51% Coalition and UN Women Partner to Build Women as a Political Constituency

These are difficult times in Jamaican politics. The traditional way of doing things is simply not working any more, despite the best efforts of politicians and their followers to cling to the “status quo.” Civil society has become better informed and more demanding. Social media is playing its part in raising awareness and political discourse. One egregious and persistent concern is the lack of diversity in politics – and in particular, the low percentage of women in decision-making roles in the political sphere. With the election season upon us (albeit with no known date for general elections, yet) the 51% Coalition has embarked on an ambitious project, funded by UN Women, to address this and to help strengthen the participation and active roles of women in Jamaican politics. This can only be for the benefit of all. Please support this project, and listen out for more news soon!

Below is the 51% Coalition press release. Do follow the Coalition on Facebook, Instagram and on Twitter @51Coalition and stay informed on issues of great importance to Jamaican women!

Jean Lowrie-Chin (right) was among 51% Coalition members who worked through many complex issues at the Tea and Talk event on December 15. (Photo: 51% Coalition)
Businesswoman Jean Lowrie-Chin (right) was among 51% Coalition members and newcomers who worked through many complex issues at the Tea and Talk event on December 15. (Photo: 51% Coalition)

51% Coalition and UN Women Partner to Build Women as a Political Constituency

Kingston, Jamaica: Could Jamaica be described as an“unfinished democracy”? If so, what are the missing factors? One of these should be the active, impactful and visible participation of women in all areas of the society. Jamaica has made minimal progress in bridging the “Global Gender Gap”* since 2006 – in particular in the area of political representation, which since Adult Suffrage in 1944 has been well below 20 per cent.

This is a discouraging trend. It is not only obvious in Jamaica, but also throughout the Caribbean region. It is one that needs to be reversed. With this in mind, the 51% Coalition: Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment recently embarked on a six-month project, funded by UN Women that aims to build a “women’s political constituency.” This means, among other things, encouraging women, despite their difference, for example, in partisan political affiliation to identify and pursue common objectives to address the issues we care and are passionate about. This will help strengthen the island’s democracy and improve accountability through the inclusion and empowerment of women at different levels of society. In fact, working to support women in decision-making roles has been a core mandate of the Coalition since its establishment in November 2011.

Until June 2016, the Coalition will work with a diverse group of women leaders and voting citizens of all political persuasions in a series of consultations, working groups and meetings in urban and rural areas. The project will provide civil society (in the broadest possible sense) and women’s organizations with tools that will help them advocate for women’s equal participation in electoral politics and national leadership, within a specific timeframe: 2015 – 2017. The project will also cement active alliances with important stakeholders (including political parties, the private sector and the Electoral Office of Jamaica), resulting in a stronger and broader platform for gender equality issues, women’s leadership and citizen awareness. The program will also include the gathering, reporting and publication of key research data, analysis and policy findings all relating to women’s leadership issues. It is hoped this will be of future benefit to non-governmental and political organizations.

So what are the major concerns to be tackled within this context? At the first consultation with a wide cross-section of individuals and organizations in Kingston on December 15, participants brain-stormed “burning issues” that they would like to see addressed with some urgency. At the top of the list was gender-based violence, which has almost become a societal “norm,” and the prevailing “culture” of violence against women and girls. Economic survival shared top spot on the list of concerns. Higher unemployment, much higher levels of unpaid work and inequality of pay are key obstacles to women’s economic progress; Jamaican women earn approximately 60 per cent of their male counterparts’ pay, for example. Unfortunately, discrimination against women also remains a real and worrying issue. Participants in the meeting also expressed concerns about the poor portrayal of women in the media; the impact of climate change and disaster management on women; and reproductive health and rights.When consultations with rural women begin (three are planned for January) concerns may of course vary.

Non-governmental organizations in Jamaica have played a key role in promoting dialogue on many of these issues in the past two decades, and the 51% Coalition is no exception. It is an inclusive alliance of women that is non partisan in nature, comprised of women of various faiths and beliefs, women’s organizations and partnership groups formalizing a substantial collaboration over a number of years. The 51% Coalition seeks to promote gender equality on public boards and is working to secure quotas to advance women’s participation in decision-making. Its broader goal is the effective implementation of the National Policy on Gender Equality and the achievement of the Jamaican Government’s Vision 2030.

On this project, as with all its work, the Coalition will exercise a high degree of transparency. It encourages feedback from the public and all stakeholders, as part of a healthy and vibrant democratic conversation. This will contribute to the anticipated success of the project and to continued dialogue going forward after its completion next June.

*The World Economic Forum “Global Gender Gap Report 2015” places Jamaica 65th out of 145 countries.

For further information on the 51% Coalition, contact Nikeisha Sewell Lewis. Tel: 929 8873 or Email: 51percentcoalitionjm@gmail.com

Women discuss the issues most important to them at the 51% Coalition's "Tea and Talk" consultation on December 15. (Photo: 51% Coalition)
Women discuss the issues most important to them at the 51% Coalition’s “Tea and Talk” consultation on December 15. (Photo: 51% Coalition)







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