By Carlena Knight
As the world celebrated International Women’s Day yesterday under the theme ‘#BreakingTheBias’, two seasoned female politicians are calling for greater efforts to help more women break the mold in local politics.
Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader Joanne Massiah and United Progressive Party (UPP) Senator Shawn Nicholas, while speaking on the Observer AM show on Tuesday, both agreed that some strides have been made where women in politics is concerned but said much more can be done.
Senator Nicholas believes that it takes not only women but men also to work together to encourage females to step into the political arena.
She said the fight goes beyond just political parties and that it is important that a negative picture is not created of the expectations placed on women in the field.
“As a woman in politics, it is no easy sport. You are expected to be a woman, you are expected to be a politician, you are expected to be wife, you are expected to be girlfriend, you are expected to be mother, you are expected to be all these and more and excel at all,” she explained.
“It is not easy and our politics has gone to a stage where the expectations are so high. People demand not only your time but other resources and, as a woman, it becomes very difficult.
“Women are up to [the challenge] but I think sometimes the expectations of the population and the demand that they put on our politicians has turned a lot of women off,” Nicholas said.
Messiah agreed with the bias women in politics have to deal with and noted that this is the case in all aspects of life for females.
She did however give credit to Prime Minister Gaston Browne in terms of female participation in parliament, saying he had appointed the most women to the Upper House in the country’s history.
Nevertheless, she is adamant that more women need to be represented as elected members by implementing a quota system.
Across the region, only 22 percent of ministerial portfolios are held by women.
In Antigua and Barbuda, just four females – Dr Jacqui Quinn, Joanne Massiah, Samantha Marshall and Maria Bird-Browne – have been elected and appointed ministers in the country’s history. Massiah is the first to head a political party.
“Women’s ability to participate in electoral politics rests with the political parties – and political parties through their constitution must ensure that that parity is entrenched in that constitution,” Massiah said.
“So, whether it is a particular percentage that you put women for, persons with particular disabilities, and other types of marginalised groups, this is how and when we will see a parliament that is more representative of our society and it can be done. The DNA has done it, it is entrenched in our constitution,” she said.
Such a quota system has been adapted in other countries like Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana.
Guyana’s policy stipulates that at least 30 percent of all parliamentarians must be women.
Massiah is calling for a similar rule to be implemented here, to help diminish gender disparity.
Echoing their sentiments was Dona Regis Prosper, General Manager of Antigua Cruise Port.
Prosper, who has been a stalwart in the tourism industry for over a decade, believes that although some progress has been made in seeing women take higher-level jobs in tourism as compared to years gone by, more doors need to be opened for them.
Prosper is one of two women at the helm of cruise port tourism in the region.
“Just about 100 years ago it was considered bad luck for women to be on a vessel…and up to the 1980s women were not allowed to go to maritime colleges, so 100 years later women make up 20 percent of this cruise industry and, of that 20 percent, just about three percent are actually captains,” she explained.
“There is a lot more we can achieve as women but I want to celebrate that and to also highlight that the strides that women have made is a result of women and men coming together,” Prosper said.
Dr Bola Olabisi, founder and CEO of Global Women Inventors and Innovators, also weighed in on the subject. She revealed that it was to help break barriers that she started her group to help develop and raise awareness for young girls to mold them into the next great innovator or inventor.
She added that through her group a much-needed spotlight has been given to women who have not been able to advertise themselves.
“What I have found in history is that we have come up with so many invaluable solutions to problems. We have come up with so many products and services that make the world a better place but have not been acknowledged for those things,” she said.
She revealed that plans are underway to partner with the Caribbean and host a convention showcasing women inventors and innovators. The event will be held from May 18-19 in Antigua.