Women’s Day: Are we there yet?

I was honoured to be a guest on a new radio show on 2019’s International Women’s Day (IWD). I was even more gratified to be in the fine company of the woman host and the two other guests—another woman and a man, all of whom were highly knowledgeable and engaged. Better still, it was clear that all four of us, host and guests, were agreed that “Balance Is Better”, which recognizes that the axis of our fight should be the achievement of gender equity in basic human rights, in citizens’ rights and, certainly equity in opportunities.

Are we there yet? Based on my daily experiences and the calls the radio host fielded, I would say decidedly not. Of all the telephone calls and texts our host fielded the overwhelming majority came from men. Except for a few bright sparks, who demonstrated a respect for women and the need for gender equity, the others obviously took their brief on women from a theological perspective that would hold us in eternal servitude to men.

I did hope that, The Bahamas, as a country and a goodly number of the more intelligent voices would seize the opportunity presented by IWD to bring a greater, more coherent and more sustained focus on those factors that are impinging seriously on women’s health, especially persistent violence against women in the home and in the public space. I longed equally to see widespread promotion and recognition of the extraordinary achievements and contributions of Bahamian women across social, economic and cultural sectors.

On Women’s Day, as regards, women’s health, no concentration could be more important that shining a steady spotlight on the frightening statistics on breast cancer among women in The Bahamas. According to data supplied by Susan Komen Bahamas:

  1. Health officials estimate 300-500 new cases each year.
  2. 48 per cent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas were under the age of 50.
  3. The average age of diagnosis in The Bahamas is 42. In the United States, it is 62.
  4. 44 per cent of Bahamian women with breast cancer had Stage 3 or Stage 4 of this disease.
  5. What this means is that Bahamian wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends are finding out about their cancer later and dying younger.
  6. Among the women who die from breast cancer in The Bahamas 43 per cent are under 50-years-old at the time of their death.

Nevertheless, it was pleasing to see that, though limited in number, there discussion events—seminars and “summits” in the capital and on other islands—focused on such needful topics as gender parity, balance and self-awareness.

I was hopeful when Women’s Wednesday (March 6) at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas promised a special focus on women excelling in areas of science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM). To be presented by Equality Bahamas declared their aim to be removing the gap between women experts, practitioners and service providers.

Better yet, Caribbean Bottling Company (CBC) told us that their leadership team included many Bahamian women, representing a mix of skills, talent and expertise that includes many Bahamian women. It seems that by IWD 2019 CBC’s Branding, Customer Service, Production, Marketing, Public Relations, Finance, Quality Control and Human Resources departments were all led by female managers.

I said a grateful hurrah to all these efforts. Their recognition of noteworthy achievements seemed to settle on the third millennium, however. Knowing that history to the general of Bahamians is like water baths to cats, I was truly concerned that anything achieved by our women before the year 2000 would be bypassed.

Yes, we support abundant celebration of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and its brave 20th-century soldiers: Mary Ingraham, Georgina Symonette, Grace Wilson, Mildred Moxey, Mable Walker, Ethel Kemp, Gladys Bailey, Althea Sands, Eugenia Lockhart and Dame Bertha Isaacs.

But as legendary and eminently worthy as these women’s achievements were and the singular blessing of political equity their lobbying secured for us, surely there were far more of our Bahamian sisters whom we were failing to celebrate as vigorously.

Imagine the wave of delighted anticipation when I opened one of the daily newspapers and saw a full-page advertisement credited to the Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture “Honouring Bahamian Women at the Forefront in Honour of International Women’s Day 2019”.

Flag-waving, hooting and hollering, I began to scan the associated twenty-five photos and names. Wait a bit now… You know the reaction we get when we see someone raising a hand appearing to greet us? We wave back vigorously, then shamefacedly withdraw the hand or pretend to be doing something, when we discover that we were not the intended recipient of the other person’s gesture?

That was my reaction when I had covered the entire twenty-five and saw only women who had served in Parliament at some point. Life is more than politics; it takes more to develop a nation of quality. It’s time to recognize this fact. How many more times will we neglect to celebrate the woman from a wide range of disciplines, whose brilliance, hard work and multifaceted achievement would find admiration and merit remembrance among any people of good sense and appreciation?

I take the liberty here to repair the sad lack I perceive and offer the names of as many outstanding Bahamian women as research time and publication space would allow. Right at the outset, I admit women’s contributions in the arts of The Bahamas far outstrip what space and time would permit here. Also, any inaccuracies are inadvertently mine.

Education

  • Keva Bethel, first woman principal & first president of the College of The Bahamas
  • Marjorie Davis, first woman director of education
  • Anatol Rodgers, first woman to head The Government High School
  • Desiree Cox, first Bahamian Rhodes Scholar

General

  • Suzanne Black, first Bahamian manager of an offshore (international) bank branch
  • Eva Bailey Schaffner, first woman president of the Grand Chamber of Commerce
  • Hilda Bowen, first Bahamian matron at Princess Margaret Hospital
  • Eileen Carron, first women newspaper owner & editor
  • Dr Vernelle Allen, first Bahamian women to qualify as a physician
  • Merceline Dahl-Regis became the first Bahamian to receive the prestigious Pan-American Health Organization’s ‘Public Health Hero Award of the Americas’
  • Dr Andree Hanna, first Bahamian consultant pathologist
  • Margaret McDonald, first Bahamian woman ambassador
  • Dr Sandra Dean Patterson founder of The Bahamas Crisis Centre in 1982
  • Angela Palacious, first woman Anglican priest in the Bahamas
  • Gail North Saunders, prolific historian

Law, Justice & Immigration

  • First female member of the bar, the late Patricia Cole Cozzi, was admitted in 1953; the second, Eileen Dupuch Carron, in 1962; Jeanne Thompson, third, in 1965 and Rubie Nottage, fourth in 1969. The latter earned two LL.M degrees– in International Law and Taxation (University of London, 1969) and a second in Canon Law (Cardiff University, Wales, 2004) obtained with distinction;
  • Dame Joan Sawyer, first women to serve as Chief Justice of the Bahamas (1996 to 2001) and President of the Court of Appeal of The Bahamas (2001 to 2010)
  • Anita Allen, President of the Court of Appeal (2010-2017)
  • Gabrielle Turnquest became the youngest person in the UK to be called to the bar in 600 years, after qualifying as a barrister at the age of 18 years old.
  • Ruth Bowe-Darville, President of the Bahamas Bar Association, (2009-2013)
  • Jacqueline Osadebay Marshalleck, appointed senior counsel, Belize 2014
  • Anita Bethel, Theresa Baker, Norma Clarke, Alsaida McFall, Hildred McClain and Esther Stubbs, first women to join the Police Force, 1964
  • Superintendent Allerdyce M. Strachan, the first Bahamian woman gazetted officer, May 1988.
  • Dorothy Davis, first Bahamian woman to attain the rank of Police Inspector, on June 27, 1979.
  • Barbara Pierre, the first woman Immigration Officer and later Director of Immigration.

The Arts

Music: Eloise Lewis; Hilda Barrett; Micki St George; Kayla Lockhart Edwards; Joann Callender

Art: Sandra Illingworth-Adderley; Jessica Colebrooke; Lillian Blades; Erica James

Writing: Marion Bethel; Patricia Glinton-Meicholas; Helen Klonaris; Asha Rahming; Lynn Sweeting; Jeanne Thompson; Susan Wallace (Forgive me for including myself—would anyone else?)

Dance: Shirley Hall Bass; Sonia Adderley Roberts.

Aviation

  • Patrice Clarke Washington, first black graduate of Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida; first woman pilot of Bahamasair; first black woman captain of a major U.S. air service and first black female pilot hired by the United Parcel Service (UPS).
  • Captains Gwendolyn Ritchie, Gail Saunders and Frances Smith are the first women to be promoted by Bahamasair to Dash 8.

I invite anyone who can, to help me add to this list. Like it or not, women are vital elements in the circle of being, without us, human life as we now know, would not exist. Let us do more to honour our sisters’ achievements.

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