Another woman head of state of Caribbean nation

Bert Wilkinson | 3/22/2018, 11:25 a.m.

A female judge who has worked in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean has become the region’s latest woman head of state, adding to the growing number of females at the top echelons of governance in the bloc.

Justice Paula-Mae Weekes was unanimously and overwhelmingly supported by the governing People’s National Movement, the main opposition United National Congress (UNC), civil society and other groups to become Trinidad’s first ceremonial president and head of state.

“Go brave,” said UNC leader and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in a missive she penned to Weekes a day before she was due to be sworn in. Persad-Bisessar was Trinidad’s first woman head of government and served a single five-year term up to 2015.

Weekes’ open-air inauguration ceremony will be broadcast live in the twin-island republic, with sister isle Tobago and in neighboring Caribbean Community nations as she becomes the latest in a long line of female heads of government in the region. Most of the positions are titular or ceremonial positions.

Weekes’ nomination to the position in the oil and gas-rich most southern nation in the Caribbean island chain comes just three months after neighboring Barbados chose a respected woman judge to become the island’s governor general.

Because Barbados is not a republic like Trinidad, the head of state in Barbados is governor general rather than president. That person serves as Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Barbados. Trinidad has basically severed ties with Britain, its former colonizer.

In early January, Justice Sandra Mason was sworn in as governor general of Barbados, the second woman to be so sworn after Dame Nita Barrow. Mason has the distinction of being the first woman admitted to the bar on the island and its first female appeals court judge.

Their mandates demand that Weekes and Mason must be above the political and partisan fray and will join a burgeoning list of distinguished women holding high positions. Some are also leaders of the main opposition parties and could be elected as prime ministers in the coming months.

For example, polls in Barbados are showing that attorney Mia Mottley will more than likely defeat incumbent Prime Minister Freundel Stuart when elections are called before midyear, as is constitutionally mandated.

The 30-member parliament has already been dissolved. All that remains is for Stuart, who is running the clock to almost the very last, to call a date for the election as the island’s economy sags, foreign exchange reserves are at an all-time low and a major sewage problem on the south coast is causing hotels and other businesses millions in lost revenues weekly.

There are also several women at the national helm both in the 15-nation CARICOM bloc of nations and in the wider Caribbean.

Lucille George-Wout has been governor of Curacao, a Dutch territory, since November of last year. In nearby Aruba, Evelyn Wever-Croes is prime minister, as is Sharlene Cartwrtight-Robinson in the Turks and Caicos Islands as that country tries to recover from the devastating 2017 hurricane season.

Cecile La Grenade is governor general of Grenada and Marguerite Pindling has been governor general of the Bahamas since 2014. Like Mottley of Barbados, Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad is waiting to become prime minister again if her party wins the 2020 general elections.

Persad-Bisessar said to Weekes, “There was a general feeling that my elevation to the office of prime minister augured well for the future of women and girls in our nation in relation to leadership and empowerment. Your presidency is undoubtedly both a reflection of this as well as a marked and welcome continuation of this progressive development.”