Woman power

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THE emergence of more women in the political process has been met with positive responses from professionals of the same gender, who also believe that more should be done to further encourage their broader participation.

Of the 126 candidates from the two major political parties who will run in the September 3 General Election, 31 (25 per cent) are women — a record for Jamaica, which has seen a long history of women in politics, though they have never dominated the sex numbers game.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) named 19 women candidates, while the People’s National Party (PNP) named 12 who will be in the mix for a share of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. Minority parties had not given their gender breakdown as the Jamaica Observer headed to press yesterday.

But, despite the record number of woman candidates, political analysts say it is important that the selection is not scoffed at as mere tokenism.

“There is a principle in politics and decision-making called critical mass,” political analyst and gender specialist Nadeen Spence told the Sunday Observer yesterday. “Critical mass is a principle which says you need a certain number of people at the decision-making table for decisions to go in the direction of the people they represent. So 30 per cent is what is represented as critical mass. If you have 30 per cent of people in a decision-making space, then it is likely that the situation can work to the benefit of people seeking to represent women,” she stated.

Former Cabinet minister and retired Member of Parliament Maxine Henry Wilson shared similar sentiments regarding the selection of women candidates as potential tokens in the political campaign.

“I trust the motivation is not just a part of being involved in public light, but that there is a very clear agenda about how they are going to ensure there is a promotion of women’s rights and general mainstreaming of gender policies and gender consideration. I haven’t heard much about that from any of the two sides,” Henry Wilson said.

At the same time, consultant emergency medicine physician at University Hospital of the West Indies Dr Romayne Edwards hailed the upward movement of women in politics:

“This is unprecedented and definitely a move in the right direction that more women will offer themselves for representational politics. We had our first woman prime minister in 2006, and since then we are steadily making inroads on the political landscape,” stated Dr Edwards, a Manchester native who keeps a close watch on political occurrences.

In stressing the danger of tokenism, Spence posed the question: “Is it because people recognise that there is this recognition that women need to be at the table, so we throw in women?”

She added: “What they need to do is make the playing field level, or as close to level as possible.”

In this regard, Spence said it is important to look at each constituency that has women representatives, look who are their opponents, look at the history of voting in the constituency, and determine the likelihood of these women making it to Parliament.

“It’s a good thing we have about 25 per cent of candidates entering being women. I don’t think that has ever happened before, so it’s breaking or at least cracking a glass ceiling as it relates to the number of candidates in the general election. We don’t know if it will happen next time, but we look for it to be sustained to see if it is removing a glass ceiling,” Spence said.

“I trust that on the issue of women’s rights — encouraging more women to participate at the representational level — that those who are there now will see that as a part of their mission and mandate, and it’s not just a question of ‘Oh, I have reached or acquired this status,’ and that their representation, both in and out of Parliament, will depict that kind of platform. So it’s a welcomed development. Whether it happened by chance or it was a deliberate strategy by the parties, I don’t know. But whatever it is, the outcome is a desirable one and a commendable one,” Spence added.

Dr Edwards is hoping for more to emerge from women, known internationally to be less corrupt than men.

“Politics is often male-dominated, and hence this informs the perspectives of governance in Jamaica. Hopefully, with more women coming forward and able to pull off wins to increase the number of females in the House of Representatives, a broader perspective will be afforded,” she argued.

And, Henry Wilson called on both political parties to develop a policy around female representation that builds and encourages it, whilst giving them additional support for their campaign.

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