Today, April 22, 2012, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, celebrates her landmark 60th birthday the way she's done it for many, many years now-in a prayer session with her friends and family. Hers is a life characterised by remarkable historic achievements and in recent times political controversies.
She became the country's first female Prime Minister, and first ever female political leader of the United National Congress, the main party which leads the People's Partnership Government, a coalition of five parties, formed for the general election of May 24, 2010.
Before, she was the first woman to serve as Attorney General, acting Prime Minister, and Leader of the Opposition of Trinidad and Tobago. She is married to Dr Gregory Bissessar and has one son, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, whom she is known to dote upon.
She was born on April 22, 1952, in rural Siparia at a time when the country was still under the control of the British Crown, to a Hindu family of eight children, but was also baptised in the Spiritual Baptist Faith as a child, which deeply influenced her drive to ensure that this sect, long oppressed by Colonial laws, gained absolute freedom of worship and equality by getting State assistance for their primary and secondary schools.
Persad-Bissessar attended the Siparia Presbyterian primary and then, Iere High School in Siparia, and, with what she has termed the "fortitude, forward thinking and drive of her mother who defied male dominance," then broke with tradition and pursued her tertiary education at, Norwood Technical College (England), where she married her husband Dr Bissessar. There, she also worked as a social worker with the Church of England Children's Society of London.
On her return to Trinidad and Tobago, she taught at a secondary school before migrating with her husband to Jamaica in 1972, where he pursued medical studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, while she taught at the St Andrew High School in Kingston, served as a consultant lecturer at the Jamaica College of Insurance and lectured at UWI, Mona, in the 14 years they lived there.
Inspired by the black power movement
Persad-Bissessar has credited her experiences of racial discrimination and social inequity of minority women in England, and the black power movement raging through the Caribbean and in Jamaica while she lived in those countries as the inspiration for pursuing a career in law and the foundation of her life's mission to achieve social justice and equality for all.
She pursued a law degree at the Hugh Wooding Law School, Trinidad WI, where she awarded a BA (Hons), a Diploma in Education, a BA of Laws (Hons) and a Legal Education Certificate and thereafter lectured for six years at UWI, St Augustine before becoming a full time attorney.
In 2006 she obtained an Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, Trinidad. In 1986, on returning to Trinidad and Tobago, Persad-Bissessar realised that women, children and many poor people in her country were still badly suffering from economic and social inequity and discrimination.
She was especially moved by the plight of many women and children who were victims of a traditional male dominated society and bore the brunt of violence, abuse and poverty. Intent on making a difference, she entered politics as a councillor for the Siparia Regional Corporation, a field virtually untouched by women at the time, and more so, women of East Indian descent.
By 1992, she was a Senator with the NAR, and in 1995, she was elected UNC Member of Parliament for Siparia in the General Elections of that year.
Created history in T&T
She made history when she was appointed as the country's first female Attorney General in 1995 and later, the Minister of Education, where she pioneered and achieved in just two years universal secondary education. Apart from being the first female Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, she also held the post of the first female Commonwealth Chairperson-in-Office until 2011.
As Prime Minister, in the less than two years she's spent in office, she has pioneered several revolutionary initiatives in the developing world-free laptops for all secondary school children, a national and regional Children's Life Fund to help needy children access life saving surgery, and a Helping Hand initiative, which sees private and public sector enterprises throughout the Caribbean banding together to provide Caribbean countries with disaster relief.
As the Chair of the Commonwealth, she became internationally known for her pioneering work as an advocate for the educational, political and social empowerment of women and girls internationally, and initiated several discussions and projects internationally to this end, which aim at enlisting the assistance and support of global leaders.
Two international magazines-Time and Foreign Policy, within months of each other in 2010, named her as one of the top ten female leaders around the globe for her pioneering contribution to politics and social restructuring and gender equality in the world while Glamour awarded her the 2010 Woman of the Year (alongside five other female leaders, chiefly of European and African countries) for these achievements.
She has been the subject of two major books in Trinidad and Tobago-a Book of her speeches through the years –Through the Political Glass Ceiling (2010) and a collection of her influences in society called "Kamla-Ascent of a Woman (2010). In the past two years, her administration has been characterised by some political controversies and she has faced her own minor health challenges.
Those close to her say she has a longstanding reputation as a pioneering woman with a trailblazing style of leadership that is a mix of her independent, intelligent, charismatic, compassionate and lovable personality still remains her trademark.
Today, we wish the Prime Minister very best birthday wishes and God's blessings of continued good health, wisdom and inspiration as she continues in her task of public service and governance of the country. Happy diamond birthday Madam Prime Minister!