse during a cholera epidemic in Panama and worked at Up Park Camp in Kingston during a yellow fever outbreak.

Why am I telling you so much about this extraordinary pioneering woman? Well, in 1853 war broke out in the Crimea – yes, the same Black Sea peninsula where there are currently uncomfortable standoffs between militia and soldiers waving flags and guns and singing patriotic songs. It remains to be seen whether the would-be-czar Vladimir Putin decides to annex the Crimea this time around, but during the Crimean War (1853-56) Russia eventually lost to an odd alliance of the British, French, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia, after the siege of Sevastopol. It was a bitter and costly war (as they so often are) which devastated the Crimea. Since then, and throughout the last century, the Ukraine suffered terrible losses from famine and civil war – and at the hands of Stalin and Hitler. One hopes history does not repeat itself.

A commander at the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase speaks to troops under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A commander at the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase speaks to troops under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Well, Mary Seacole was determined to join Florence Nightingale in the Crimea and care for the British soldiers. She was a middle-aged woman now, and pretty much on her own except for the support of Mr. Thomas Day, a relative of her husband’s. In London, she tried to enroll as a nurse in the Crimea, but was rejected several times. In the end, she raised enough funds to get there anyway. She traveled alone with her supplies to the battlefield of Balaklava, where she set up the famous “British Hotel” for sick and wounded soldiers. When the war ended, she returned to London, completely broke. But her autobiography, “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands,” was a best-seller. A gala was held in her honor in 1857 and funds were raised to support her. She became quite close to the Royal Family at the time, received several awards, and a Count carved a bust of her.

Balaklava Harbor in the Crimean War. (Photo: Roger Fenton. www.old-picture.com)

Balaklava Harbor in the Crimean War. (Photo: Roger Fenton. http://www.old-picture.com)

Mary Seacole died in 1881. Back in England, there is an appeal for a memorial statue of her to be erected at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. You can find out more, and contribute here: http://www.maryseacoleappeal.org.uk  And you can read much, much more at http://www.maryseacole.com.

A 2005 commemorative postage stamp.

A 2005 commemorative postage stamp.

Her fame lives on. In an effort to promote black history in Britain, the website and campaign “100 Great Black Britons” was launched in 2003. Mary Seacole was voted number one on the list. The BBC aired a documentary about her; a portrait of her was discovered and now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London; biographies have been written. A move by the Education Minister to have her (and Olaudah Equiano) removed from the National Curriculum sparked a huge protest in England and a petition, signed by over 35,000 people, ensured that the Ministry changed its mind.  Yes, the British have claimed Mary Seacole as one of their own.

Jamaican journalist, dramatist and cultural activist Dr. the Hon. Barbara Gloudon. (PhotoL Institute of Jamaica)

Jamaican journalist, dramatist and cultural activist Dr. the Hon. Barbara Gloudon. (Photo: Institute of Jamaica)

(Oh, is the story of Mary Seacole included in the Jamaican school curriculum? I hope so). Meanwhile, I am thankful to Ms. Barbara Gloudon, who wrote a column about her yesterday, for inspiring this blog post. Here is her piece: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-Jamaican-woman-was-there-before-Putin_16205851 And here is an article from the conservative UK Daily Mail, subtitled: “Claims of her achievements have been hugely oversold for political reasons, says leading historian” that made me feel uncomfortable:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2255095/The-black-Florence-Nightingale-making-PC-myth-One-historian-explains-Mary-Seacoles-story-stood-up.html#ixzz2vQwA7iw5  Being a historic black figure is uncomfortable and complex, it seems…

March 8 (International Women's Day) is celebrated with lots of flowers in the Ukraine (and Russia) - mainly tulips, roses and spring flowers. I like this...

March 8 (International Women’s Day) is celebrated with lots of flowers in the Ukraine (and Russia) – mainly tulips, roses and spring flowers. I like this…

Meanwhile, I hope you all had a wonderful International Women’s Day! (Incidentally, in the Ukraine – of which the Crimea is still a part – the day is celebrated almost like Valentine’s Day, with flowers and parties for women. How do I know this? Because a blog reader told me!)

Mary Jane Seacole (née Grant) by Albert Charles Challen oil on panel, 1869 9 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in. (240 mm x 180 mm) Purchased with help from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Gallery supporters, 2008 (National Portrait Gallery)

Mary Jane Seacole (née Grant)
by Albert Charles Challen
oil on panel, 1869
9 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in. (240 mm x 180 mm)
Purchased with help from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Gallery supporters, 2008 (National Portrait Gallery)