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Female force

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Female force

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AT 30, MARRIANNE BURNHAM is the youngest president of the Business and Professional Women of Barbados. But while she may be young, she has a vision for the organization in terms of expanding its membership base and empowering women.
Marrianne, who has now taken over from past president Nalita Gajadhar, first joined the group back in 2008 after her friend’s mother invited her to a meeting.
“There’s been a lack of support from women themselves when it comes to groups like this,” Marrianne said. “Time is part of it. You find more people our age having children and they’re single mothers as opposed to having a partner, so time is a problem. Then when it comes to volunteering there is a perception in our society that being a volunteer doesn’t say anything much. There’s a thought also that women’s groups are feminist groups, so there’s a stigma attached to it of being anti-men.”
The group, which has been around since 1967, has always championed the rights of women. But Marrianne and fellow member Nicole Alleyne are determined to increase the organization’s visibility and plan to use social media as a medium.
“When people start to understand the work that we’re doing, that’s when they’re moved to join the club,” Marrianne said. “When we first went to the Shelter Awards three years ago and heard the history of the shelter and saw the photos of women who had died as a result of domestic abuse, or heard the stories of women who had escaped abusive situations, we were moved. This is the stuff that moves people to get into the group.”
Marrianne and Nicole are planning to bring the issue of domestic violence to the fore, but they also plan to celebrate the scores of female entrepreneurs that are out there.
“The other notion that we want to dispel is that this organization is only for professional women like doctors, lawyers and accountants,” said Nicole.
“We want people who braid hair or are fish vendors to understand that they are businesswomen,” said Marrianne. “They need to see themselves as that and work to organize themselves in the right way.”
According to Marrianne, the group also works with women as part of the pre-release programme at Her Majesty Prisons Dodds to help these women reintegrate into society.
Another area that is important to the organization is working with young women at the secondary school level to help change their perceptions of themselves and the world around them.
“The problem is that women see themselves as ordinary,” says Nicole. But we are givers of life, world-changers and women need to see the inner beauty of themselves.”
“My goal is to empower women at all levels,” says Marrianne. “I would like to see that I’ve left that legacy behind.”