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Honouring women in business, trade unionism

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One of the effects of the technological and communication revolution has been to spread cultural influences rapidly.

 
Today’s world, its young people in particular, are influenced by practices, thoughts and trends from all over the world. Naturally, those idea and practices which arise within the countries which have greatest control of the media, or from countries with which we interact most often, exert the biggest influences on our lives, for better or for worse.

Those influences are reflected in almost all areas of human endeavour. We notice them in fashion, food, lifestyles in general. Curiously, we in the Caribbean seem more inclined to adopt or copy practices and trends in many not-too-healthy areas, being more reluctant to embrace more positive features from abroad. In fact, there are some in our midst who are all too ready, under the guise of resisting foreign influences, to condemn any cultural import, no matter how positive.

Take the Black History Month concept for instance. That idea, of celebrating the contribution of black people to human development, took root in North America and is now officially commemorated there in the month of February, (in October in the United Kingdom). Given the ethnic composition of the Caribbean, our common experience of slavery, and our physical proximity to the United States, it was quite natural that the idea caught on in the Caribbean as well. Yet, there are those among us who openly criticize this commemoration, dubbing it a “copycat” practice. Fortunately, this backward trend has been resisted.

Right on the heels of Black History Month, female rights activists in the USA have been able to win presidential and congressional support for the commemoration of a Women’s History Month during the month of March each year. This idea, like the Black History Month, has its roots in the early struggles of women for equality, manifested in the fight to have International Women’s Day globally recognized on March 8 each year. It, too, focuses on highlighting achievements and critical roles, this time those of women. This year, the theme for Women’s History Month is “Honouring trailblazing Women in Labour and Business”. Is this not a worthwhile initiative? After all, we now stage all kinds of celebrations alien to us, including Valentine’s Day and Halloween!

Honouring women who have been pioneers in the field of business is certainly a needed venture. A couple years ago, the Chamber of Commerce and National Properties initiated a campaign to honour Vincentian pioneers in the field of business. Among these, most deservingly, is Ms Erica McIntosh, who has made a name for herself and contributed significantly in the agro-processing field. Many others have gone unsung and it would be good if women like the late Sylvia DaSilva (hospitality industry), Clara Layne (commerce) and Marjorie Tucker (agriculture) were so honoured. There are many others still making contributions today, whose example we must uphold.

In the same light, there are those who have contributed in the field of labour, in trade unionism to be exact. In this field, we have not been kind to the pioneers, male or female. George McIntosh and Ebenezer Joshua overcame this bias to be now in the frontline of those considered for the status of national hero. But Joshua did not accomplish what he did, neither in trade unionism or politics, alone. At his side was his wife Ivy Joshua. Was there any woman so denigrated, despite her efforts on behalf of the working class and the indigenous people of North Windward? The old Labour party did a “hatchet job” on her, spewing ridicule and displaying class, race and colonial bias in the process. It is high time to correct this historical crime.

Many other female pioneers in the field of trade unionism have never been appropriately honoured, or rewarded for their contributions. Among these are one of Joshua’s lieutenants, the late Alma Johnson of Old Montrose, a Joshua stalwart who ran the offices of his union and political party. In more recent times was another deceased, Alice Mandeville of the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union, as well as another, forgotten, but still alive and active, Cynthia Matthews of the same union. There are others too: Yvonne Francis and Joye Browne of the Teachers’ Union, towers of strength in the embattled days of that union’s struggle for recognition. What can be wrong in using the Women’s History Month idea to focus on the contributions of these heroines?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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