Women in Power and Decision Making
May 29, 2016
I know that women in general have many unique challenges and accordingly are reluctant to enter public life. In my readings on the subject, I discovered that the common hindering factors include attitudinal, cultural, and structural barriers, negative perceptions of the political and parliamentary process, and the intense media scrutiny of politicians.
It is stated that despite considerable progress, in many instances, we continue to be relegated to the backseat of politics, and remain unable to meaningfully influence policy and decision making notwithstanding our roles as legislators or Ministers of Government.
As women, we have this innate multifarious ability to do many things contemporaneously, hence the capacity to do well in political life and decision making, which requires that we grasp several concepts and make life changing decisions based on various considerations all at once.
In the year 2000, the Center for Legislative Development in a Report stated that women’s decision-making role in the public sector, remains in the areas that are considered traditionally female, such as social welfare, health, tourism, and education.
Sixteen years later, we can still do much better. Women politicians in the Caribbean are scarcely found in leadership positions within traditional male turf, such as Finance, International Business, the Economy, National Security, Trade and Commerce.
I took the opportunity to revisit the portfolios held by our women Ministers in Grenada from about 1961 to the present, and discovered that our women are and have been indeed predominantly Ministers of Health, Tourism, Education, Housing, Social Affairs, and Culture.
I recall being taken to task at a forum in 2005, by a former female Minister from another Caribbean territory, for my statement about the preponderance of women in the “softer” portfolios. I still hold steadfast to my opinion based on my own research.
I vividly recall when I was catapulted into the position of President of the Senate in 2004. I emerged literally out of a political abyss into the spotlight. My detractors thought that I was too young, inexperienced and not sufficiently aligned to the party which formed the Government. My supporters believed at the time I was a good blend of “youth”, credibility, and professionalism to do justice to the office.
I had a baptism by fire in my first year of office. I was challenged at almost every juncture, including an Editor’s call for my resignation in less than six months of taking up office.
But, I remained resolutely rigid in my belief that my purpose was first and foremost to give service to the people of my country, and not only to those who appointed me, for whatever the duration of my office.
It is a difficult and challenging journey to get to the seat of power, and even more so, to retain it and use it for the greater good. The tragedy is that more often than not, we get the least support and the most opposition from our own gender.
We must rethink our goals, strategies, and tactics, if we are to secure our rightful place as decision makers in all spheres of society. Most importantly, when women do attain these positions of power, we must support, encourage and elevate other women to achieve the greater mission; not conspire, contrive and divide, to force them to fail.
We must build and assert ourselves to be recognized and encouraged to be CEO’s, COO’s, and CFO’s, and wherever else a difference can be made, and an impact felt in traditionally male dominated areas.
I am mindful that while in the seat of power, we must strike the delicate balance of maintaining femininity in an otherwise masculine environment. If we cry, we are considered emotional; if we are assertive, we are considered aggressive; if we are authoritative, we are considered autocratic.
The challenge therefore is to move beyond tokenism; to jettison ourselves into positions where we can influence issues and policy agendas in diverse non-traditional areas such as climate change, information technology, business, international trade and politics, and their impact on small island states. In short, dilute and remove the gender based stereotypes for power and decision making.
THE WAY FORWARD
I urge that women cannot become complacent even at a time when more and more of us mainstream into public life in some form. Many of us are guilty that when we do mainstream, we forget the foundation upon which we stand, forget that there are others to mentor and encourage, and forget that we need to ‘keep gender on the agenda’.
I wish to provoke a different challenge to women in the movement beyond tokenism, and that is to actively forge a new era of ethics in politics, power, and decision-making.
We must launch this construct both as the underlying foundation and supporting columns for a new and rejuvenated platform, intended to inspire our young women to effective leadership and decision making positions.
We must refuse to be persuaded by token titles of leadership with limited or no power to force effective change in our society.
This must be our solemn task for the next decade.
(Leslie-Ann Seon is a former President of the Senate and this article was inspired by the recent rejuvenation of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus in Grenada)