( Hon Lisa Hanna)
MANY still consider a woman’s place to be in the house — but for some women, this place will be Gordon House. For the first time in history, Jamaica will have 18 of its 63 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), or 28.5 per cent, being women.
Women in Parliament, in both the Upper and Lower Houses, became a topic of discussion in the days leading up to the election, after the Opposition leader was asked whether he would appoint more women to the Senate if he was to win, and he highlighted some of the barriers that prevent more women from being actively involved in political leadership.
Gender advocate Linette Vassell said the question, and the responses given by both leaders, raise front and centre the vexed and broader issue of gender and governance, which women and their organisations have been addressing with ebbs and flows over the years.
Vassell said that some of the barriers identified in previous years by the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre are: “lack of sufficient funds and in-kind contribution for women to campaign competitively; discriminatory cultural and social attitudes and negative stereotypes about and against women in the family and in public life; women’s responsibility in the home; intimidation and violence in the political process; and the male-dominated political culture that persists in political parties which is often insensitive to the special needs of women.”
Despite these major obstacles, for the first time, more than 30 women competed in the general election this year, and about half of them came out on top.
Meet the ‘Super 18’ women in the House.
As an accountant and real estate agent, and also a mother and the wife of the prime minister, Juliet Holness continues to represent her constituency with strength and grace. And even if her opponent had won, St Andrew East Rural would have still had a formidable woman in Joan Gordon-Webley as their representative.
A chartered financial analyst, Fayval Williams has shown great promise in the energy ministry, and has retained her St Andrew Eastern seat. Married with two daughters, this Harvard graduate went head-to-head with another fiery woman, Venesha Phillips.
Former Olympian Cuthbert-Flynn edged out the People’s National Party’s new candidate Krystal Tomlinson to retain her spot as MP for St Andrew West Rural. The fitness trainer and gym operator has been an advocate for the updating of laws that affect women since she entered Parliament in 2016. The mother of two notably opened the floor for the ongoing debate to repeal the laws that make abortion illegal.
This outspoken educator has shaken up the ground since she entered representational politics in 2016, and this year she beat her male opponent by a very convincing margin to retain her seat. Morrison raises a torch for the growing number of women who choose to fulfil their individual aspirations, no holds barred.
“Babsy” is not new to this. She has been playing with the big boys for several decades, and she served as a Government senator from as early 1985, and has been MP for her constituency since 1997. Grange, now 74, has had an illustrious career as a cultural activist, and and was the sitting minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport when Parliament was dissolved.
Newcomer Crawford created one of the most shocking upsets in this year’s election when she beat former national security minister and MP Peter Bunting for the Manchester Central seat. The 31-year-old educator has big plans to help create positive change for the constituency where she grew up from very humble beginnings.
Another newcomer, attorney-at-law Tamika Davis, shook things up in Hanover Western when she beat incumbent Ian Hayles to the seat in Parliament. The young lawyer, who has run a private practice for 10 years, has also served the country as a teacher, clerk of court and administrator.
Marlene Malahoo Forte
The country’s attorney general, Marlene Malahoo Forte convincingly beat her challenger, Andre Haughton, to retain her grip in St James West Central. This will be her second term as MP, having previously served as a senator and state minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade. Malahoo Forte, a Manning’s old girl, also served as a resident magistrate before entering political leadership.
Another attorney, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, helped to create history when she beat her two male challengers to represent the southern half of Trelawny for her fourth-consecutive term. The criminal lawyer, who is married with four children, is a bounding board member of the Montego Bay Hope Diagnostic and Medical Centre and past chairman of the Brown’s Town Community College.
Tova Hamilton, 37, also caused a stunning upset when she upended the MP Victor Wright to claim the seat that was held by the PNP since 1989. Prior to this victory, Hamilton was sworn in as a member of the Senate earlier this year. The attorney previously served as deputy executive director of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), a director of the HEART Trust/National Service Training Agency and company secretary for the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning.
Another female newcomer into Gordon House and the Government will be Krystal Lee, who defeated her two male opponents to represent the people of St Ann North West. Lee, who was a councillor in St Mary, has over a decade of political activism under her belt, and manages a local petrol company.
Smith, who was chosen to take the reins of St Ann North Eastern after the passing of MP Shahine Robinson earlier this year, defeated her male challenger by a landslide. She adds to the cadre of new female attorneys in Government, which is a positive sign for the creation and advancement of laws that promote gender equity in the legislature.
‘Action Ann’, who assumed the title of MP for Portland Eastern last year after beating Damion Crawford for a seat that his party held for 30 years, retained her title by convincingly beating Purcell Jackson in the general election. Vaz, who is married to the MP for the other half of the parish, has been passionate about educational advancement of Jamaicans, and founded and chaired the One Jamaica Foundation.
Dental surgeon Michelle Charles, daughter of retired House Speaker Pearnel Charles Sr, extracted fellow dental surgeon Fenton Ferguson from the St Thomas Eastern seat that he had held since 1993. The Howard graduate, who is now 50 years old, mothers two adult children, and in addition to her dental practice, she also owns the Mango Spa & Boutique and manages Posh Party Coordinators.
Though her party did not win the election, Natalie Neita is one of three women who tasted victory, as she held steadfastly to the St Catherine North Central seat. It would still have been a Natalie leading the constituency had she lost, as her main challenger was the JLP’s newcomer Natalie Campbell-Rodrigues who she beat by over 1,000 votes. Neita, whose education is in economics and labour relations, has been actively involved in representational politics since the 90s, when she was a councillor. She has two daughters.
Another woman in the Opposition who held her own in this election was Denise Daley, who secured her third term as MP for St Catherine Eastern. Daley previously served as mayor of Spanish Town for over a decade, and a councillor in the parish for over 20 years. It is hoped that she will adopt the same vim and vigour as the other women in the House, and serve her constituents well.
Though by a narrow margin, the MP for St Ann South East managed to secure her fourth term in Parliament. Hanna, who was Miss World in 1993, has been a consistent voice for the advancement of women’s welfare since she entered Parliament in 2007. Hanna served as the opposition spokesperson on information, youth and culture until 2011, then as minister of youth and culture. She is married and has a son.
Angela Brown-Burke assumed responsibility of the St Andrew South West constituency after former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller retired, and has defended her territory fiercely in the 2020 election. She beat the JLP’s Maureen Lorne by one of the biggest margins in the election to secure her second term. Brown-Burke has served as a councillor, mayor of Kingston and St Andrew, vice-president of the PNP, and deputy president of the Senate. Brown-Burke, whose background is in education, holds a PhD in adult educational literacy.