I attended the function hosted by the Ministry of Social Protection to celebrate International Women’s Day. It was a grand event which reflected planning and thought. Both were well executed. Minister Amna Ally and her team of workers deserve the highest commendation. The First Lady, Mrs Sandra Grange’s address was on target and so were the other presentations.
I am wedded to the concept of ancestral piety because no matter how a tree flourishes we must always pay attention to its roots.
And so it is, that I remember those women who earlier kicked down the doors of prejudice around the world to demand their rights as normal human beings.
The likes of Susan B Anthony who inveighed against a system where women in North America were not allowed to vote and at a time where Africans there and elsewhere were still slaves, she posed the question “Are women persons?” (1873). In our Mother Country at the turn of the century (1913) in the continuing campaign in Britain for women to have their suffrage, Emily Pankhurst with many like-minded females said her famous words, “I am here as a soldier.”
More recently, on November 23, 1974, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India contended that it was important the women of India be given equal opportunity.
We remember Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou resisting the discriminatory laws which existed particularly in the southern states of the USA.
I admired Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of Great Britain, better known as the ‘Iron Lady’ because she ‘manfully’ dealt with issues in Europe and beyond.
These ‘gallant girls’ used their reticules to slap the faces of the male chauvinists of the day.
My favourite female was Yaa Asantewaa, that courageous heroine and Queen Mother of Ejisu, of the Ashanti Empire, Gold Coast, West Africa. Her bravery must be seen against the background of several Anglo-Ashanti wars, and the arrogance of certain British governors, one who demanded the Ashanti to hand over the Golden Stool, and other acts of unbelievable boldness, disrespect and disregard for the Africans.
In 1900, Yaa led the Ashanti rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool or the Yaa Asantewaa War and organised forces to attack the British Fort in Kumasi. She is my woman of women.
At home, for the first time, women made it to our legislative assembly in 1953 and as a young activist I remembered the joy it brought when the 3 J’s (Jane Phillips-Gay, Janet Jagan and Jessie Burnham) immaculately attired in white suits led the PPP parliamentarians through the grounds up to the Chambers of Parliament. Mrs Janet Jagan later became our first female executive President.
In all of our struggles, we had women who sacrificed everything for the independence struggle. I remember when the police fired tear gas outside the Electricity Company, Kingston, Upper Water Street. We were demonstrating the harshness of the late ʼ50s and early ʼ60s.
I recall the police party lobbing a tear gas grenade. Elsie Skeete better known as ‘Reds’ of Agricola, ripped off her skirt and caught the grenade before it hit the ground. A remarkable feat even as we men were retreating. I witnessed this unbelievable bravery of a woman, I say we must not forget them.
Others, to name a few, were Beatrice Rowland aka Black Bee, Gertrude Alsopp, Carmen Clarke, Carmen Vieira, Mrs Vieira of Agricola, West Coast Berbice posse and dozens of others who supported the struggle for justice and independence,
Nearer in time, Ms Viola Burnham, Shirley Field-Ridley, Winifred Gaskin, Hyacinth Goddette, Beryl Simon, Rajcoomarie Singh, and the ladies of the Rayman family worked assiduously to break the bonds which traditionally made women inferior.
I remember the hot water, a certain gentleman found himself in when at a wedding ceremony in the ʼ70s, a minister of religion in Georgetown insisted that women and men must sit in separate sections of his church. The wife protested by
walking out but the husband remained. When he returned home all hell broke loose.
Female ministers, members of parliament, female managers and others who now hold high office in the several professions must know that they owed their status to the work and courage of those females who blazed the trail that they now travel on.
Perhaps, Minister Ally may wish to consider assembling a team to prepare a dossier in time for next year Women’s International Day. This should be inspirational and would be a best seller.