Column: Highlighting Contributions Of Women

March 8, 2016

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

March 8th marks United Nations’ International Woman’s Day, a time to reflect on those issues that impact the lives of women, locally and globally. It is also an opportunity to highlight the exemplary contributions of various women in society.

In Bermuda, like all cultures with patriarchal roots, the issue of women remains a work in progress. While there has been progress, there remain ‘blind-spots’ that undermine us being a truly inclusive society, at both a personal and community level.

We men might encourage each other to work with our wives/partners, in sharing in family responsibilities. We can all foster solidarity; ignoring the tradition that some tasks are ‘woman’s work’.

The process of transformation has been ongoing, demonstrating how society is interlinked. The Suffragettes – led by Gladys Morrell -campaigned for 30 years before successfully achieving the Women’s Voting Rights Act in 1944. That came when Henry Tucker changed his opposition to the Bill and introduced it. Another key supporter was Dr. Eustace Cann who broke with his fellow black Parliamentarians, who traditionally opposed this Bill; waiting for the ‘whole loaf’.

Dr. Cann moved out of that box, from ‘fighting the old’ to ‘seeking new possibilities’; thus facilitating a move forward. Within weeks of that shift, a group of workers at the U.S. Naval Base captured that wave of change and invited Cann to help them set up the Bermuda Workers’ Association.

With that successfully launch, Dr. Cann past the baton over to Dr. Gordon who launched a comprehensive campaign addressing social justice and matters of social welfare, concerning men and women. While Gordon had criticized the short-comings of the Suffragette Movement, he made use of their template in that historic campaign – confirming the link.

On that integrated foundation, the Progressive Group [PG] -almost 50% women- galvanized a movement to remove formal segregation in the Island in 1959. Another pioneering woman, Roslyn Williams, along with her husband –Eduoard – hosted those secret meetings. She also secreted the copier and other campaign equipment, in her kitchen ceiling.

A few months following the Boycott’s success, Roslyn started Sunday-afternoon meetings at her home, inviting PG members and other friends, discussing an inclusive right to vote. Out of those discussions the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage emerged, with Roosevelt Brown as chairman. Roslyn was the keynote speaker at the final meeting of that successful campaign, addressing a crowd of 800 people in Hamilton.

A third pioneering woman was Lois Browne-Evans [Dame Lois] – the Island’s first woman lawyer in 1953 – who played a key role in getting the island’s first political party – the Progressive Labour Party – off the ground. She helped to shape the Island’s first Constitution and in 1968 became the first woman to be an Opposition Leader in the Commonwealth.

Bermuda has subsequently had three women serving as Premiers. There remain questions as to whether female politicians receive the level of respect that reflects an inclusive society. It has been encouraging that recently, for the first time, the membership of the Senate is majority female.

As the Bermuda story demonstrates, the matter of the rights of women is a part of the greater issue of societal inclusion. There are things we can learn from others sharing the Planet. Our friends in the South Africa – in spite of extensive internal challenges – have a vision of inclusion that is exemplary. Their Constitution goes as far as guaranteeing that 50% of their Cabinet members are female.

We might decide not to rely on quotas, but would benefit from a conversation that speaks to ensuring that Bermuda is an inclusive society. This would benefit women and all upcoming generations.

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  1. Good story, our women have been degraded over the years but in ancient times there were mighty women in our Kingdoms and even Pharaohs.