Commentary: This Women's History Month, let's honour Portia Simpson-Miller, former PM of Jamaica
The bloggers were swift on Facebook, Twitter, radio and other social media.
“She is fool, a liar, uneducated, lucky, ridiculous, and old, a cook for asking for a re-count,” were some of the dispiriting post-election comments.
Sure, disagreements are good for any democracy to thrive but, when political discourse becomes vitriolic, abusive and hateful, it sets the nation back and only reconfirms the challenges from an historical and cultural environmental impediment surrounding women and their vision and the hidden reality of harassment and discrimination.
Naturally, some people were frustrated by their own economic conditions and others were committed to one candidate or the other. However, it does not change her tenacity in a long tradition where many believe men are superior to women, and only through representation can their voice be heard, as studies have shown.
Women in general are under-represented in the region, and leaders should debunk these negative comments beyond party affiliation because one cannot wait until she lies in repose, and the county can look back, and wonder how she did it.
Recognizing the former prime minister’s triumph is not a simple call to rachet down the inflammatory political tone, or diminish her inability to bridge the new form of networking from the old street politics, failed economic policies, challenging issues that were inadequately addressed, or the lost emotional connection to the community when she was first elected that seemed lost.
The quest for equality, social and political accomplishments is not luck as some in the media believe. It is preparation that met opportunity through hard work and dedication. Portia Simpson-Miller and women in general who have made this planet a better place cannot only be judged on few economic quantitative analyses.
This election was bigger than she was. It is the centrality of women, and where women in the region go from here, the disadvantages of being a woman, inclusion, shared priorities, leadership, rights, and security.
A Brief History: March is Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in a few countries. It should remind society of how far they have come and the work that still lies ahead. Despite the missing parades on the islands and other places, women are inspiring generations to strive at becoming better regardless of one’s race, sex, orientation, or social-economic background.
Women’s Salient Score Card: Portia is no stranger to ridicule and intense media. In 2004, the major papers, according to Christopher Charles, highlighted when she was a Member of Parliament and asked if she acted inappropriately by abstaining on a resolution that criticized the shortage of funds to the local fire service.
The Cultural Stigma: Today it still discourages women from entering politics in Jamaica, and other parts of the region. I do not have to do a comparative analysis or draw on any feminist literature as a male to see that the structure of decision-making by women will diminish if the region's stereotyping becomes an ongoing norm.
This distinction has to be taken up by the region’s historians in what I believed has been a protracted economy, and the consequence of failure to develop a strategy to cut the long problematic syndrome surrounding crime and poverty, and declining middle class.
This region still has a social ideology that roars like the ocean taking anything its path (women). Her defeat again echoed an undertone that women, whether a candidate winning an election, or served or serving in a chauvinistic environment and championing equality, such as gay rights, marriage equality, poverty, women power, still have significant resistance.
Women make up about 20 percent of the world’s parliaments and even less in cabinet positions as most studies have shown.
To her credit, as scholars have noted, when women enter politics it changes how males view them.
Her accomplishments were not luck.
Sadly, political discourse has created an impression as if a crime was committed. The political pride that developed out of colonialism has led some to believe that a leader has to graduate from a top university, hold a law degree, or a PhD in government studies to lead, and underscore that one can be less privileged and become a leader from humble beginnings.
Sure, one has to understand geo-political, social, and economic issues, and be able to link it to the corner shop even without electricity or running water. Furthermore, take responsibility as a leader in the context of employment, government spending, investment in education, management, expectation vs reality, corruption, crime, and other mishandled social policies.
Portia’s failure does not lessen her. This mentality only creates barriers for upward mobility, apprehensions, and even exploitation of future qualified women. The participation of women in the legislative process benefits the country in general, and they are often better of solving issues.
When few use selective amnesia and belittle women in politics, it can have a lasting effect on the next young women who believe that women in politics can be a platform for strengthening democracy, but now seeing barriers to social mobility.
Today women are still under-represented in this region, and although there are a few beams of hope, subjugation in the region and its complex problems woven in structural exclusion are quick to label chaos as a pretrial of a feminist failure.
Many women today have limited but important roles in their society: Portia was saying yes she could before US President Obama stated his favourite line, “Yes we can.”
She committed herself to the public for decades, and has shown that women with power and full participation in decision-making create a better society.
Anyone can find statistical analysis that supports failures while minimizing the roadblocks on proposed policies. Disagreeing on policies is legitimate; however, quick negative sound bites should not define her. In fact, more push should be directed to recruit more women in politics and not counting “likes” on Facebook.
Video Showing: Portia Simpson-Miller. First Woman P.M. Jamaica & Condoleezza Rice: First black woman to serve as the United States' national security adviser, as well as U.S. Secretary of State (2005-09). Location: Washington, DC
Spiritual Reality: In a recent article in the Herald (Nigeria), a British scientist from the University of Manchester, England, admits that the man Christians worship or call Jesus Christ was more of an African descendant than the pure white, long hair, blue eye, six feet tall, groomed candle-holding dude without a tan.
Before Richard Neave’s reconstruction, the ethnicity of Jesus has always been in debate to even if John the Baptist is really related to him. There are also other profound spiritual struggles and question on how the world should look, and acceptance of the way it is.
I am not a scholar on biblical teaching, history or even a Christian, but that shouldn’t make a difference in seeing a shifting revelation.
Despite today’s postcard of Christ image, quietly some question why he was the only Caucasian male where it is believed that everyone had bronze skin, wool hair in an extremely warm area in the East. He was not adopted, or flown in from the West.
Figuring religion with or without DNA has always been complicated, especially surrounding conflicts over this mystical being that spread peace and calm like an eagle gliding through the air.
Even since Muhammad, who outlived his sons and died without a clear heir, conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims continues. Maybe they are trying to settle whose culture or “faith” is the real descendants and representative of the true Islam.
Could that be quietly an issue with Christianity after the crucifixion, searching for a leader?
Today’s altar call is not an attack on Christianity, religious doctrine, to promote racial divide, or a protest to mount a new piece of artwork in the pulpit, or halls with a bronze skinned male holding a sword in wool clothing looking over a flock of sheep. It is simple an outside assessment without the scriptures, hoping to reduce pockets of internal divisions often based on one’s ability to tithe, skin colour, socio-economic status where some believed their pigmentation makes them closer to the man, and thus ignore our community plights in general for the common good.
What score would be given some of his disciples today? These disciples now could use another John the Baptist.
I do not want to equate followers’ undivided love like someone being in toxic relationship where love can cloud one’s vision. This quiet affirmation, personal obedience and gratitude often call for calm even in high tides.
As I traveled to some of these old historic churches, it seems some have lost their stride, power and influence. Today’s polls also say that non-believers are increasing. When the pulpit relinquishes its core, and struggles with changes on social issues such as marriage equality, abortion, political ideology, and ministry with a rating system like hotels for profitability while the homeless man searches for a meal few feet away, these altars will remain empty
The deviation from one’s parents’ upbringing is not a struggle due to unconceivable economic conditions. Some who stay on the street corners are not there because of who is making the altar calls. They too have problem separating these men’s moral compass from their messages.
They have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender and others who could use reconciliation between gangs that have taken over the communities, and yes, even an ex-offender who could use a job connection.
How can the young-people reach the altar when so-called preachers have more bodyguards than the prime minister? One now has to make an appointment even for confession or talk about their struggles.
After these resurrection ceremonies, the church has to stop being just another building. Only few today have the courage and they are older, as personal strengths have diminished. Even when they die, the new generation has no idea of their contribution to the community.
The Colourless Quilt: This is not an enhanced picture of few celebrities appearing on magazine covers or on display at a wax museum much lighter than their actual skin tone. Even Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor whose parents are from India, and whose portrait hangs in the state Capitol. His skin tone appears lighter than in life.
These canvasses are ubiquitously recalibrating a once dark period in our history where the reflection of slavery still lingers. It further highlights an abundance of bleaching cream being used across Caribbean, poor and developing regions for lighter appearance while ignoring the long-term health risk of skin cancer.
This ghost that accentuates that beauty has not yet been defined and remains a shadow. Until some segments of our social media stop applying shades of beauty, many will continue seek hidden brushes.However, her colour this season is not her pigmentation. This quilt is called “homelessness”. Today more women find themselves under bridges, train stations on hard, hot, and cold sidewalks.
Quietly an annihilation has been taking place, not even a Cover Girl mascara can mask these rough spots. One tends to believe that perhaps her pride or even stubbornness has contributed to what has become an open studio apartment that stretches a full block where many pass through daily, include well-groomed pets on a leash that is hastily pulled back from its curiosity to get close to her.
No! I do not hate dogs.
What if she found peace under this bridge from an abusive husband, incest, arranged marriage, or female genital mutilation or simple for be a lesbian? It is difficult to judge her for only a few seconds after being awoken from the sound of your six-inch heels hitting the pavement where she lays still under the blanket. Many more visitors will take off running when her head suddenly pops up from the disturbance. Cautiously one chuckles, but is it funny or sad? Few have become immune from few dollars handed out before and weeks of saying hello or a silent nod as one walks to the metro.
Her Mirror: Late December as the Northeast cold began to find its home on this block. Despite a warm expensive coat, buckling up was not an option, with my Blackberry in hand, It was another simple gesture of kindness with few dollars to spear.
Silently on many occasions, one contemplates that same $2 on the $250-million lottery jackpot sign few feet away.
However, her chance at a hot meal where scores of food trucks lined the street across where she calls home weighed heavily on one’s conscience.
Today, she won. Carefully her stiff blanket pulled back as I place few dollars in her hand, pulling slightly my head backward to escape a foul odour that emitted from her direction.
She paused and looked, and said, “It wasn’t always this way”
Her stretched hand remains me of a mechanic’s hand from a recent oil change. Her once perfect teeth also began to look like the colour of her blanket. Navigating the cold wind as it bounced off the buildings onto my face from the path of a reportedly abandoned $100 million-plus street trolley project few blocks away that has failed, and all that remains is a rail track in the street, you wonder what the real priority of our leaders is.
Suddenly, a tweet arrived, and read, “The dress code for the winter is.”
I replied quickly, “Dress code again for the homeless this winter, a single dirty blanket that matches the colour of the street.”
Hours later the cycle starts over again. This time she stepped away from the living room. It is clear that she likes classiness. The blanket lays flat, carefully folded with a black plastic bag, or a broken down luggage case tucked in the corner. You walk by and hoped no one moves her stuff until she gets back. Tomorrow, a new face has emerged. She sat few feet of this blanket with her little bag. You wonder what happen to the one you saw few days ago. Has she been raped, abused, moved to another place?
It is now Friday evening and the street begins to quiet down. The new gentrification route to expensive condominiums makes her look like a speed bump. Sadly, she is not alone.
Across many white sand beaches in the Caribbean and other regions, as night-falls and local shops and food markets close, as the beach clubs come alive, the leftover rotten fruits and vegetables become her friends and only meal for survival.
Life in this homeless blanket for her provides warmth at sunset, heat from the cold, and a set of ear plugs from roaring vehicles and train dust above. It shields when a few idle kids happen to be in the area, and protects her once beautiful face and hair. The only constant in this new life is the temperature outside that never fades.
What is the Colour of Homelessness: Not all homeless women on the street have internal family conflicts. Most studies show that homelessness emerged as a public concern in the United States and in other industrialized countries in the late 1970s. As streets became more populated, some began encountering people living on the street-sides.
Often society conceptualizes homelessness as a black issue. Nevertheless, it affects all races. The national center on family homelessness reported 60 percent of homeless women have children under 18, compared to 40 percent of homeless men. A homeless mother is nine times more likely than fathers to be caring for at least one of those children.
The stigma that all homeless people are nuisance, or lunatics, especially in poor and developing countries must be debunked. Disasters such as the 2008 collapse of the global economy, and neglect by government are also a contributing factor. For example, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, or the earthquake in Haiti, many students suffered with difficulties to recover. Some lost parents, and became vulnerable to sexual abuse from having to live with strangers.
Recently, according to the Department of Education, a record high number of homeless students were enrolled in US public schools. These children often have difficulties in school, are withdrawn, and lack confidence.
The criminalization makes them scared despite the need for help. Beneath these blankets are abused women, or one who has mental issues as many consistently have personal imaginary conversations of an unresolved issue one may or not have with the government or a family member.
Approaching these woman, some rather take a detour to avoid for one’s perceived safety. However, regardless that does not reduce the hundreds of thousands each night according to the US Department of Urban Development. Homelessness cuts across all continents. Australia has also passed legislation that is providing help in the form of accommodation, meals, laundry and shower facilities, and information and advice. For poor countries, it remains a deep struggle.
Getting her back home: Medical centers often see a high number of emergencies from this population. One report noted that they should be equipped to manage substance abuse, and mental illness. Philadelphia University noted, “Most efforts to aid them centered on reforming their behavior and not addressing structural economic issues.” People are considered homeless if they do not live in what we consider normal for habitation. Support for victims, and investment in affordable housing is key. Several homeless women are employed and the need for a minimum wage increase, as studies have shown, can create a positive transition.
Today, major cities worldwide have been adapting to the new world economy, where most of these private and government functions are being conducted in a few buildings where the transformation young and talented people live. They share similar ideology and are often rich and sophisticated.
The irony is that they cannot escape a homeless person a few blocks away, as affordable housing has been decreasing while the numbers of homeless people are increasing. Visitors and residents must be protected and enjoy their vacations. However, one should not be abused for profit. Inside the service economy on many coastlines, they are isolated and abused in a segregated zone. It is disturbing to see this vulnerability being scorned like an alien as if one is invading these new prestigious towns with a virus.
As a male, I do not claim to know what is best. However, I understood that this award illustrates relevance where relationships form and diversity emerges and strategies for the next year. However, their vulnerabilities from barbaric ideology, intolerance, location, or social stratification need more attention. Their right to exist cuts across borders. However, especially in poor and developing countries, family pride, lack of resources, guilt, shame, and ignorance often cause severe detachment.
Today, many cities have traded playgrounds, counselling centers and sidewalks for bike lines, and condominiums and dog parks. While you are out for another walk or run with a well dressed pet for an outfit next season, remember that folded blanket on the sidewalk because it does not take much to trade places.
An Eye Opener: On February 25, 2016, the nation of Jamaica went to their constituencies and voted. This election cycle looks like an was an insult to democracy when several reports confirmed that more than 50 percent of the people stayed home and thought would be business as usual on February 26, 2016.
It seemed tunnel vision took over the nation after years of hard campaigning, built on marginalized polls, frustration, and disengagement that have left thousands wondering how they missed the oncoming vehicle led by opposition leader, Andrew Holness. He rose to the top of the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) after former prime minister Bruce Golding stepped down, to defeat now former prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, the first woman to lead Jamaica.
There are all sorts of analysis, motives, and partisan articles that followed this election. The interested rift that has emerged is not a new phenomenon in an elections aftermath. An election in general not only in the Caribbean has an inevitable word: “rethinking”.
The morning after pill always brings out nervousness, political bias, and intellectual transformation. Scholars will focus on how to explain the emphatic account, backlash, and irrelevance to avoid becoming non-consequential, and yes, many were stuck in a vacuum who only communicate with other who share their ideology, and even relegate to one’s own socio-economic class.
Today, from the hillside to the beaches, questions as to who should be fired, fresh approach, hired, why, and the undoing; however, despite the parties’ strategies, it is time to work together for the better of the country. The political climate still has trustworthiness, un-favorability and it is paramount to blend these party colours now that this one is over.
Symptoms: Far too often, more money spent on campaigning than governance. Reflection is not a bad idea, but it has to erode complacency in which some politicians use a safe political zone and become disconnected. This diminishes the ability to connect with their community. This ranges from high crime, poverty, inflation, economic stagnation, corruption, distrust, erosion of the middle class, and the quiet generation gap that is often ahead on social change.
The communities cannot blame it all on politicians when they do not engage. Equally important, there is widespread dissatisfaction with leadership, political process and what their real roles are as elected officials and good public servants.
Both outgoing and incoming leaders have to take some of the responsibility on policies or lack thereof and credit where some progress has been made. However, all politics is local, and elections are not won based on new roads alone, or a few temporary jobs given weeks before an election or promises.
History has shown that low voter turnout benefits the opposition party. This is not to diminish the JLP victory. However, a vast amount of these self-reliant communities were disconnected and discouraged. This election was not won totally on the numbers that made it to the polling stations, but how much discouraged rain fell in the days leading up to voting.
Portia Simpson-Miller has beaten the odds and should be commended for her work despite some disagreements on her leadership style and policies. This is not a motivational speech although a few will need one to cope as Jamaica moves on to find a balance for its people.
I hope, despite this narrow victory, this election is one that moves people forward rather an operation built on payback for personal pleasure. This transition will be swift, and the opposing party will not have enough time to pack up their office supplies.
Case Study: Travelling along many these coastlines, it is evidence that landscapes are changing, and maybe one has to be the outside to see it.
“What is the colour of good governance after an election?”
It is a question I asked few weeks ago in an opinion piece: The only road to success is moving governance from the primary colours concept that do not mix well, but other colours need them.
Caribbean elections are not won on ideological differences. They are like bible studies from the Old to the New Testament. Sadly, interpretations only apply the other people in the church. Therefore, confirm seeing oneself as different. It does not solve anything, but tell us who you really are and shut out of the process.
Jamaica, and few other of these beautiful islands well before some of our parents migrated to other regions for a better life, politicians and their sidekicks are like a dynasty such as the Bushes or Clintons in America where for several decades one of these names has been on a presidential ballot.
It is no different where the king or queen ushers in a new season of old guards.
The Caribbean politicians run like a Supreme Court judge as if they have a lifetime appointment. Often this is the place where they become extremely wealthy and isolated. The ability to develop new ideas gets lost, where the younger generation sees only a corrupt institution, lack of accountability and incompetence.
Blame Game: Now who do you blame or praise for Jamaica’s People National Party defeat? Again, “It’s the economy, stupid,” which James Carville had coined as a strategy for former US president Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign.
Should Portia Simpson-Miller blame President Obama during his visit for not giving more aid? The ongoing crime problems, transparency, the country’s silent auction, and erosion from the sale of its land to foreign investments, missing ballot boxes, not enough payout to motivate voters to turn out, or the underestimation of Andrew Holness’ effectiveness as an opposition leader despite ongoing battles within his own party.
On the hand, she faced what I called “an elephant in the room”, where a chauvinistic attitude believed that her place and other women in these leadership roles should be in the kitchen.
Nevertheless, a new structural, social, economic, and political reform is needed and if one fails to do so, they too will be singing the blues as the People National Party. However, when majorities of these small communities stay hopeless, and would only vote if they were compensated, it is no more than the national debt that has choked the region.
Rethinking: These political calculations are not like many in the industrial world, conservative vs. liberal ideologies that could change the course of an election. These elections often are fought on what is in it for me and not the upward mobility of the nation in general.
Jamaica and its leadership do not need to rebrand, but create more flexibility, and accept when something is not working. These structural problems cannot be solved with a loud microphone, lack of engagement, misguided polls or the amount of people showing up at a rally, and who has the best party song.
Finally, although most of us are not eligible to vote in these elections, we are forever linked and the preservation of ancestral roots is important. Sometimes a voice that hopes for the best is better than not showing up to vote. Again, I hope for the best because structural changes often take time to show their fruits.
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