“The best man for the job is a woman,” declared Cécile La Grenade, governor-general of Grenada, as she contextualised the role of Caribbean women in the region’s social and economic life.
“While others are visible and at the forefront and lay claim to success, we have been at the background in situations where we have been the backbone of successful activities or organizations,” she said in her address at the graduation ceremony of the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies, Valsayn. She spoke on the contribution of women to the social, political and economic development of the Caribbean.
La Grenade. Grenada’s first female Governor-General is a food scientist and businesswoman. She is the owner of De La Grenade Industries, a leading food processing company, which has pioneered the use of nutmeg in the manufacture of high value-added delicious products—Morne Délice Nutmeg Jam, Jelly and Syrup.
“The contribution of women to our region has been enormous and we have played a vital role in our region’s development. In fact, this topic could fill several volumes of studies. The history of our region is replete with stores of the vision, the determination, the organisation, and the struggles of Caribbean women. Yet in many instances the struggles of Caribbean women have not been recognised and lauded,” she said.
La Grenade said from the days of slavery, Caribbean women were involved in trade and business
Outlining their long movement up the economic and social ladder, she said: “They sold their surpluses from ground provision and eventually some of them were able to accumulate enough cash to buy their freedom. This led to Saturday and later Sunday markets with women as the main participants.
This trade, which evolved in the post-slavery period in several territories, still exists today with Indo Caribbean women in T&T and Guyana also becoming involved. Eventually, the market trade expanded into inter-regional trade among the islands. The Caribbean inter-market trade was run by women as this form of work was shunned by men.”
She said that women of that era who were not involved in the export of vegetables and fruits were engaged in numerous other activities to earn money.
“These included selling food in villages. Items such as black pudding, candies made from coconuts and peanuts, tarts guava cheese and tamarind balls, as well as other Caribbean delicacies. Some women turned their skills and talents to sewing, baking and handicrafts to become dressmakers or seamstresses, as they were called at that time in order to generate income. This gave rise to some of the home and cottage industries we have today.”
La Grenade said girls who were educated went into occupations seen at that time as only for women, such as education, nursing and secretarial work.
“Today we are seeing an increasing number of women entering the traditionally male-dominated fields such as construction, painting, welding, technicians, medicine, engineering and law. In some fields, women are now outnumbering men,” she said.
Citing Professor Rhoda Reddock, an authority on women’s history and the women’s movement in the Caribbean, she added: “Reddock credits the emergence of many self-help societies in the region with giving birth to the Caribbean women’s movement. In the late 19th and early 20th century, a feminist party was formed in Cuba. In Jamaica, it was in 1865 that Lady Musgrave’s self-help society was formed. Similar organisations were formed in Trinidad and Tobago, British Guiana and Barbados, with the common aim of providing economic support to the women who had fallen on reduced circumstances.”
According to La Grenade, Audrey Jeffers was dedicated to improving the conditions of women across socioeconomic sectors.
“In 1956, in light of the short-lived Federation of the West Indies, a Caribbean Women’s Congress was held in Trinidad and Tobago instigated by Audrey Jeffers with the aim of forming a Caribbean Women Association.”
She added that women have done well since then and in Grenada one-third of the Cabinet is made up of women.
“More and more women have become doctors, lawyers, ministers and prime ministers of governments, professionals, judges, and even a number of regional governors-general and the President, as you have here in Trinidad and Tobago. The Parliament of Grenada now has 40 per cent women in the combined Upper and Lower House.”
La Grenade said Portia Simpson-Miller, who served as the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica, came from humble origins.
“After high school, she studied at the Jamaican Commercial Institute and worked as a secretary in the field of social services while her political career began in 1974. Well into her career, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration in the United States in 1997.”
She told the graduates they too can accomplish anything despite the social and economic conditions they came from.
“Women of the region have done so successfully despite the many challenges,” she said.