At the end of November or early in the new month, a woman will become the newest head of state in the 15-nation Caribbean Community when Barbados dumps Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and replaces her with a local judge as it switches from being merely an independent nation or former British colony, to a proud republic alongside neighbors Guyana and Trinidad.
When respected Justice Sandra Mason––instead of a white elderly lady from London––becomes the face of the nation alongside woman Prime Minister Mia Mottley, she would be adding to a growing family of women across the regional trade bloc who are breaking glass ceilings, crashing through cultural and political barriers and taking up societal positions that were automatically the preserve of men folk.
For example, mid last month, the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) in The Bahamas assumed power after sweeping 32 of the 39 parliamentary seats and since then, new Prime Minister Phillip Davis has vowed to ensure women play a more important role in national and political life.
His new parliamentary line-up includes seven female candidates, most of whom won their constituency seats handily. In the previous legislative incarnation, there were five women lawmakers serving in the now opposition Free National Movement (FNM) of former Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
But more importantly, officials say, is the fact that PM Davis has moved to ensure that two women will preside over both chambers of the archipelago’s parliament. This has not happened before.
Patricia Deveaux was elected speaker of the law-making House of Assembly while Ms. Ja LaShell Adderley was named as president of the unelected senate in The Bahamas’ bicameral parliament.
“This is the first time in the history of our Commonwealth that two women have sat simultaneously as speaker of the house and president of the senate. Indeed, this is a seminal moment in our country and, again, it is noteworthy that perhaps during the most challenging times since independence, we have turned to two women to keep order and to maintain order and transparency in our system of democracy,” the Guardian newspaper quoted Adderley, a prominent attorney, as saying. Deveaux is a well-known businesswoman, a former executive secretary of the local drug enforcement unit and former vice chair of the PLP.
For his part, Davis said that he plans to appoint more women to senior national positions “but we will continually press to have women involved in the governance of this country. There is another mechanism that I will be able to engage in to ensure that women are well represented at the parliamentary level––that is through the senate, and you will see that at the appropriate time.”
Down south in Trinidad, Justice Paula Mae Weekes is in her first term as the island’s president after making history by becoming the first woman to hold that position. She is serving alongside Kamla Persad-Bissessar who is the opposition leader and also the country’s first woman prime minister. She lost the 2015 elections to current Prime Minister Keith Rowley and again last year. Weekes was a former appeals court judge. Her appointment back in 2018 was widely heralded by all political sides.
Several other leading women have served as prime ministers and governors-general across the bloc, mostly notably Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica and Janet Jagan, a white, Jewish American nurse who naturalized as a Guyanese and became the country’s controversial executive president back in 1997, succeeding her late husband.