GEN­DER EQ­UITY IN PO­LIT­I­CAL REP­RE­SEN­TA­TION

The Star (St. Lucia) - - WOMEN’S DAY - By

IDr. Gail Rigob­ert n Oc­to­ber of last year, I was in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in a con­fer­ence in St. Croix, USVI en­ti­tled “Caribbean Women of Po­lit­i­cal Distinc­tion”. As I re­flect on this year’s theme for In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, “Make It Hap­pen”, I feel I should share the essence of my pre­sen­ta­tion as I am con­vinced it has much wider rel­e­vance be­yond the po­lit­i­cal sphere.

The ne­ces­sity for women can­di­dates to pro­mote them­selves or one an­other will one day dis­ap­pear. To the ex­tent that a fo­rum such as this finds it­self on a cam­paign cal­en­dar, tells us that we, women politi­cians, have some dis­tance to go, some more bar­ri­ers to dis­man­tle, be­fore we re­al­ize a sem­blance of gen­der eq­uity in the dis­tri­bu­tion of power.

Our very pres­ence here and par­tic­i­pa­tion be­lie any no­tion of gen­der bal­ance in po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. As much as we may want to ap­plaud the strides that have been made, there is a sub­con­scious aware­ness that we are still aber­ra­tions – ex­cep­tions to the norm!

I won­der to what ex­tent my very par­tic­i­pa­tion can be deemed a sub­con­scious ac­cep­tance that I as a woman find my­self in a space that I do not nat­u­rally be­long to or that I have cho­sen a pro­fes­sion that does not see women as nat­u­ral as­pi­rants. And, whether in­ad­ver­tently, I am sub­scrib­ing to a non-truth about my own strength and ca­pac­ity.

A few years ago while lec­tur­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of the West Indies, a vis­it­ing Afro-Amer­i­can male pro­fes­sor asked me, “How do you feel as a black fe­male lec­turer on this cam­pus?” Thanks to the provo­ca­tion of his ques­tion, I re­al­ized, OMG, I am black, a uni­ver­sity lec­turer, and in­ci­den­tally fe­male. It dawned on me that it was ei­ther I had no self aware­ness or I had re­jected eth­nic and gen­der as­crip­tions.

Cu­ri­ously, at the last na­tional elec­tions in Saint Lu­cia in Novem­ber 2011, in my con­stituency of Mi­coud North, I was one of three fe­male can­di­dates con­test­ing the elec­tions. I beat the other two. The news sim­ply re­ported that I had emerged the win­ner in a three-way fight against two other women. Who knows, had they been men, the news might have been punc­tu­ated with all kinds of ad­jec­tives like for­mi­da­ble, in­domitable, etc., but I had sim­ply beaten two other women. So what!

You and I (we?) fe­male politi­cians can en­joy the priv­i­lege of be­ing in public of­fice be­cause other women be­fore us lost their lives, suf­fered abuse, em­bar­rass­ment, hu­mil­i­a­tion, shed their blood, in­vested sweat and tears so that we could be here to­day. What are we do­ing to en­sure that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of fe­male politi­cians do not have to con­front the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers and the psy­cho­log­i­cal hur­dles that char­ac­ter­ize the paths to higher po­lit­i­cal of­fice?

Do we be­come so im­pris­oned by the pa­ram­e­ters that have been set, that our own po­lit­i­cal sur­vival and suc­cess as­sume great­est pri­or­ity and we in­ad­ver­tently ne­glect to make pro­vi­sions for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions? Or do we for­get that there is a greater free­dom for which we must fight? The view from the top of the lad­der—spec­tac­u­lar and breath­tak­ing as it may be—does lit­tle for hu­mankind or wom­ankind if you are up there alone. And never shall your le­gacy be that you were the first or only woman to have done such and such. The hall­mark of a true leader is that he/she would have repli­cated him or her­self sev­eral times over so that good suc­ces­sion is as­sured. In fact, any good teacher or role model would want that those who fol­low be sev­eral times bet­ter than you ever were!

Our goal is to en­sure that we mold enough women so that po­lit­i­cal par­ties would not feel pres­sured to have poster girls but that women in higher of­fice or women in elec­tive pol­i­tics would be­come part of the po­lit­i­cal sta­ple and so a con­fer­ence such as this will be ren­dered re­dun­dant. I do not see the men host­ing any con­fer­ence en­ti­tled, “Caribbean Men of Po­lit­i­cal Distinc­tion”.

Women, that which is spe­cial about you – con­trary to much of what we’ve been taught – is that there is an in­nate strength, un­der­stand­ing, com­pas­sion, re­silience, tenac­ity, prag­ma­tism, and sen­si­tiv­ity that pre­dis­pose you to be­ing a fine and suc­cess­ful politi­cian. Use your wom­an­hood as a source of strength. It is not a hand­i­cap.

We should not be de­terred by the deroga­tory ways in which we are some­times de­scribed, nor feel put down by the sex­ist and of­fen­sive lan­guage that is used in an at­tempt to di­min­ish us. Th­ese psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional traps should be a thing of the past. Shake off the shack­les that seek to re­strain us, to deny us and the world the ben­e­fit of our tal­ent, strength and in­put. Dis­as­sem­ble, re­fute and de­bunk mis­con­strued no­tions of who we re­ally are.

Our com­pas­sion must not be mis­rep­re­sented as weak­ness. Our de­lib­er­ate and care­fully con­sid­ered in­ter­ven­tion must not be deemed as in­de­ci­sion or be­ing slow to act. Our de­sire for com­pre­hen­sive, wellthought out, mul­ti­fac­eted ap­proaches that are all in­clu­sive (es­pe­cially of the marginal­ized dis­pos­sessed and the voice­less) must not be com­i­cally re­played as a point­less quest for saint­hood.

Our bod­ies and sex­u­al­ity should not be a pref­ace to con­ver­sa­tion. In fact, those should not fea­ture in any con­ver­sa­tion. Cam­paigns and other so­cial pro­grams must never hinge on our fem­i­nin­ity. And, most im­por­tantly, we are no­body’s poster girl; we are not to be the to­ken fe­male that af­fords our party the ex­cuse of be­ing all-em­brac­ing of women. We are to en­sure that we are equal par­tic­i­pants, with equal stake, well po­si­tioned to of­fer equal, if not bet­ter, rep­re­sen­ta­tion with equal ac­cess to the higher ech­e­lons of our party.

We are all beau­ti­ful hu­man be­ings im­bued with cer­tain qual­i­ties that are no less than that which may re­side within our male coun­ter­parts. So, as you leave here, re­cal­i­brate your think­ing about your­selves, your ca­pac­i­ties, and your right­ful place in the world. I wish all of you tremen­dous suc­cess as you tap into your wom­an­hood and give shape and def­i­ni­tion to the world in which we live.

Dr. Rigob­ert is the MP for Mi­coud North and Leader of the Op­po­si­tion in Saint Lu­cia.

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