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When I look around this room and feel the energy of powerful women, I know that something exciting is happening.
Some of those hands made steady and sure by rocking the proverbial cradles are now at the helm of leadership, rocking the boat and getting ready to rock the world.
We have not yet arrived at the destination, but thank god, we are on the journey!
In this spirit of thanksgiving, let me thank all the organizations that have come together to celebrate my inclusion in the listing of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
Thanks to the powerful women, the women’s leadership initiative and the women of the Jamaica employers federation, the private sector organization of Jamaica and the Jamaica exporters association.
Thanks for arranging this lovely tea party.
Let me also thank all the journalists and opinion leaders who hailed the Forbes magazine listing. and thanks to the performers.
I claim this ranking by the influential Forbes Magazine as an honour for Jamaica, because it is a symbol of the high regard this country of ours enjoys out there in the world.
It speaks of the incredible “feistiness” of this land we love, that, though comparatively small in size, keeps showing up among the world’s winners and leaders – in sport, in music, in fashion, in spelling, in science and technology – and we could go on.
But more specifically, and in the deepest place in my heart, I claim this ranking among the “most powerful women” as sweet encouragement to all of us as Jamaican women in leadership.
I share this recognition with women who lead — whether in community, corporate or business world, politics, government, and as heads of the households.
Many women who do the work of leadership do not have the title, but they are doing the work any way, as the brain power behind thrones.
Let every achievement; every recognition of women in leadership, serve as encouragement for other women to come forward. Come and expose your strength; take the risks and enjoy the rewards. With both hands, grasp the opportunity to break new ground and make a difference.
It is not easy. Often, you will be misunderstood and judged harshly.
During the centuries of male domination, humanity has progressed. But, without women sharing fully in the task of leadership, the world has been running at a little less than half its strength. The simple fact is that it is time now to add the other half of the equation.
Let the women bring another point of view to the table.
At least, let the world find out, for sure, there is another point of view, a gentler way, a different set of priorities that will not allow children to go hungry.
What happens when women step into the full light of leadership?
American psychologist Ann faraday posed that question along with others.
“would women leaders wield power differently? Would they be more humane? Would they perhaps even usher in some gleaming renascent era? And would men accept them?”
This was back in 1989.
Faraday went on to say: “now that we have this veritable club of women leaders across the globe – ruling, scheming, changing the rules and the world – we can begin to answer those questions. But the answers are no simpler than the questions themselves.”
From my own experience, I know the answers are not simple.
There is a growing number of persons who believe that putting women in leadership is almost like the last hope for our generation. They have waited so long that they want to see change overnight. I share some of the impatience for change.
But I had to learn fast that for women in leadership, swimming upstream, we need to pray, “grant true wisdom from above”, every minute.
Arriving at the top is achieved by careful planning and strategizing. It comes from learning how to read the times and knowing when to be silent; when to speak quietly; when to shout; when to sit still and when to stand tall and go forth with all the strength and power one can muster.
Political leadership often calls for the approach of a bomb expert. The experts who come in to dismantle a time bomb, do not just rush in, dramatically taking a sledge hammer to “mash it up”. That is because, their wisdom and experience tell them that by doing that, they would blow up everyone and every thing.
Quietly, without excitement, away from the crowd, they dismantle that bomb, wire by wire, eventually taking away its power to hurt and destroy.
Waiting and watching, you want to scream, ‘hurry up! Hurry up!’
These are just a few points that I suggest we ponder, as powerful women in leadership.
The word “powerful” can refer to what some call “authentic power” – the confidence and power that comes from knowing who we are and what we are capable of becoming and doing.
When it comes to external power as it relates to wealth and leadership, as a group, women are not all that powerful at this time. They have to rely on the strength of numbers and the intensity of their will for transformation.
Not much has happened to change, substantially, the popular slogan of the 70s and 80s: “women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10 percent of the world’s income and own one percent of the means of production.”
With every advance, somewhere out there, sisters are being dragged back by more war, more poverty, more unfair world trade rulings and scourges such as HIV/Aids.
We have a responsibility to make good use of the power that we have.
As a woman leader of the country, I am using the power vested in me, to work on what I know to be true. I know that when we invest in bringing the women forward, we will make serious inroads into fighting poverty. Women who are empowered will lift up the children and their entire families. History has proven that. I know that women empowered and mobilized are a serious force to reckon with.
When we take the children to heart and take them in hand, ensuring by persuasion and law enforcement that they are nurtured and protected, we will create the next generation of workers and leaders. We will give light to the generations now on stage.
We must continue the work, with urgency, as in right now, acting in partnership with all sectors, to address the needs for jobs, small business opportunities, food, clothing, shelter, schooling and all the essentials.
I know that the fueling we need can only come from the full engagement of the interest, energy and creative power of the people. That is what will bring out the love (yes, as a woman leader, I can say “love”) and commitment in each other. That is what will make this country work.
Of course, leaders must set the example. Even if as leaders we fall short from time to time, principle cannot change and must be the yardstick against which we are measured.
As leader of the country, recent events have strengthened my own commitment to lead the process of transforming our political system, to give it maximum transparency and restore its credibility.
Trust me. It is the entire system that needs to be changed. Anything else is nothing but playing games.
On another level, the time has come to move away from the old concept of “prime ministership” and change the way the office has traditionally operated, to allow for the time, space, mobility and resources one would need to follow through on the emphases and priorities that these times demand.
There will be more about this for full discussion in the near future.
for now, I invite you to walk with me. Hold my hand as we seek and find the right formula to make Jamaica work for all its people.
Hazel Scott, the Trinidad musician and actress, who was once married to Adam Clayton Powell, was quoted as saying: “who ever walked behind anyone to freedom? If we can’t go hand in hand, I don’t want to go.” Let’s build up a partnership based on trust and respect.
Thanks again to all who organized and all who have participated in this lovely function. I celebrate all you wonderful and powerful women leadership with the words of miss Lou:
“from de grass root to de hill-topIn profession, skill an’ trade,Jamaica ‘oman teck her time Dah mount and meck de grade
. neck and neck and foot and foot wid manShe buckle hole her ownWhile man a call her ‘so-so rib’Ooman a tun backbone.
An’ long before ‘ooman lib bruck outOver foreign lanJamaica female was a workHer liberated plan.”
Thank you for the honour you have paid me.