“It depends on us”: Jamaica poised to join Caribbean Women in Leadership

It will be a new chapter. All the women who joined a recent planning meeting in a Kingston hotel recently agreed. The meeting was convened by Una May Gordon, who as former Principal Director of the Climate Change Division was full of an energy and drive that I greatly admired. Those qualities are still there in abundance, and in Una May’s empowering smile, accompanied by a slightly stern style of delivery. The group consisted of several women politicians from both sides of the fence (including Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Donna Scott-Mottley, Opposition Spokesperson on Justice, among others), as well as members of civil society. Unfortunately, I did not take photographs.

What was the planning for? To establish a Jamaican Chapter of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Women in Leadership (CWiL). CWiL describes itself as “a non-partisan and independent, flagship networking organization committed to advancing women’s transformational leadership, and to increase the numbers of women in leadership and decision making in political and civic life.”

With some 300 – 350 registered members, CWiL has eight chapters: in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, the Bahamas (its largest, with some 100 members), Antigua and Barbuda (a small one), Grenada, and St. Kitts & Nevis – which is the oldest national chapter. It has a major focus on training (it has produced a training manual), besides mentorship and support for women’s leadership, not only in politics but in other spheres.

There is quite a bit of flexibility in CWiL’s programming, and how the Jamaican Chapter might develop, Una May said firmly, is “up to us.”

In many ways, this is timely. Despite an unexpected last-minute interruption by a male Opposition Senator at the last sitting of the Upper House, the Women’s Parliamentary Bicameral Caucus, championed by Gender Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange and Senator Johnson Smith, was celebrated earlier this month, having been approved on December 13, 2022. The first all-woman sitting of Parliament will take place on February 21, 2023.

Leadership matters. And women’s leadership matters. I am very fond of the writer, traveler and “renaissance man” Robert Louis Stevenson. He once wrote:

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” 

Indeed, a lot of leadership is about courage – and boldness. As far as women’s leadership in Jamaica is concerned (I think that political leadership was the primary focus at the meeting) there is a great need to leap over the obstacles, internal and external. This was veteran women’s rights campaigner and community mobiliser Linnette Vassell’s concern. In her remote contribution to the meeting, she challenged those present: What are the barriers to participation? What divides us – is it race, class, gender identity, or all of them? How can Jamaican women overcome these barriers, and truly come together despite (or because of) our differences, as one? How can Jamaica’s women’s movement (which has been fragile and fragmented) regenerate?

There is a popular phrase: “transformational leadership.” What kind of leadership is that? It’s the kind that brings about change. And change is needed, in the nature of power and the exercise of power. Despite what the men say (!) Jamaican women are not doing as well as they could be. And, despite several well-meaning efforts, a cohesive women’s movement has not quite come together over the past decade or so in Jamaica.

Linnette Vassell knows and understands a great deal about the way women’s groups have developed in Jamaica. From her tremendous experience, she said, you have to be practical. Conditions may not be perfect, but sometimes you have to just move forward “in good faith” and try to make it work, “without rancour.”

So, CWiL will hold its Annual General Meeting in February, and the meeting, which was very well attended by the way, agreed that a proposal for the Jamaican Chapter should go forward.

Of course that essential ingredient, vision, cannot be left out, and it helps to move things along in the right direction.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is another of my favourite thinkers and writers. He once said (I would substitute “women” for “men”):

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Una May Gordon: an example of transformational leadership (and she has a new, really slim look). What an inspiration! (Photo: Twitter)

8 thoughts on ““It depends on us”: Jamaica poised to join Caribbean Women in Leadership

    1. Thank you, Diana! You are more than welcome to join! Let me know if you wish to. It’s very important to be non-partisan and inclusive. I am hopeful that there is good stuff to come.


  1. Dear Emma, Thanks so much. You beautifully captured the spirit and intent of CIWiL which is guiding the formation of the Jamaica Chapter. The best is yet to come. Judith


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