Telling HerStory: Fah True!

From History to Herstory (1)

Given the prominence of Jamaican women  today, many might believe their stories have always been shared and heard, but this is certainly not the case. While there are certain  categories of Jamaican women who have attained prominence, especially in middle management, this should not lead us to believe that we have achieved gender equality in Jamaica. In fact, despite significant progress, we are far from it  and so it’s important that women’s stories get told. If equality is to be a reality for this nation of ours, then it’s important to tell the myriad stories of our unsung sisters so our little girls know the path that they’re walking on many before them cleared, often at great sacrifice.  So while we know the male leaders of the Morant Bay Rebellion, how many of us know of Letitia Geoghegan, executed  and Rosanna Finlayson, sentenced to 20 years penal servitude, two  of the seven female leaders of that revolution who were tried for their defiance. Thanks to Clinton Hutton, Political Philosopher and former lecturer at the UWI , who in his book, Colour for Colour Skin for Skin: Marching with the Ancestral Spirits into War Oh at Morant Bay (date?), provides evidence of the active participation of women in that historical battle.

Trailblazing in Public Service (2)

All too often the history books –  his story – forget  women like Iris King, the lone woman who served on the Joint Independence Constitution Committee, and was the first elected female Mayor of Kingston in 1958. How many of our children know of her?  Is there a monument in her honour?  What treatment did she meet with from all those big-egoed men who felt they had the right to draft our constitution?  How many nights did she toss restlessly in bed, charting a strategy to survive yet another day with men, some of whom made endless sexual innuendos, or outrightly spewed words to slash her  and make her question her worth and ability.  Iris King obviously paved the way for Portia Simpson who has been the first and only female Prime Minister to date, 60 years after independence. This indicates how far we women still have to go. Now, for the first time in our history, we  have the largest number of women in parliament.  I hope they are sufficiently woman conscious and will ensure that there is a gender budget and that those men who are associated with gender-based violence are not allowed to take up/hold political appointments, retain seats when wrongdoing is discovered, or represent our people in any position of power.

Essential Nurture Island-wide

But of equal importance are the women who provide us with food to put on our tables . I refer to these women in the Papine market and elsewhere, who are second generation market vendors, astute and shrewd. Women like Irene who gets up at a 3 am in the early morning to go and buy products and then sits in the market all day selling. Simultaneously, she raised and supported three children, and was able to build a house on her own.  The informal banking system of “partner”  that has allowed many working class women like Irene to start businesses, pay school feels and assist their elderly relatives with medical bills.  Irene is another of our strong, determined  woman who lives by the maxim, “One-one cocoa full basket.”  Following in her mother’s footstep, who sometimes can still be seen sitting by her stall in the Papine Market, Irene and other vendors are our salvation, ensuring that we have quality produce and ground provision to nourish our bodies. Hard-working honest women who are the backbone of our society, who are often treated with disdain  and little respect. Do you know the names of the women you buy from weekly in the market?  Do you ever stop to ask how their children are, and what you could do to help them? To engage them is to be amazed at their resourcefulness throughout long days and small returns. Their propensity to provide for themselves to sustain their children despite meagre earnings is indomitable.

Intergenerational Legacies (4)

There are so many unsung heroines in Jamaica, including many  modern-day formidable women among us such as Joan French, Judith Wedderburn, Joyce Hewitt, Lana Finikin, Shirley Pryce and countless others fighting the good fight for women’s equality and continuing to clear space for the women and girls who are emerging. Nor should we overlook it is likely that having the first Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman to head the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), is the reason why women soldiers felt comfortable to come forward with charges of sexual harassment that has resulted in resignation of senior male personnel. Women opening the door for other women to be safe and excel in what was considered male dominated spaces.  In order for shy little girls to grow into confident, assertive women, they need to know the stories of the grandmothers and great-grandmothers on whose shoulders they stand.

Iconic Artistry Forever (5)

Almost all my adult life I have interviewed women, primarily, collecting and preserving their stories.  I am awed at the array of phenomenal women  who exist in Jamaica. I think of someone like Marjorie Wiley, the great cultural icon and percussionist who worked with the NDTC Dance company with Rex Nettleford, and with Miss Lou in the Pantomime and on Ring Ding. Whylie’s pioneering work as a drummer, in a field that was primarily, as she herself stated in an interview, dominated by men. What was it in her upbringing that allowed her to decide so young that she loved the drum and she was going to play the drums and other percussion instruments? Marjorie Whylie has taught many throughout Jamaica, and has done extensive research on our songs and other folk idioms, yet remains  humble and gracious.  She is certainly one of our national treasures who should be revered and her reservoir of knowledge plum and preserved.

Writing Women and Girls (6)

As a cultural and gender advocate and a creative writer I have consistently, throughout all of  my work, documented and told the stories of a diverse range of Jamaican women, ensuring that their lives and deeds are not erased from the annals of history. Like many Caribbean writers, I occupy the role of scriber with reverence and believe it is my duty to reframe, reintroduce and reimagine our lives preceding our enslavement, and in particular since the epoch, by listening to the stuffed cries, seeing our unacknowledged?    worth and beauty, the repeated trauma with no space for healing or reflection. Thus  my very first  short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories, 1986, highlights rural woman in Jamaica, women who still don’t have a platform on which to share their stories. My most recent children’s picture book, Pretty like Jamaica gives  nine year old Kathryn, whose mother has migrated to America from she was one year old. a place to tell her story, especially how she’s feeling  about living in Jamaica and getting ready to migrate to join her mother and siblings in the USA and leave her grandmother behind.

From Herstory to Our Story (7)

I urge you to sit with your elderly female relatives and listen to their stories. At first, some might be reluctant to share with you, but sit quietly and gently prod them and their stories will unfold.  In these stories  are stored priceless treasures: wisdom,  knowledge and experiences that can help us to navigate this 21st century…terrain more easily. Let us celebrate and honour our  women and elevate understanding of their participation in building this nation, as equally as we regal the stories of our men. Let us draw solidarity from the peaceful men who,  in spite of / irrespective of their own troubles/frustrations,   do not resort to violence against women and children. Women are half of the nation, and their journey, struggles and triumphs must be sung and documented as loudly as their male counterparts for Jamaica to thrive. Big up our Women.  Nuff Respect.



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