This week marks one year of the assumption of political leadership of the United National Congress by Kamla Persad-Bissessar. It spiraled a chain of activities that saw her becoming Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Prime Minister – a process I mapped in the book Through the Political Glass Ceiling (2010) which was launched the week before the elections. The book boldly pointed to a potential victory by Persad-Bissessar when all other analyses hedged, only stretching their necks out to, at best, suggest a dead-heat election race with no clear winner. Through the Political Glass Ceiling, which has since made its way into key libraries of the world, clearly mapped a process of underlying and oft-ignored social, cultural and political currents of the last 60 years locally and internationally that paved the way and made almost inevitable Persad-Bissessar’s political victory in the May 2010 election.
One of the chapters in Through the Political Glass Ceiling is titled To Be Woman and Leader. For long they were considered mutually exclusive concepts. Women who become leaders are often asked how they balance both, in denial of recognition that women are born leaders, who birth leaders, and shape the hearts and minds of future leaders.
National winds of change found a responsive global chime. The wave of national popularity since May rippled across the globe and saw her voted in internationally among Time Magazine’s top ten female world leaders and among the Independent Newspaper 16 women taking over the world. She strutted down a Glamour Magazine’s runway as one of 18 women leaders of the world who have remained focused on the issues of women’s empowerment. She refocused UN commitments at the World Summit and lectured to Harvard on Leadership and Cooperation among others.
Women as agents of change will be theme of several activities in the year 2011, as nationally and internationally, the world will reflect on how a more balanced positioning can advance equity and fairness to its disadvantaged and dispossessed. Some of the experiences of Persad-Bissessar, detailed in Through the Political Glass Ceiling, would themselves be analysed at various national and international forums and the obvious question is sure to surface - how has she transformed the environment in which she functions? How has she functioned as an agent of change? How has her leadership impacted the UNC, Trinidad and Tobago? The world?
One of the key failures of women leaders have been in trying to enforce-fit into the male – and so far clearly deficient culture and environment (for how could any Government claim success when there is such vast discrepancies in wealth with more than 80 percent of the world’s population living on less than USD 10 per day and more than 40 percent less than USD 2 per day?) Lack of confidence and loss of focus on that simple fact has felled many-a–female leader. It seems easier to fall into patterns of failure, rather than trying to transform one’s sphere into one in which all, including women and children can function on an equal footing – one recalls attempts by former British PM, Margaret Thatcher at deepening her voice so her tones blend into the male-dominated political sphere. Persad-Bissessar will be well-poised to keep the confidence and the focus.
In the frenzy of the first year of governance, there might not have been much time to step back and reflect on how governance might be responding to the call for change but as the year winds down and a new one begins, it is naturally given to reflect on the successes of 2010 and think of repositioning for the challenges of 2011. The symbolic impact seen in the accolades heaped on her leadership in 2010 will be seeking substance in 2011. The platform of people-centred government represented by the People’s Partnership came at a time in 2010 when the world was looking for a new model of governance, as Through the Political Glass Ceiling posits. 2011 will be the acid test of whether a woman, a leader, an agent of change, the centre of this new model, will hold.