The recognition given to the work of a number of women who have been toiling in the vineyard for many years, working at the human development of women and their communities, is of great significance and so for a number of reasons. The first and perhaps most important element of the recognition is that the work in communities and amongst women has been done. The historical reality is that women have been among the most disadvantaged groups in Caribbean society while making great contributions to family and social life, education, economic development, even in the severe business of the development of the political culture and its organisations.
The fact that a woman now sits in the highest political office of political leader and prime minister is testimony to that fact. But even more important has been the work of tens of thousands of women in holding their families together, with grandmothers, aunts, even the traditional "aunty" and "nennen" from next door featuring in the bringing up of children. Award recipients such as Hazel Brown, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt and Brenda Goopeesingh, in their own right and representative of dozens of women going back over several generations, deserve being recognised for the work they have done to empower women to believe in themselves and to take charge of their lives and those of their children.
The second important consequence of the recognition must be the message it sends to the national community that the Government believes that women and the work they do are important for national development. Too often has that fact gone unrecognised. One classic example of the non-recognition, even in these supposedly evolved times, is the fact that work in the household, done mainly by women, is not included in the national statistics. In identifying and awarding women who have made their contribution in the home-and surely the modern woman who is making a double contribution through the work they do in the office, farm and elsewhere-the society has an opportunity to make a quicker transit to a greater level of consciousness about the role of women in modern society.
For the likes of the specific women mentioned above, the award must be particularly satisfying. This is so because for decades these women and the causes they have stood for have not always been popular. In particular Brown and Mahabir-Wyatt have not been afraid to say publicly and loudly things which have not been popular. Indeed they have been the butt of male-oriented humour, which has mocked their gender and their capacity to lead in a meaningful manner. The society as a whole must salute them and be happy for them for having the courage (perhaps at times it required not being afraid) to take on physically opponents by marching and holding the placards on the picket lines.
The work of Helen Bhagwansingh, separate and apart from being part of a team to have developed and now manage a massive and successful commercial organisation, has been her generosity to deprived persons and communities. She has also funded community-oriented health research. The former first lady has quietly gone about the community work she has been engaged in over many decades and it is good too that that work has been recognised. Outside of that group of women recognised specifically for their community-oriented work, women in public life such as retired judge, Gladys Gafoor, academic sociologist, Susan Craig, retired police officer, Margaret Sampson-Brown, Irma Simonette, culture and calypsonian Denyse Plummer are all deserving. It is a sign of maturing society by this special recognition.