#COVID19Chronicles-129: August 21, 2020-Much more than numbers: a few thoughts on gender balance in Jamaican politics

When you put numbers into context, most people are quick to see that equal numbers may or may not matter as far as fairness is concerned; context is everything. What difference numbers mean for opportunities and choices is important. I could offer some trite examples. We learn through life and experience that it’s not an equal or fair contest to just set teams of equal numbers against each other. As children, once we learn to count, we start to focus on equality of numbers: “It’s not fair! She’s got more than me.” However, as we mature, we start to perceive differences, even in seemingly absurd ways: “He’s got the bigger half!”; the attributes of the parts start to matter. We eventually understand that being equal in numbers matters a lot less than what the numbers can do in some collective way.

It’s simple to see that equal numbers don’t tell much of a story, if they did then we would not bother with the contests that attract so much attention and passion from the expectations that our ‘number’ is better than your ‘number’. It doesn’t take kids long to figure out that tug of war isn’t even when the 4 kids aged less than 6 lose to daddy.

We can understand that 1 against 1 can often be highly unequal: one person yelling and the other not getting in a word edgewise isn’t a conversation.

When we’re watching sport, we know that teams may field equal numbers, but woebetide you if you want to argue that makes things equal: Liverpool versus Scunthorpe is seen as equal starting numbers but isn’t seen as a fair contest. Last weekend, Barcelona lost 2-8 to Bayern Munich; two teams which most people would say on paper are about equal. I saw the tears flow up-close when Brazil lost in Rio to Germany 2-7; each team had 11 men, Brazil were on home soil, both teams have stellar records in the World Cup, then… 😦 How could that be? We know that any Jamaican foursome on the track can beat any other quartet in the world 🙂 In other words, no one in their right mind thinks that the numbers alone tell you anything. It’s because equal numbers don’t mean much that people will pay megabucks to watch teams contend for superiority.

In a familiar Jamaican context, many will see that the team of 4 from school A matches against 4 from school B may be lopsided.

What greater pleasure is there for a neutral or their fans than seeing the weaker side get the upset? Better still, when that side is down to 9 players against 11. So, numbers can even have perverse effects.

It’s often telling, to me, at least, that in politics, people get excited about numbers when it comes to gender representation, without going beyond the mere numbers. I’m not going to get too excited when I see things like the number of women candidates rise. I know that numbers may matter, but what will each person and the group bring to the table? So, if I look at the backgrounds of the candidates (of any stripe), I will start to measure what each is really likely to contribute. Am I going to be as excited to see two postgraduates from US Ivy League schools who’ve cut their teeth within the party machinery amongst the candidates as I would be by seeing two candidates whose highest academic qualifications were graduating from basic school, but then built successful businesses?

I know, too, in the context of politics and other areas where ‘merit’ may be a cluster of subjective features, that we are not seeing people assigned just based on some clear objective measures. So, the importance of numbers alone gets diluted. I’d feel more comfortable getting excited if I knew that ministerial positions were ‘open’ competitions and that we could measure who and why one candidate seemed better for a position. But, that’s part of some Utopian dream 🙂 The distribution of portfolios is in the power of the leader (and his party), and how that power is used is a balance of many choices.

Jamaica’s upcoming general election has more women contesting seats than ever before (JLP is fielding 18, while PNP is fielding 12, out of a total of 139 candidates from all parties) and that’s generated some early media interest. [For some context, the current Cabinet of 12 ministers includes 3 women (one of whom is not elected). There are an additional 5 ministers ‘without portfolio’, and 4 State ministers, all of whom are men.]

Where I think numbers matter a lot more in the political context is with perceptions. We’d be naive to not see that women were not normally seen as part of the ‘club’, so have to ‘earn’ their place in the eyes of current ‘members’. Much the same as black people in predominantly white settings, or people from ordinary backgrounds in the midst of those settled into activities on the basis of some privileges. It’s a sad reality about most areas of social change.

I also know that numbers for groups that are significant minorities matter a lot in terms of feeling comfortable in many aspects of functioning in an area of activity. At a basic level, we know that previously male-dominated settings may not have facilities that cater for women!

It’s often startling to see how people can get picked on and picked off because they do not have the weight of numbers to counter attack or defend. We’ve seen far too often how an underrepresented group can be the subject of a range of stereotyping that is rarely respectful and sometimes downright rude, often irrespective of the status they have attained. Many black men know the humiliating experience of being referred to as ‘boy’ by white people on many occasions. What could have possessed Everald Warmington to refer to Lisa Hanna (then a Cabinet minister) as ‘Jezebel’?

Many in the Caribbean region are excited by the vision of women leading in politics as that reflects more of the realities of life than if women are not in charge. We accept that many aspects of our society are dominated by women in terms of sheer numbers as well as significant contributions. We rarely veer away from accepting that many families have women as heads of household and can really be called matriarchal. Yet, we also know that patriarchy has an overbearing impact on many aspects of ordinary life and in the wielding of various levers of power. I’m not going to wrestle too much with that conundrum.

Jamaica is one country in the region that has had a women prime minister, so should be at ease with the idea that more women will be in, and can rise to the top, in representational politics. I lived in Jamaica through the end of the last Portia Simpson-Miller administration. I lived in the UK through almost all of the three Margaret Thatcher administrations (1979-90).

Many have touted advantages from increasing women’s representation in business and politics. The management of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that countries led by women have managed better.

Trust two economists based in the UK to try to explain why. 🙂 According to a recent study, these success stories have to do with leadership styles that are in general associated with women leaders, and the study offers an insight into why women policy-makers can make better decisions in certain types of situations.

That contrast in styles was not enough for our northern neighbour to elect their first woman president in 2016. There’s no woman presidential candidate in 2020, but the Democrats have just nominated a woman as their vice presidential candidate. Need I mention that she has Jamaican roots? 🙂

I’m especially fascinated by what happens in the next election in Jamaica, not least because my three daughters and their mothers have led me for years and I seem not to have suffered much 🙂

Back on the rock: compassion is still kissing complacency

I never took my eyes off Jamaica while I was in Brazil, but things look different close up.

When I arrived at the airport in Kingston, I saw what the drought meant when I looked on parched brown grass, and noticed the hazy sky above. The rain has not come as usual this year and almost every part of the island knows it. Friends are trying different ways to overcome this. Some are looking to divert water from washing machines. Some are pressing for water tanks to be mandatory features of new buildings and for them to be placed in all existing structures. Government makes statements about ‘implementing’ projects, but too little, too late is what we have….again. We’ve reaped the harvest of neglect with water mismanagement again, and it’s just lamentable that our eyes seem unable to see the faults and address them before we reach another crisis. But, sadly, that is the Jamaican way. Our national anthem does not mention complacency, yet it’s part of our national character.

It did not take long to be hit by another Jamaican failing, our lack of integrity. On my ride home, I read reports of a CVM sports reporter making Zeig Heil signs and remarks after Germany won the World Cup on Sunday. I checked other sources, and yes it was so. Appalling, is the word that I have for that display. Some grubby apology was apparently made live later the same evening. There is bad taste and ignorance at work here, plus–by the public silence by other media–a worrying inability to challenge wrongs. CVM should have had no hesitation in firing the broadcaster as issuing a full apology. Rather than the broadcaster making that apology and the station staying mum. I would think the German Embassy has protested strongly, and that the Foreign Minister has spoken to CVM. But, being Jamaica, the cynical reaction could also be right, that heads remain buried in the sand and no one wants to look up and stare the elephant in the face. One good thing is that Jamaica is so small that this sort of ridiculous behaviour in a country of a mere three million people is passed over, even it makes it out into the international sphere. People still see us the sweet land of Bobby Marley.

The political playground has not offered much in recent weeks, meaning that no major changes have occurred in how the country is run. Most decisions still get made with little or no apparent consultation. It was fascinating to listen to the BBC Wordl Servkce this morning talking about developments in Iraq, and how rival groups are trying to get a real stake in government. We don’t have the same ethnic and relegious conflict, but divisions we do have. However, don’t expect them to get a good airing. The status quo is very powerful.

One area where that may change is in how patriarchy gets weakened. For months, some push has been made to give women a bigger voice in national politics. The talk has been of quotas, a bad idea, in my mind. Today, Britain’s PM has started to reshuffle his Cabinet, and so far doubled the number of women represented, “replacing the male, pale and stale” as it has been dubbed by the UK press. No quotas. True, general elections are due next May, and it would naïve to think that the ruling party that has tended to win the female vote would not help themselves seem nicer to women. Britain has and has had many very capable politicians, including one of the most dynamic world leaders. Britons are more comfortable thinking that privilege is not the reason for position, even with decades of leaders who have tended to come from privilege, either money or more commonly education, especially from the top schools and universities. The basic shape of Cabinet will change, with fewer middle-aged men, and younger females. They will still be predominantly white, but don’t be surprised by a splash of colour. Jamaica ought to be watching carefully.20140715-095337-35617841.jpg

What we’ve seen, though is one of the government ministers who’s had a hard time keeping control of his whippersnapper deciding that Parliamentary politics is not for him. Damien Crawford, known as much for his dreadlocks as his prowess in maths, will not contest the next elections. He could be a great talk show host, keeping pepper in the eyes of the interviewed, and knowing more than enough about how the whole funky business of party politics works in Jamaica.

The economy can’t change in a few days, but some people would like to think that fundamental changes happen in a day. The central bank intervened in the foreign exchange market last week. This is normal activity. What was abnormal was that they admitted it. Whoi, the Governor has no clothes! People keep hoping for the J$ to stop sliding but won’t accept or understand that it’s not a truck that can be held in place by a brick. We want to support Tessanne Chin by buying her album? Well that means buying US$, and selling J$. Oh, that’s how it works? So, not supporting Tessanne is good for Jamaica overall. Better, to get the rest of the world to buy her records, so that we can get some income via her, and save our money to buy more weave. That too? Yes.

Put differently, China is growing fast still. It buys commodities and sells manufactured goods. We are the opposite. We sell commodities and buy manufactured. We could make more, but we’ve never been good at the quality side. But, the J$ needs us to fix that imbalance.

One way is to get more traction from our athletes as manufactured goods. Our own doping agency, JADCO, keeps trying to trip them up and failing them in drug tests, only to have their decisions overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. That should tell us something. Either JADCO don’t know their hurdles from their javelins, or they don’t know their aspects from their ratios. Bottom line: JADCO must go, or be transferred to Scunthorpe United and play in a lower division.20140715-101741-37061586.jpgThis time, CAS also ruled that THE 18 month ban imposed by JADCO on Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson should be reduced to six months, and be deemed as served, plus JADCO must pay their costs. Lashings from the lawyers were being meted out, in good Jamaican fashion.

We keep getting it wrong be paid we don’t spend time to learn how to do it right. Send me these ‘children’ for a few days of training.

Jamaica is crazy. You can still stand on a street and hail a car and expect to be picked up by a stranger and given a ride. If you see a friend on the roadside, you are likely to offer them a ride if they are headed your way. We will also drive people into the dirt for having views or acting In a way that we deem abnormal. We cannot translate our readiness to care randomly into something systematic. Rather, we encase hard attitudes. That’s one reason we get stuck. Our systems are savage when it comes to dealing with real issues. We would rather let everything slide by than address what we should.