In a male dominated society such as the United Kingdom one can be forgiven for ignoring or failing to appreciate the challenges women endure on a daily basis. Notwithstanding the fact that women represent 34% of managers in the United Kingdom (the highest in Europe according to the Office for National Statistics) the feeling that they have to work twice as hard to command respect and equal opportunities including pay as their male counterparts, still obtains. Nonetheless, the statistics clearly show that women have come a long way since women’s suffrage in 1918 and are establishing themselves as competent as men in many fields of endeavour. To elucidate the point, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
In an attempt to highlight some of the initiatives that women, particularly in the African Caribbean community can use to socially, economically and intellectually empower themselves in this highly competitive capitalist society, The St.Vincent and the Grenadines High Commission organized and delivered its first Women’s Empowerment Seminar for 2016 last Sunday.
Giving the welcoming remarks to a packed audience that included Minister Counsellor / Deputy High Commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda Mrs. Althea Vanderpoole-Banahene and also a spattering of men was High Commissioner His Excellency Cenio Lewis who stressed the need for such a seminar by referencing several outstanding women of yore who made invaluable contributions to the socio-economic advancement of women the world over. His charge to the distinguished panel and women in the room was, “Continue to empower yourselves so that the communities from which you have come would become a much better place.”
Under the theme, Empowering you! Empowering me!, presentations were delivered in quick succession moderated by Minister Counsellor / Deputy High Commissioner Mrs Doris Charles. Dr Carlis Douglas-Sanusi founder of the HOPE Atrium (Health, Opportunity, Participation, Education.) began the discourse by speaking on the topic: Professional Development and Maturation. She provided an engaging presentation on the difference between ‘growth’ and ‘maturation’. She touched on the existential concept of ‘self’ by getting the audience to ask themselves, ‘who am I?’ Dr Douglas-Sanusi used this technique to point out that all human beings regardless of orientation or geographical origin should have core values that, in the case of women, if harnessed correctly can influence their professional development thereby empowering them to undertake challenges they otherwise would not have thought possible.
On the topic, Utilising energy within to empower others, was Mrs. Elisabeth Mullings Smith, hydrogeologist (groundwater engineer) and managing director MAYA BLUE Limited. Mrs. Mullings Smith employed the participatory approach to her presentation by asking attendees to pass an object, later identified as flint rock, around the room with the main objective of having participants register the experience of feeling the object. She then pointed out that before steel was discovered several types of marcasite material were rubbed against flint in search of the most inflammable which turned out to be iron which is a pyrophorics material (metal substances that spontaneously ignite below room temperature, which is about 70°F (21°C) SOURCE: SurvivalTopics.com. Mrs. Mullings Smith made the analogy to impress upon the women in the room to find their hidden source of energy to set them alight and go forth and empower others.
Ms. Jacqueline Roberts, a second generation Saint Vincent and the Grenadines descendant delivered her presentation on ‘The Assertive Woman.’ She shared how being a member of an Association of Second Generation St.Vincent and the Grenadines, being involved in steel pan and the Wycombe Festival have made it imperative that she stood up for what she believed in and represented herself with confidence in spite of being surrounded by an abundance of testosterone. Her persistence and unstinting service to the UK Caribbean Diaspora was recognised as a prime example of indirect empowerment of certain sections of the Diaspora.
The fourth presentation was a Personal testimony of becoming a woman of influence by Reverend Katei Kirby. Rev. Kirby a British national of Antiguan heritage was inspired by her philanthropist grandmother in Antigua who devoted her life to feeding many underprivileged villagers. Her selflessness was widely known and spread to neighbouring villages and towns making her notorious for her generosity and kindness. Rev. Kirby reflected on the fact that her grandmother was such an empowering influence on all who came into contact with her with less than half her qualifications and thought she could do quite a bit to empower people of her own generation with her talents. She remarked, ‘ Our gender is our packaging and our gift is what makes room for us’. Rev. Kirby was also passionate about sharing and helping others and stated emphatically, ‘Unless you invest in the future and in others you’re just having a good time.’
Closing the day’s presentations was a telling testimonial entitled From the pit to the palace by Ms. Marie Hanson, MBE. Ms. Hanson who is a Councillor with Wandsworth Council, recounted for the audience’s benefit her harrowing ordeal with a previous partner who verbally, psychologically and physical abused her even while she was heavily pregnant. She decided to rise above the trauma of her situation and mustered all her strength and courage to remove herself from the situation with her children and set up a charitable organisation called STORM which is the acronym for Support, Trust, Opportunity, Rebuilding and Motivation, established in 2004. STORM’s aim is to help single mothers who need support. They particularly focus on members of the local south London population within the Black Ethnic Minority, and hard-to-engage groups. Her work with STORM has earned her the recognition of the community and consequently the Prime Minister who recommended to the Queen she be awarded the MBE which she received in 2016. In the immortal words of Eleanor Roosevelt “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.”
Wrapping up the day’s proceedings was a representative of JIC Holdings, Ms. Susanne Wilkinson who praised the event concept and the conduct of the sessions. She pledged on behalf of her company to provide continued support for initiatives that seek to empower women.
Event organiser Mrs. Doris Charles – Minister Counsellor/Deputy High Commissioner on behalf of the High Commission, was most pleased with the turn out and interaction. She expressed the view that there was a consistent line of thought throughout all the presentations; that of finding a purpose for doing what was necessary to empower one-self and others. It was that recognition and use of the intention to ‘better oneself and others that was truly inspiring and inspirational.