Last weekend, two women were elected to key positions in the Congress of the People (COP) and the People’s National Movement (PNM). Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan beat the incumbent Joseph Toney to become the COP’s new chairman while Penelope Beckles defeated MP for Laventille East/Morvant Donna Cox for the position of female vice-chairman of the PNM.
Seepersad-Bachan was first elected to the House of Representatives on May 24, 2010, representing the constituency of San Fernando West as a member of the People’s Partnership. An engineer, she was then appointed Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. She is currently the Minister of Public Administration.
In 2007, Beckles, an attorney, became this country’s first female Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. In addition to her new position, she takes on several roles in the party, including lady vice chairman for the Arima constituency and public relations and welfare officer for the National Women’s League. Seepersad-Bachan and Beckles are among the many women who have been making their marks in local politics for decades. Some of the other notable female politicians in T&T include:
Eulalie James entered Parliament in a by-election, following the death of PNM Laventille West MP Morris Marshall in March 1994. At that time James was the deputy mayor of the Port-of-Spain City Council. She served as an MP from 1994-2007 and died on October 20, 2011 from diabetic complications. She was described by then PNM general secretary Ashton Ford as “a grassroots stalwart” of the party.
Joan Yuille-Williams was nicknamed “godmother” by calypsonians during her time as the Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs under the PNM. Yuille-Williams served as a senator for the PNM when the party was in both government and opposition. Williams, well known for her sophisticated sense of style, now serves as the Deputy Political Leader of the PNM.
Karen Nunez-Tesheira, T&T’s first female finance minister, was first elected to the House of Representatives on November 5, 2007, for the newly created D’Abadie/O’Meara constituency. An attorney by profession, Nunez-Tesheira has consulted in business law for companies in the energy and manufacturing sectors, as well as in probate matters, including the drafting of probate rules for the OECS. She has served on the boards of the Tourism Development Company, Property and Industrial Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago and the Heroes Foundation, a non-profit organisation that works with young people.
Occah Seapaul was the first female Speaker of the Lower House. She made headlines in 1995 when then prime minister Patrick Manning called a limited state of emergency and placed her under house arrest at 9 Mary Street, St Clair. Seapaul was viewed as a possible threat to the Government, as she had suspended a PNM MP and was threatening to suspend two more. Her brother and then a PNM member Ralph Maraj defected to the United National Congress (UNC) as a result of the state of emergency.
Hulsie Bhaggan was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 as member for Chaguanas. Described as a radical, one of her most noted fights was against the construction of the Guayamare section of the Uriah Butler Highway almost 20 years ago.
She, along with former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, burned the constitution and held protests over an extended period of time. In the end the State won, but her political career peaked. In the 1990s, her radicalism placed her in the spotlight on several occasions, resulting in her eviction from the UNC and from frontline politics in 1995, after head-on confrontation with then UNC leader Basdeo Panday.
Dr Linda Baboolal was the country’s first woman to act as president both during the National Alliance for Reconstruction regime and for current President George Maxwell Richards. She was also the first woman to hold the office of President of the Senate in the history of T&T—between 2002 and 2007. Baboolal, then the Member of Parliament for Barataria/San Juan, held several ministerial portfolios, including Social Development and Health.The mother of five, who is also a general practitioner, continues to do voluntary work and advocates for the promotion of women.