So I am about ready to declare some of the seats in this election. I am particularly focused on the seats being contested by women. Both the PNP and the JLP have fielded candidates in this 2016 general elections, the NDM has not fielded a full slate of candidates but they have put forward one woman and from assessing the names of the other candidates outside of the NDM it would appear that there is one other woman. The PNP has 13 women in their slate of candidates, while the JLP has put forward eleven(11) women as candidates.
Getting more women on the ballot has been the focus of a number of women throughout Jamaica. The formation of the 51% Coalition just over four years ago, following the National Policy of Gender Equality (NPGE) established a focus of the need for greater attention to be paid to the candidate selection process and the numbers of women who run and who subsequently make it to the House of Representatives. As a member of the 51% Coalition I participated in conversations, workshops, teach ins, seminars, lectures, debates and street side chats with just about everyone who would listen, on the need for more women in representative politics. Parity is the minimum goal for those of us who advocate for more women in representational politics. Truth is we expect that women should do things differently, at the very minimum to impact decision making processes such that social justice kinds of issues are integrated into the governance considerations of the leaders in Parliament. Whether or not this is so for every woman is highly debatable, in fact one of the discussions that we continue to revisit in the women’s sector is the kind of woman who really represents in such a way that these issues become a part of her agenda. So while we examine the numbers, there is also a greater need to examine the substance of the women we elect and to ask will she really deliver on the expectations of those who advocate for greater numbers of women in the hope that women will have a positive impact on our governance arrangements. There is agreement that at least 30% of the seats in Parliament should be occupied by women for one to see the impact women can have on decision making.
In this election some women will win and some will lose, so far it looks like their will be more PNP than JLP women who will sit as members of parliament in the House. For the PNP St. Andrew South Western; being contested by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller; St. Ann South Eastern where we find Lisa Hanna, St. Catherine Eastern with Denise Daley and St. Catherine North Central, with Natalie Neita Headley are sure wins. Clarendon South Eastern is an interesting one, Patricia Duncan Sutherland, is putting up a spirited fight against Rudyard Spence, the incumbent. I am going to call it for Patricia; there is a feeling that she has covered enough ground to take it from Ruddy, furthermore if one looks at the voting trends over the last three elections it is clear that support for Ruddy has been trending down, clearly he has not been doing the work. Three seats look uncertain but the women in these seats are fighting and look intent to take it home for the PNP, I just cannot call them yet. In any case two of those seats are being contested by two women, one from each major party, so whichever party wins a woman will occupy the seat.
Imani Duncan Price in St. Andrew East Rural and Sharon Folkes Abrahams in St. James West Central, are both contesting strong women from the JLP, in any case a woman will win and so improve the numbers, but the details of this fight are also interesting. Imani Duncan Price is a firebrand with a family history that spells ‘political dynasty’, she is smart and easy to like but somehow this is not being translated into support for her particular kind of representation in her constituency and her opponent Juliet Holness is being tipped to win the constituency. Word is that Juliet comes across as being more ‘accessible’ to the typical voter, like Imani she is represented as likeable and though her family connections are different from Imani’s herself and her husband, Andrew Holness, are certainly trending in the ‘famous families in Jamaican politics’ category. But Imani’s father is a political strategist who is not contesting the election, this seat will be decided on the day I suspect, it will go to who have the stronger ground force. Sharon Folkes Abrahams is the incumbent in St. James West Central, she is facing Marlene Malahoo Forte; these are two accomplished women with experience in the law. For me the issue here is the power of female incumbency, can Marlene successfully challenge Sharon? I don’t know, I am going to wait until later, but in any case this seat will increase the numbers of women in the House of Parliament. Ashley Ann Foster is a ‘newbie’ in St. James Central, her male opponent is too, and the seat is a new one, came into being in the 2011 elections, she has already challenged one male, and won, Lloyd B. Smith is after all no longer on the PNP ticket; Ashley Ann Foster is one to watch.
Fayval Williams is challenging Andre Hylton most convincingly in St. Andrew Eastern. And the safe seats with Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange in St. Catherine Central, Shahini Robinson in St. Ann North Eastern and Marisa Dalrimple Philibert in Southern Trelawny are set to retake their seats as Members of Parliament. At the very least I expect the JLP to have four women on their side when they take their seats in Gordon House. This is not to say they might not have more, things are looking quite well for Juliet Holness in St. Andrew East Rural and her namesake, former Olympian Juliet Cuthbert Flynn is putting up a convincing fight in St. Andrew West Rural, and of course Marlene Malahoo Forte is a serious contender. So there are three too close to call ones for the JLP. Though, I suspect that Juliet Cuthbert will emerge victor.
It looks as if we might have a maximum of twelve women as members of parliament eleven at the least. This would mean an almost 40% increase in the number of women over the last term, but would actually be only 17% of the total number of seats. We still have far to go to parity, equality in respect of numbers and the matter of substantive representation might even be more problematic. But if we are to change the numbers there are some points to consider; women need to be in a constituency at least two years before an election is called, in their caretaker role they can build the kind of social and political capital that will see them being serious contenders for even the most hard to win and ‘garrisonized’ seats. Patricia Duncan Sutherland’s challenge to Rudyard Spencer, a stalwart in the JLP, is a resounding and serious one, she has been in the constituency working on the ground and connecting with the people, putting in the necessary work. Women need to contest winnable seats; the tradition of garrisons in some constituencies makes it impossible for challengers to win regardless of their gender. For this reason placing a woman to contest an election in Clarendon Central, St. Andrew North Central and perhaps St. Thomas West can’t be seen as a serious attempt at changing the numbers; women need to be placed in winnable seats. Other factors which might influence women’s ability to be viable are the number of new voters on the list, the strength of the candidate herself and in particular her access to money, organizational support from the party, especially from the top tiered leadership and social media visibility.
So I am going to wait and see what happens.