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Valcina Ash: A stalwart of the Women’s Movement

Valcina Ash: A stalwart of the Women’s Movement

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A quiet disposition and an unassuming personality mask the iron will and strength of character that made Valcina Ash a stalwart of the Woman’s Movement in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and a standard bearer of her generation.{{more}}

How did a simple Layou girl become the second woman, the first Vincentian-born woman and the only woman from the St Vincent Labour Party (SVLP) to become an elected member of Parliament? Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Valcina Ash. Valcina, born in Layou, was a schoolteacher there until she married and moved to Barrouallie. There she managed the family business, a retail shop which in still in operation today.

In those days, a retail shop was more of a general store that sold everything from underwear to kerosene oil, flour, pots, pans and garden tools.

When her husband died in 1972, leaving her with four young children, Valcina did not sit at home and twiddle her thumbs. She went out into the community and inspired women to be self-sufficient: “I wanted to do something”, she said.

1973 was declared by the United Nations as International Woman’s Year, and that year Valcina helped launch the first women’s group in Barrouallie and was elected president. “We then began to set up groups all over the place, … in Spring Village, Layou, throughout the island”.

These groups taught sewing and homemaking skills to women in the communities. They also taught cooking and created recipes using local foods. “We wanted women to become more independent and responsible”, she said.

On April 13, 1979, when La Soufriere erupted, Valcina drew on all her resources, and, with her women’s group, began to take care of the evacuees who had been left on the Barrouallie park by offering them breakfast and water. “I opened my kitchen and we just got busy that day”, she said. The group also took all the babies and cared for them until placements were found in homes or camps for their families.

When she became Vice President of the National Council of Women (NCW), Valcina began to attract the attention of the leadership of the SVLP. “Politics wasn’t in my brain. I just wanted to help out and empower the less fortunate women, though I was a strong supporter of the Labour party,” she said.

When SVG became independent from Great Britain in 1979, Valcina was appointed SVLP senator in the first post-independence parliament under Prime Minister Milton Cato.

In 1984, parliamentary representative for Central Leeward A T Woods died while in office. Valcina successfully contested that seat for the SVLP in the bye-election, but lost the seat that same year to Herbert Young in the general elections when the New Democratic Party (NDP) swept to victory defeating the SVLP nine seats to four.

To Valcina Ash, women have come a long way in SVG. “You see women out there doing all sorts of things now, driving trucks and building houses”. A feminist long before the word was part of the Vincentian lexicon, Ash said she never believed in sitting back and waiting for a man to do anything for her. “Like ‘Go call um gee me’ or ‘Wait until e come home (if he ever comes at all)’ none of that nonsense”, she said.

Ash said that her male counterparts were supportive of her foray into politics, but women would meet her and say “Ah way yo get inna dat? Dat ah fo e man an dem”.

A reluctant politician, Ash said that she is quite happy to see professional women entering politics today. “I admire and respect women as politicians, as long as they do the right thing”, she said.

Today, Valcina Ash continues to be an inspiration to her community. She teaches Sunday school and plays the organ at St Patrick’s Anglican church in Barrouallie and continues to run the family business.

In 2006, Valcina received recognition for her lifetime of service to the community when she was awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) from Her Majesty the Queen.

With her face unlined by age, Valcina believes that the young people of SVG should do well, “We just have to give them the right guidance”, she said. When asked what her reaction would be if one of her two daughters decides to enter politics, Valcina said: “Sure, I would tell her to go for it. What would politics be without that “feminine” touch?”

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