Is there a glass ceiling for Bahamian women in politics?
By Melisa Hall
Margaret Thatcher, England’s first female prime minister, stated that “if you want something said ask a man and if you want something done ask a woman”.
I feel that this quote is so relevant to the success of the political party that will be victorious because no matter what your political affiliation is, if you are seeking to be victorious in this election it’s going to take the support of the Bahamian female voter.
This was confirmed nationally on April 10, where it was reported that Hubert Ingraham stated: “Women will decide the outcome of the next general election.”
The statistics indicated that registered female voters outnumber male registered voters by 20,000 – of which we all know is not surprising. When we take an international perspective, we see that in the United States there is also much political debate about the role that women will play in its elections, and the echo remains the same: Women will decide who wins the 2012 election.
With statistics and statements like these, it clearly indicates how significant, powerful and influential we are as women. We have the power to make or break things, we determine who will win or lose, consequently our individual decisions will corporately and politically impact our nation.
However, if we as Bahamian women have so much power and influence to make such determinations for our country, why are we so underrepresented in the political arena and why have we yet to elect a female prime minister? Is this trend indicative of the notion that politics is a man’s world and women belong in their homes and should remain in the private realm as opposed to the public realm?
Women in politics
While we must acknowledge the significant strides women have made in politics there is indeed a grave level of underrepresentation. Under the current government administration there are only five female members of Parliament out of the 41. They are Loretta Butler-Turner and Verna Grant from the Free National Movement (two). And from the Progressive Liberal Party there are three, which include Glenys Hanna-Martin, Cynthia “Mother” Pratt and Melanie Griffin.
When we look at the female political candidates who have had the courage to step forward to either enter or remain in the political arena we see that there is hope for an increase in the representation of women in politics. The Free National Movement has nine female candidates, the Progressive Liberal Party has five and the Democratic National Alliance has six female candidates.
Having said that, we see that women in The Bahamas have ascended and advanced to high ranking official positions like that of female presidents of the Court of Appeal, governor general, heads of the Senate and, as mentioned, members of Parliament. But the only time we have seen any female rise anywhere near the position of prime minister other than in the capacity of “acting” was under the Progressive Liberal Party administration when Cynthia “Mother” Pratt was the deputy prime minister.
Therefore, we must ask the question as to whether or not there exists for Bahamian women in politics a glass ceiling, as we have yet to see equal representation in Parliament or even near the 30 percent desired quota that is advanced and advocated around the world for women representation in Parliament.
When we take a look globally and even more closely at our Caribbean sister nations, we see that culturally there has been an acceptance of female prime ministers and presidents like Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica, Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago, the late Janet Jagan of Guyana, the late Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, who served for 15 years, and Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, who served for a period of 10 years.
From a biblical perspective, we see that women like Deborah and Esther were instrumental in saving nations. For example, when the Israelities were oppressed by Jabin the King of Canaan, Deborah prevailed upon Barak, the head captain of the army, to face the Assyrian General Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s Army in battle. With the help of Barak and Jael, another woman, the Israelites achieved an unlikely victory over Sisera’s force and there was peace in the land for 40 years.
In a radio interview on Gems 105.9 on April 14, on the weekly women’s radio show, “Business, Money & Women”, I asked two courageous female political candidates of their opinions as to whether or not they felt there was a glass ceiling for Bahamian women in politics and why they felt The Bahamas has yet to elect a female prime minister. Both candidates shared similar opinions. Kelphene Cunningham, the Democratic Nation Alliance (DNA) candidate for Garden Hills, said she did not think that there exists a glass ceiling and that it’s all about timing and at the right time we as women would achieve that major accomplishment.
Cleola Hamilton, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) candidate for South Beach, said there were no limits to what we can accomplish as women and that gender does not play a significant role in what one achieves.
I must say that I admire both of these women for offering themselves for political service at such a crucial time like this. However, does this mean that perhaps in our next generation we would see the rise of a female prime minister?
According to the historical data we see that women can handle power and that we can and will take charge where and when we are needed. Women are indeed breaking down barriers around the world and shattering the so-called “glass ceiling”. While there are many mixed opinions about “the glass ceiling” notion I want you to know that while it is real and wrong, we as women must be careful not to create our own ceilings by placing virtual limits upon ourselves to explain our lack of progress, disappointments and circumstances beyond our control.
While we need more powerful women represented in Parliament, it does not mean that we must take power away from men to accomplish this. What we need to do is create and embrace our own power.
When will we break through?
We should note that in the past we have seen many other Bahamian women break glass ceilings in their respective areas, like that of Janet Bostwick who was the first female member of Parliament elected, attorney general of The Bahamas and the first to act as deputy prime minister; Dame Ivy Dumont, first female governor general of The Bahamas; Italia Johnson, the first female speaker of the House of Assembly; Dr. Doris Johnson, the first female president of the Senate, with Sharon Wilson as the second; Ruby Ann Cooper-Darling, first woman to register to vote.
We also see that as we study the lives of successful women that women do have the power to break through barriers, ceilings, or societal limitations that may arise. However, we as women must work together to help each other succeed. When one of us succeeds we all succeed.
For those of you who may have career, entrepreneurial or political aspirations but perceive that there is a glass ceiling that may prevent you from progressing, here are few things you can do to achieve your goals to shatter the glass above your head.
1. Be courageous and strategic: Have a plan for your career and for the climb up the political ladder. Network strategically with men and women. Find a mentor and a coach. Have a system and a support system.
2. Be prepared to take risks: Remember Queen Esther in the Bible. She was automatically excluded because of her background and where she came from, and she could have claimed a “glass ceiling exemption”. She yet went from orphan to Queen by stepping out of her traditional role to change the course of history.
3. Be prepared, have a strong sense of purpose, confidence and patience: You must prepare yourself, educationally, financially, spiritually and politically. Know what your purpose is and be confident in knowing that while obstacles and trials may come you have the power to overcome and break through barriers.
4. Remember successful people leave clues: You should study the lives of successful women to see how did they break through, what set them apart and what skills or expertise they possessed.
As we prepare to go to the voting polls on May 7, it is important that we as women make sound decisions about the future of this nation which will affect future generations. Remember the power that is within us to merge together to make a difference and that as we are the determining persons who will decide who wins the election, we will also decide whether or not we will become personally empowered to play a significant political role in our government.
Finally, we must ask ourselves in which generation will we follow suit and elect a female prime minister? Is it in my generation, or my daughter’s generation?
• MELISA HALL is an attorney, advocate for women empowerment and business coach. To find out more information you may contact her at 341-2204, reach her via Facebook, Twitter or email her at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Apr 27, 2012