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Just a little respect
The earth in Greek mythology is personified as Gaia, the ancestral mother of all life. Despite their pre-eminent role in the human civilisation, women throughout the ages have sought recognition and acknowledgement in the face of male dominance which often threatens to obliterate their psychological well-being.
The use of female symbolism in political theatre made an appearance at the recent People’s National Movement’s (PNM) Family Day where a sari skit was performed. A woman was draped with a yellow sari which was then unravelled by men dressed in red Gorilla costumes. Now, some of our political and religious leaders have discovered their feminine side and seek to occupy the moral high ground. This sudden desire to condemn the use of female symbols in the political realm ignores the last two decades where female symbols, images and sexual innuendos have been used without hesitation by all across the political spectrum to excite and denigrate.
Basdeo Pandey ridiculed Hulsie Bhaggan when she dared to challenge his leadership by calling her “pancake face.”
As the 21st century rolled over, Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her double-entendre, declared, “The only pipe I know about is Mr Bissessar pipe!”
When Patrick Manning fired Dr Keith Rowley from his Cabinet, he deemed him a “wajang,” which means a promiscuous female.
Roodal Moonilal, while in government, described female anti-highway protesters being dragged away by the police like a “bag of aloo”. Jack Warner, being questioned by BBC’s Andrew Jennings about FIFA at the Piarco International Airport, remarked: “ask yuh mudder. Just before the 2015 election, Dr Rowley, reportedly in reference to Persad-Bissessar, stated, “And she could jump high, she could jump low, she could drink this, she could drink that, she could bark at meh dog, I go ignore she cat.”
Of course, Rowley then introduced “jammetry” into our political lexicon when remonstrating with Persad-Bissessar over the Petrotrin “fake oil” scandal. Rowley continued in similar vein when in Parliament he likened women to a golf course. “You got to groom her every day, otherwise it turns into a pasture,” he said then.
So why are we surprised today at a sari skit? This indignation which is resonating throughout society would appear to be tainted with an element of political convenience.
Today in the many developing countries, women are proudly exhibiting their uniqueness and confidence in their feminine side.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, recently returned to work being the first elected world leader to take maternity leave and only the second, after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, to have a child while occupying the highest political office in a country. Clarke Gayford, the partner of Arden, has been tasked with the responsibility of being the ‘stay at home” dad.
In Canada, the world looked on and applauded as footage of a Canadian minister breastfeeding her son in parliament went viral. Karina Gould then eloquently stated, “No shame in breastfeeding! Baby’s gotta eat & I had votes”.
Women are now also storming the bastion of male political power in the Caribbean. In 2018, Trinidad and Tobago had its first female President and Barbados its first female Prime Minister. In the often misogynistic political culture of the Caribbean, when strong women rise to the top they can expect an agenda of distraction which attempts to shift focus from their ability to their perceived sexual orientation as both Paula-Mae Weekes and Mia Mottley have already experienced.
The world, particularly the developed world, is embracing the role of women in political and business leadership. In the political realm on June 7, 2018, a new Spanish government was sworn in with 11 women out of 17 Cabinet ministers appointed. While on the business front, there was a quiet announcement on August 6, 2018, that the CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, was retiring after 12 years at the helm, leaving a legacy of a 78% rise in share prices during her tenure.
A generation of women has strived to give to their daughters a new foundation. According to Nooyi,“Even though my mother didn’t work and didn’t go to college, she lived a life vicariously through her daughters. So she gave us that confidence to be whatever we wanted to be. That was an incredibly formative experience in my youth.”
Today in Trinidad and Tobago, we are still struggling to provide hope for women to rise to the top and not be besmirched on the altar of political expediency. Wearing yellow saris to protest is political theatre to grab fleeting headlines. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, has left Gaia and has ascended to the sala da concerti of Saint Peter. Her anthem of 1967, Respect, still resonates powerfully, particularly in the Caribbean “A little respect (just a little bit), I get tired (just a little bit), Keep on tryin’ (just a little bit), You’re runnin’ out of foolin’ (just a little bit), And I ain’t lyin’ (just a little bit).”
Dr Rajendra Ramlogan is a professor of commercial and environmental law at The University of the West Indies.
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