Gertrude Roberts (left), Doreen Paul

“The Powerful Women Of UWP Will Ensure That Our Women Get Proper Attention”.

The above caption was taken from the Centre of page 27 of the United Workers Party 1990 Manifesto, with the pictures of Hon. Vernice Bellony and Hon. Gertrude Roberts above, and the pictures of Hon. Doreen Paul and Senator Bernie Didier below. In bringing forward such a large number of women as candidates, the UWP  did justice to UN Resolutions 37/63 adopted by the General Assembly, 90th plenary meeting on 3 December 1982 on the Participation of Women in Promoting International Peace and Co-operation and was ahead of the UN recommendation which was to come in 1995.

Part I. Article 1 of the declaration reads as follows: “Women and men have an equal and vital interest in contributing to international peace and co-operation. To this end women must be enabled to exercise their right to participate in the economic, social, cultural, civil and political affairs of society on an equal footing with men. “…By 1995 the United Nations went on to recommended that at least 30 percent of all decision-making bodies be female, especially parliaments, cabinets, and other political and policy-level structures.

UWP believed in this vital role of our women in 1990, and UWP believes it now and beyond.

Of these powerful women, Hon Gertrude Roberts and Hon Doreen Paul were elected to Parliament in 1990, with Mrs. Roberts going on  to become Minister of Culture and Gender Affairs,  Mrs Paul going on to become the Minister of Health, and Mrs. Vernice Bellony who was elected in 1995, going on to become the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, in the UWP Government, in 1995.

Dominica’s Future Hangs in the Balance.

These great women served Dominica and the UWP well in the 90’s. As Dominicans look expectantly to the UWP to lead it out of  this grave crisis, so too the UWP looks to the New Generation of  Great Dominican women to rebalance the Party, and help it chart the way for Dominica through the troubled seas ahead.

There is no better time for our women to begin to position themselves, than as the UWP approaches its 22nd Annual Convention scheduled for January 8th 2012.  The door is flung wide open for the women of Dominica to once more take their rightful place in the Political Leadership of the UWP and of Dominica.  Dominica is looking. The Caribbean is watching, the world is watching the women of Dominica. In coming forward, our women of Dominica would be closing the gap and catching up with the US, Canada, Australia, and other Latin America and Caribbean Countries like Trinidad, where Kamala Bisassar  Persad is Prime Minister, Jamaica, where Portia Simpson recently was Leader of the Opposition, and Barbados, where Mia Motley was also recently Leader of the Opposition.

Yes, Politics is A Tough Road. But The Great UWP Women Have Blazed The Trail.

No one is suggesting that it is easy for women to get into and rise to the top in Electoral Politics. Though great UWP women Like Bellony, Roberts and Paul have blazed the trail, the challenge of Politics in the Caribbean and indeed in many other parts of the world, is a daunting one for most men, and even more so for most women.

Nadezdha Shvedova puts it this way, “Women around the world at every socio-political level find themselves underrepresented in parliament and far removed from decision-making levels. While the political playing field in each country has its own particular characteristics, one feature remains common to all: it is uneven and not conducive to women’s participation. Women who want to enter politics find that the political, public, cultural and social environment are often unfriendly or even hostile to them.” (International IDEA, 2002, Women in Parliament, Stockholm (http://www.idea.int) Chapter 2 Obstacles to Women’s Participation in Parliament. Nadezdha Shvedova)

FEAR NO MORE

However I believe our Dominican women, who remain on the sidelines because of fear, or because they feel their discipline is not politics or that they are not experienced, need to Fear No More, and take courage from Malaysia’s Nurul Izzah Anwar who had this to say in her address to a  conference held in Bangkok on 3rd and 4th of November 2000.

Says Anwar,
“..My discipline of study is engineering, not political science. As for my experience, it is very limited, both in scope and years. Like my mother, who now leads the National Justice Party of Malaysia (Keadila), my involvement in politics happened by accident rather than by design.

…I have come to understand that one’s involvement in politics is often induced by the burning issues of the day. My father took up student and social activism because he had a cause to fight for namely poverty, corruption and the government’s lack of commitment to address the issues. …
… The burden is great and sometimes I feel that I have neither the strength nor the talent to shoulder this enormous responsibility. Nevertheless, I am always encouraged by my friends, and the leaders whom I have had the opportunity to meet, and who have inspired me to persevere in my cause. The example of President Corazon Aquino, whom I first met in October 1998, convinced me that individuals, regardless of their previous experience, can often became a vehicle for change.
…. In my country, my mother Wan Azizah has to shoulder the daunting task of leading a new party, the National Justice Party, in the struggle against a corrupt and unjust regime. This is the first time in Malaysian history a political party has been led by a woman.
… This is a crucial time for Malaysia as it is at a turning point in its history. It is also a time for young women to emerge as decisive actors in shaping the future of their country.
….we cannot ignore the fact that most of the barriers to democratic expression and political activity come in the form of repressive laws and programs that create a culture of fear in the entire population.
……Corruption and lack of transparency in Malaysia has severely undermined the independence of the judiciary and other key institutions.
….When it comes to the burning issues affecting our society, the people are being told in no uncertain terms:
“If you say anything, you will lose everything. If you say nothing, you might get something.”
…The government has retaliated by accusing the youth of being ungrateful and unpatriotic.
… Most recently the youth leader of National Justice Party, Ezam Mohd Nor, has been accused of betraying the country for criticizing the Prime Minister abroad.
…Our country is in a severe state of crisis. The root cause of this crisis is the lack of democracy, the abuse of power and corruption.
We feel that it is our moral duty to correct the misdeeds of the government or anyone occupying public office. It is therefore preposterous to accuse us of being unpatriotic or of betraying our country simply because we are discharging our moral responsibility. If in discharging that moral responsibility we are required to criticize even the prime minister, so be it!
….. For the democratic movement to succeed, it is vital that young women democrats organize effective networks and forge strong bonds of solidarity to achieve their objective: the empowerment of democracy.” (Malaysia’s Nurul Izzah Anwar)
Everything that Anwar said then, mirrors our Dominica situation today.

It is impossible to know when a society has reached a breaking point until it happens;  but we know for certain, Dominica is in serious crisis. The signs of a society disintegrating are everywhere. They are there on the abandoned farms; they are there at the market and at the Bay Front,  where vendors face a declining trade; they are there at our State College, where the number of students making it to graduation is below 30%. The signs of a society in disintegration  are there in the streets of Roseau, where day by day, the numbers of vagrants are increasing.

The signs of a society disintegrating are on the blocks of Newtown, Mahaut, St Joseph, Salisbury, Laplaine, Castle Bruce, Carib Territory, Marigot, Wesley, Woodford Hill and  Vieille Case, where every day, more and more of our unemployed young men congregate for the greater part of the day.

The signs of Disintegration are in our Parliament, where for the first time, not one of the Ministers of Government nor the Prime Minister, nor even The Speaker of the House, had the courtesy to say a word of welcome to a newly sworn in Opposition Member of Parliament.

For Dominica to get out of the present crisis, our women of courage must come forward  now to take their rightful places in the top Leadership of the UWP.