Women's Participation in Politics: A View from the Caribbean

By Moses-Scatliffe, Ingrid A. | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

Women's Participation in Politics: A View from the Caribbean


Moses-Scatliffe, Ingrid A., Canadian Parliamentary Review


Historically, the traditional role of women was thought to be one of domestic ingenuity; managing the household with the greatest proficiency without any prospect of upward mobility. This article looks at the recent progress women have made in politics, particularly in Caribbean Parliaments.

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Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, an American Medical Physicist, co-winner of the 1977 Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine stated that "we still live in a world in which a significant fraction of people, including women, believe that a woman belongs and wants to belong exclusively in the home."

According to world population statistics, women make up 50% of the world's population. The passage of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, the introduction of modern democratic constitutions, enshrined with fundamental Human Rights and the need to advance women's issues, have laid the foundation for the emergence of women's participation in politics. But this struggle for equality in empowering and encouraging women's representation in politics is not void of challenges facing women politicians in the British Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean.

In 1965, the first woman was nominated to sit in the Legislative Council of the British Virgin Islands, and it would be some 30 years later in 1995 that the first woman was elected as a member of the Legislative Council. In fact, two women were elected in 1995. Since then, there has been a continuous presence every four years thereafter of two women on average gracing the halls of the now House of Assembly as representatives of particular districts. To date, no woman has served as Premier in the British Virgin Islands. However from 1999 to 2001, Eileen Parsons served as Deputy Chief Minister, the first woman to accomplish such a feat and from 2007 to 2011, Dancia Penn, served as the first Deputy Premier. We are hopeful today more than ever, that the time is ripe for women's leadership at the helm of our Territory.

Regionally, there has been increased women's representation in politics, but at a slower rate than representation by our male counterparts. The Islands of Dominica, Guyana, St. Lucia, Bermuda, Jamaica and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago have been able to elect female head of states over the course of women's involvement in politics in the Caribbean. But the slow growth of women politicians domestically and regionally can be attributed to some of the following challenges:

Political Participation: A large percentage of political parties are controlled by men exclusively and women are primarily used as tools for mobilizing votes from the female populace leaving the decision-making of political candidates to men. Often, when women rise to the helm of political parties it is a clear and popular view of who is better suited and qualified to hold the controlling position if the political party must emerge victorious.

Ideological Factors: A Patriarchy system of a male-dominated structure, shaped by the ideological stereotypes of a women's place being in the home, still continue to mar the level of women's political participation regionally. Often, women must be thick-skinned to venture into the political arena because before the race has begun, she is reminded personally as well as by media influence as we say in local parlance: "but where is she going?"; a subtle reminder that perhaps she may be embarking on a role not suited for her. Despite these ideological views, women continue to enter the political arena without trepidation making strides to close the gender disparity in politics.

Socio-cultural Factors: Predetermined social roles assigned to women complicate and limit the time women can dedicate to participate in politics when trying to balance our dual roles as homemaker and our public life as a political representative. Often, our role is compounded by the constant negative images and views of inferiority to that of our male counterparts which make many women reluctant to enter the political arena. …

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