Atherley highlights the plight of working class women
Leader of the Opposition, Bishop Joseph Atherley said he hoped the election of Dame Sandra Mason as the first President of Barbados will lead to a greater focus on the plight of less fortunate women.
Atherley made this observation following the election of Dame Sandra to the position on Wednesday during a joint sitting of the House of Assembly and Senate at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
He said the advancement of women in the Barbadian society, economy, and governance structure was “very evident and very welcomed”.
“But equally evident is the fact that the movement is taking place among women at higher levels of socio-economic life in Barbados, while women at the lower levels face a persistent reality of hardship and challenge,” Atherley said during his congratulatory remarks to Dame Sandra.
The Opposition Leader singled out women working as shop assistants, gas attendants and security guards, as well as domestic, factory and hotel workers as groups needing special consideration by government.
“It is my view that a high priority in the new republic headed by a woman, therefore, must be that we change that situation,” he said.
“A change in our constitutional status is without sufficiency of meaning unless we change for the better and radically so the lot, the plight of our people.
“It cannot be that we elect a woman as our first president, a female as our prime minister and not realise that a much more robust effort is imperatively and urgently needed to counter the trinity of evil.”
Atherley labelled the economic exploitation of women in the workplace, sexual harassment of young women in vulnerable settings and domestic abuse of women as “the trinity of evil”.
“May I humbly suggest and express the hope that with the fully expressed support of all political parties, we can see in the earliest practicable period of this new presidency the setting up of a presidential commission mandating to lead in the development of a national charter for single mothers in Barbados,” he said. “Among our population this is a particular category of women with their own distinct challenges.”
Atherley said it was a privilege to be part of the affirmative vote for Dame Sandra.
“By this vote, we have elevated to the highest office in the land, in this new context, someone that we consider worthy of this signal honour, someone who has achieved excellence in her public and professional life, and someone who has worn all the trappings of her current office [Governor General] with dignity, polish and the requisite mix of pride and humility,” he said.
“She is someone that both symbolises and gives substantive expression to that which we desire to be ideally Barbadian, inclusive of (1) the pursuit of individual duty as one’s imperative contribution to the shaping of our national destiny, (2) the embrace of integrity and industry in professional and public endeavour, (3) the demonstration of civility and charity and engaging others in the context of their concerns and challenges.”
Atherley said Dame Sandra also represented symbolically and substantively “a unifying force in the practice of our political and governance model”.
In becoming the first President of Barbados, the Opposition Leader noted that Dame Sandra added to a long list of firsts she had achieved in her life, including the first Barbadian female admitted to the Barbados bar to practice law and the first woman to serve on the Court of Appeal.
He said, however, the parliamentary opposition was concerned about the process in which Barbados became a republic was handled by the government.
“We believe the process is wrong, it’s flawed, and both a public education programme and the formulation of a republican constitution should precede the country assuming the status of republic,” he said.
“We believe the timing is wrong. Not the time or period of history at which we have arrived, for truly this is our moment.
“But this moment and the circumstances which preclude a fulsome celebration and a nationally embraced celebration of this step . . . . The country is both distracted and somewhat depressed at this time.”
Members of the House voted 27-0 and the Senate 18-0 to make Dame Sandra the first president of the new republic of Barbados on November 30, traditionally Independence Day.