Three Jamaican women who worked for women and the most vulnerable

International Women’s Day was a bit of a blur for me, as I was so busy. It was warmly embraced by many. Social media was swamped with memes, videos, and photo-ops. My bank gave me a lovely cup cake. WhatsApp was filled with empowering messages. There is certainly plenty about Jamaican women to recognize and applaud.

This reminded me that for some time I have been meaning to write a little tribute to two women who stood for justice for men and women, at home and sometimes abroad too. Now, sadly, I am going to add a third Jamaican woman.

I took this photo of Nancy Anderson, deep in thought, at a workshop a few years ago.

It is funny, though. After people have passed on, I can still hear their voice, echoing in my head. That sounds a little weird, I know, but true. So, in my mind I can still hear the voice of Nancy Anderson: soft, insistent, and with a lilt in it that came from her “Jamaicanized” accent – she was born in Michigan and first arrived in Jamaica in 1969 as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer. She also had a great little chuckle and a wry sense of humor. I wrote about Nancy for Global Voices last year, pointing out that she participated in a number of major human rights cases in local and regional jurisdictions. She represented Shanique Myrie, who successfully sued the Barbadian government for unlawful detainment, in a high-profile case heard at the Caribbean Court of Justice. Apart from being a strong voice for justice, she was a wonderful mentor and teacher, inspiring many budding lawyers at the Norman Manley Law School. She was especially concerned with the plight of inmates in our prisons – not a particularly “sexy” cause but one she embraced deeply. And she never did any “grandstanding.”

A thoughtful discussion: Dr. Glenda Simms in conversation with Father Sean Major Campbell at an event in 2015. (My photo)

Another woman whose voice I will never forget is Dr. Glenda Simms. It was a deep, firm voice, sometimes a little gravelly, and it carried far with a ring to it. Glenda was awesome and could even seem intimidating to some, but this strong, dark-skinned woman from rural St. Elizabeth was warm and had empathy in spades. I recall that she was one of the first Jamaicans to start talking about human trafficking on the island, around the year 2005, and got the police to put a stop to what turned out to be a weekly “market” of young women to work in clubs, in Culloden, Westmoreland. At the time very few Jamaicans knew this was happening, or the dangers of this deadly trade for our most vulnerable women. As head of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, she worked closely with our first woman Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller. Her life was service, with an upper case “S.”

Two books by Evelyn Smart.

Just today, I heard news that Evelyn Smart, a co-founder of the Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus (JWPC) died last Friday (March 11) at the age of 93. I remember her deep commitment to the JWPC and to empowering women to take political office. She was focused and determined. And her voice was very “school-teacherly” (in a good way). I certainly learned a lot from her about the status of Jamaican women, when I started working at the U.S. Embassy. Our office (the U.S. Information Service at the time) supported the JWPC’s founding, and we were always involved with Evelyn. She was “likkle” in stature but “tallawah” (strong) in spirit.

Nancy passed away on November 29, 2021. Glenda died on New Year’s Eve this year, at the age of 82.

Whether it is International Women’s Day or not, there is no need to pay lip service – just celebrate good women when you meet them. Encourage and support them wherever and whenever you can. I am ending with this comment from African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay, because I think all three of these women would agree with it:

“Ignore the glass ceiling and do your work. If you’re focusing on the glass ceiling, focusing on what you don’t have, focusing on the limitations, then you will be limited.”

Ava DuVernay

6 thoughts on “Three Jamaican women who worked for women and the most vulnerable

  1. Thanks Emma. You say it all very well. Your powerful tribute to three Jamaican LIONHEART GALS who served us all with deep passion and commitment and nuff nuff hard work. Judith


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