Perkins, Seaga and the Mongrel: Part I

On Monday, December 29, 1997, I had an hour-long conversation with Wilmot Perkins on his radio show, ‘Perkins On Line,’ about Edward Seaga’s description of the People’s National Party as a ‘mongrel’ party.  At the time, I was writing a column for the Jamaica Observer and excerpts of the transcript were published in the paper in three installments.  The first was titled, ‘Playing fool to catch wise’.   In the next few blog posts, I’ll be serialising an unedited transcript of the entertaining conversation.  

Perkins: ‘We’re back here with you on line. Hello?

Cooper: ‘Hallo?’

P:  Yes, ma’am, good afternoon to you.

C: A very good afternoon to you Mr. Perkins.  I’m Carolyn Cooper . . .

P:  Ooooh, Miss, Mrs . . . Mrs or Miss Cooper?

C: Miss Cooper

P:  Miss Cooper.  How are you?

C: Fine.

P: Good.

C: Very well. All the best for the new year, Mr. Perkins.

P: Oh, thank you very much. And the same to you!

C: Thank you. No, well the reason I’m calling, you see, is because somebody just called me a little while a go to say that you were on the air telling people that mongrel does not mean dog.  Is that right?

P. Does not mean dog.

C: I didn’t actually hear that, so I’m wondering if that’s what you actually said.

P: That a mong, mongrel does not necessarily mean dog.

C: Oh, you’re saying ‘necessarily’.

P: Yes

C: Oh you’re modifying it.

P. No, no, no, no!  No, no, no, no!

C: So you concede that it does mean dog as well.

P. It, it, well, there are dogs; there are mongrel dogs and mongrel all sorts of other things.

C: Alright.  Now, Mr. Perkins, I don’t know which dictionary you consulted for that definition but my trusty Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, listen to the definitions it gives for mongrel.  The first definition, “a dog of no definable breed”

P: Yes

C:  “resulting from various crossings.”

P: Yes

C: 1b, “applied to persons as a term of contempt.”

P: Yes

C: That’s the primary meaning.  The secondary meaning 2, “an animal or plant resulting from the crossing of different breeds or kinds, restricted by some to the result of the crossing of varieties opposed to hybrid”; and 3, “a person not of pure race, chiefly disparaging.”

P: Uh huh

C: So when you say mongrel is not necessarily dog, Mr. Perkins,

P: Yes

C: You not being fair.

P: Why?

C: Because the primary meaning of mongrel is a “dog of no definable breed”.

P: But the primary meaning implies that there are other meanings.

C: Yes, Mr Perkins, I’m not saying there are not other meanings.

P: So therefore, if it has – hold on with me – if there are other meanings,

C: Uh huh

P: Right, and, and, and if there are other meanings of the word mongrel

C: Yes

P: Then why do you light up on what you are calling the primary meaning to say that that is the only meaning?

Edward Seaga

C: Because, Mr. Perkins, in the context of Mr. Seaga’s usage – let me tell you now, I didn’t hear him, you know; this is all hearsay. I didn’t hear what he said. I gather he said this is the PNP is a mongrel party, not the pure – well I don’t know if he said pure, it’s not the . . .

P: No, he said, he said that it was not the party of Norman Manley,

C: Or?

P:  Nor of Michael Manley

Michael Manley

C: Alright

P:  It is now a mongrel party.

C: OK.  Now in that context of usage,

P: Yes

C: I take your point that, perhaps, he did not mean mongrel as dog, although he . . .

P: No, hold on little bit.  Hold on little bit.  Ahm, you are a graduate of a university?

C: Yes man

P: And a teacher, and a teacher of English?

C: Yes, I teach literature, but you know literature,

P: You teach literature.

C: The raw material of literature is language.

P: Is language

C: So I teach language.

P: Language.  Therefore I assume that you are not only familiar with the semantics of words but you are familiar with words used as metaphor.

C: Oh yes, Mr Perkins!  If I were to say . . .

P: And if the word, if the word is used in relation to  

C: Careful now Mr Perkins, careful what you say

P: Yes.  Analyse with me. The word mongrel, the primary meaning you say

C: No, not I say

P: Alright

C: The Oxford

P: The Oxford Dictionary.

C: The primary meaning is a dog.

P: Is a dog

C: Dog.  Of no definable breed

P: Of no definable breed. If the word is used  . . .

C: Metaphorically?

P: Hold on little bit. If Mr Seaga says that the People’s National Party is a mongrel party

C: Yes

P: He clearly is not talking then about a dog.  He’s talking about a party.

C: He’s talking about the party, but he’s applying to the party

P: No! Hold on just a moment!

C: A word – mongrel – is functioning there as an adjective describing the party.

P: Miss Cooper

C: Yes sir.

P: If he’s . . .  you say the primary meaning of mongrel

C:  Uh huh

P: Is a kind of dog. Yes.  Now, if he is using the word not in relation to dogs, to a dog, but to a party

C: He’s using it metaphorically.

P: Then he clearly is using the word metaphorically.

C: Right

P: Now, so what we are dealing with here is a metaphor.

C: Mr. Perkins, a lot of your listeners don’t know what metaphor means.

P: Hold on! We’re not dealing here with a statement of fact; we’re dealing with a metaphor.

C: Yes, well we’re dealing with a statement of fact, that he did say that the PNP is a mongrel party.

P:  No, no! That is not the fact that I’m talking about.

C: What we have to establish now is what does that factual statement mean.

P: No, no! No, no! That’s not a factual statement. That’s not a factual, what I would call a factual statement.  It is a metaphorical statement.

C: Alright, no, I’m operating at two levels; first, the first level is to say let us establish

P: Did he or did he not say it.

C: Yes

P: Yes, he did say something. 

C: I didn’t hear it.

P: He did say it.

C: He did say it. So we’re moving on to the next level. What did he mean?

P: What kind of statement is it? Does he mean that the PNP is a dog? Or is he making a metaphorical statement, ahm, to mean that the PNP is a, is a dog of no definable character?

C: Yes, that is what he’s saying.

P: A dog, no, no! Does he mean that the PNP is a dog? Or does he mean that the PNP is a party? Because he didn’t say it was a mong mongrel. He said it was a mongrel party.

C: He’s using it . . .

P: Hold on little bit. No, no, no, no! The word mongrel in the context, I heard what he said; the word mongrel was not used as a noun.

C & P: It was used as an adjective.

C: Alright.

P: Because it qualified party.

C: Ok. Yes

P: So Mr Mong Seaga was not talking about a dog. He was talking about a party.

C: That is like a dog

P: That shared

C: He was talking about a party

P: that shared in his view 

C: that is like a dog, Mr. Perkins.

P.  Hold on little! No, no!

C: He was talking about a party that he was comparing to

P: No, no, no! He wasn’t comparing. This wasn’t a comparison

C: He was comparing the party to

P: No, this was not a comparison.

C: A kind of dog.

P: No ma’am. No, no, no, no!  Come now. He was not talking about a dog.

C: Alright, Mr. Perkins

P: He didn’t use the word mongrel as a noun. He used it as an adjective.

C: And as an adjective

P: As an adjective he used it.

C: As an adjective, it contains the qualities of the noun.

P. Hold on just a moment. Hold on. He used the word mongrel as an adjective qualifying the word party.

C: Mr. Perkins, this might confuse you more. Let me

P: Hold on just a moment nuh! Hold on. Let me tell you what he said.

C: Yes.

P: He used the word mongrel as an adjective qualifying the word party.

C: Ih hih.

Norman Manley

P: So he isn’t talking about a dog. He’s talking about a party.

C: OK.

P: That shares some of the attributes, in his view, of a mongrel.

C: Right.

P: OK

C: Good.

P: Good. So we are agreed on that.

C: Yes.

P: What’s wrong with that?

Hieronymus Bosch's 'Wriggling Things'

This is how I answer that question in my column published in the Observer on January 17, 1998:

“Good question.  You see what’s wrong with that.  When I pin down Mr. Perkins – he is forced to concede that mongrel means dog and the PNP is being compared to a dog – he tries to wriggle away by pretending that we really agree”.

There’s a lot more wriggling in Part II.

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Perkins And The ‘Intellectual Ghetto’

Wilmot Perkins’ grief-stricken apostles abused me good and proper last week for daring to suggest that their saviour had feet of clay. The irony is that not even Motty himself would have objected to the portrait I painted. He was sensible enough to acknowledge his weaknesses. Unlike his devotees!

Many of Motty’s fans do not seem to understand that talk radio is a show first and foremost. The best programmes are informative. But they also have to be entertaining. Motty often played roles in order to ensure that his talk show was good theatre.

An incensed fanatic who lives in North America sent me the following email: “Woman look at yourself. Do you think you should mention your name with the great one? You sick ugly woman. Never ever call motty name again and stick to your class which i dont have to remind you. You disgraceful dunce woman. Embarrasing.” Well, my immediate reaction was, “This fellow needs glasses. Me? Ugly? DWL.”

All the same, I sent him a nice response: “You seem to be in great pain at the death of your hero. Please accept my sympathies for your loss.” That didn’t satisfy him at all. He shot back an even more fiery round of ammunition: “I am indeed Carolyn. He was helping the people unlike people like you and for you to be writing that article shows the level at which you are. Such embarrassment and should be ashamed of yourself.  He could not be bought.

“What are you trying to gain? Shows the level of education you have. If you were at all smart you would realize that he was respected by the masses and soon they will get at you Foolish woman. I implore you to write and apologize as all Jamaica will get at you. Have you read the comments on your article?? Take heed silly.”

In fact, I try not to read the comments on my column. The people who enjoy what I write have no axe to grind. It’s the unhappy readers who feel obliged to post angry comments every single week. They obviously take a perverse pleasure in the column or they would just stop reading it. I suppose I should be pleased that they’re hooked.

Seaga and the mongrels

This grieving man is very well schooled in Motty’s University of Talk Radio. His dismissive reference to my “level of education” echoes Motty’s frequent attacks on the University of the West Indies (UWI), which he mockingly described as “the intellectual ghetto”. I have no idea why Perkins had such contempt for the institution. It couldn’t be a simple case of ‘bad mind an grudgeful’. There must be something more profound at stake.

What I do know is that whenever Perkins was at risk of losing an argument with me, he would draw the ‘intellectual ghetto’ card. Our most famous verbal clash was provoked by Edward Seaga’s ill-considered description of the People’s National Party as a ‘mongrel’ party.

Having made an error of judgement, Seaga backed off. It was Motty who took up the mission of defending the indefensible. He desperately tried to persuade his listeners that mongrel did not mean dog. It only meant degenerate, as if that was any better.

I was so vexed at Motty’s blatant dishonesty I got on the show and we had it out. I began by citing the very first meaning of ‘mongrel’ in the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘dog of no definable breed’. And it was downhill all the way for Motty after that. I’ve transcribed the entire conversation, which is posted on my blog. After an hour of going round and round in circles, this is where we ended up.

Genetically disadvantaged black people

P: You know, ma’am, you know, ma’am, I keep saying, you know, I keep saying, you know, ma’am, the problems of this country, hold on little bit, the problems of this country, with all the violence that you hear going on in so-called ghettos and inner-city areas, right? That is not where the problems of this country lie, you know.

C: The problem is with the university, nuh.

P: It lies in the intellectual ghetto. Yes. It lies among people like you.

C: How me know you were going to bad-talk the university?

P: But how you mean? I must tell you, plain and straight, who should be offering some kind of leadership. You went to university and you get an education and you study English literature and English language and instead of coming back to help people understand, you are using your superior education to befuddle them. Right? And … .

C: Mr P, you know, anybody out there who listen to this conversation, a bet you them tell you seh a you a try mix up people, a no me! A bet you anything. We coulda do a poll … .

P: I wonder what would happen if I were to send copies of this tape around to universities of the world.

C: Yes, what would happen?

P: What would they think of the University of the West Indies? … I wouldn’t do it all the same, you know. I wouldn’t do it. … I once heard a discussion on an American television programme. Serious, serious discussion about black people being genetically disadvantaged. And I wouldn’t want to provide any evidence to support such a theory.

C: Oh, so you’re saying that I’m … . So you a call me a mongrel?

P: Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!

It’s too late for the UWI to confer an honorary doctorate on Wilmot Perkins in recognition of his work in the field of journalism. It’s just as well. I don’t suppose Motty would have welcomed a degree from the intellectual ghetto.

Wilmot Perkins, My Worthy Opponent

Listening to Wilmot Perkins’ radio show was a lot like taking castor oil. A little dose every now and then was very good for the digestive system. Like the compulsory ‘washout’ for children at the end of the summer holidays!

Just suppose you’re clogged up with too many illusions about the goodness of human nature. And suppose you find yourself thinking that, perhaps, Jamaica isn’t such a bad place after all, given the global picture. You start to get worried. Is your mind playing tricks on you? Could you be happy in a fool’s paradise?

Don’t panic. All you had to do was tune in to Mutty and the bush doctor would prescribe just the right cure: gloom and doom in generous quantities. But a steady diet of Mutty’s medicine was downright dangerous. It could cause terminal depression, incontinence, flatulence, heart murmurs and civil unrest: you name it. Just like those supposedly legal drugs advertised on United States television! The side effects of the ‘cure’ are often far more deadly than the disease.

A lot of people were addicted to ‘Perkins On Line’ and, before that, ‘Straight Talk’. They are now suffering from terrible withdrawal symptoms: intense irritation, weeping, light-headedness, paranoia, anxiety, nausea, headaches, intestinal disorders, sweating, tingling in the hands and feet and, most of all, an unsatisfiable craving for their fix.

Give the man a chance!

Susan Taylor

I really couldn’t listen to Mutty’s talk show five days a week. I couldn’t take the castor oil. But I did occasionally get caught. I once overheard Perkins trying his best to depress some students who were visiting the radio station, telling them that there was no future for them in Jamaica. I’d been listening to Susan Taylor, former editor of Essence magazine, who’d been a guest on the ‘Breakfast Club’. And I’d carelessly left the radio on.

As soon as I heard the voice of our Jamaican Jeremiah, I tuned out. Then I said to myself, “Don’t be so intolerant. Give the man a chance! When last you ever listen to ‘Zig-Zag Talk’?” So I turned the radio back on only to hear Mr Anansi claiming to feel a searing pain in his heart – something melodramatic like that – as he thought of the plight of these poor children whose future was surely blighted. It was quite a performance.

I was so annoyed, I tried to call in to the programme. After 15 minutes, I gave up. And I felt a healing pleasure in my heart as I heard a number of callers chastising Jeremiah for being a false prophet. Under the guise of sympathy for these poor schoolchildren, Mr Gloom and Doom seemed to be cunningly spreading a wicked message: ‘don’t care; give up; no bother try; yu done dead already’.

Bob Marley, the barbarian

Another time, I heard Mutty declaring with absolute contempt that Bob Marley was a ‘barbarian’. It was these lines from Bad Card that had provoked him:

I want to disturb my neighbour

‘Cause I’m feeling so right

I want to turn up my disco

Blow them to full watts tonight

Inna rub-a-dub style.

In sympathy with Mutty, I must confess that I routinely call the police to shut down dances that go past 2 a.m. – even though I did propose in last week’s column that an exception be made for the annual Trench Town Rock concert.

All the same, Mutty didn’t acknowledge the full context of Marley’s noisy lyrics. The singer seemed to be throwing words at his neighbours on Hope Road who objected to a Rastaman living so close to them:

You a go tired fi see mi face

Can’t get me out of the race

Oh, man, you said I’m in your place

And then you draw bad card.

And as for Mutty’s barbarian curse: originally, the word meant ‘foreigner’. A Barbarian was a native of Barbary, the 16th-century European term for northwest Africa. Given the racial politics of colonisation, the word was later extended to mean ‘a rude, wild, uncivilised person; an uncultured person’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. And language was a   test of culture.

Barbarism is defined as “The use of words or expressions not in accordance with the classical standard of a language; hence, rudeness of language”. ‘Barbaric’ Patwa was a topic on which Mutty had rather predictable opinions.

Quite frankly, I don’t think Bob Marley would have been particularly concerned about being called a barbarian. After all, he fully understood class warfare in Jamaica. As he put it in We an Dem:

We no have no friends

Inna high society

We no have no friends

Oh, mark my identity

Me no know how we an dem

A go work this out.

Juvenile debating tricks

Mutty and I had quite a few entertaining verbal battles which I’m sure he enjoyed. I suppose I was a worthy opponent. Mutty usually trapped unwary callers by resorting to juvenile debating tricks: “Is this so, or is this not so? Are you saying X or are you saying Y?” Just make the mistake of saying, “Both X and Y.” That was the end of you. Mutty would let out a devastating ‘ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!’ and bring the conversation to an undignified conclusion. He couldn’t get away with that kind of ‘logic’ in our clashes.

Proverbial wisdom warns that one should not speak ill of the dead. One should also not make up stories about the dead. In death, Wilmot Perkins is at grave risk of becoming a saint. Mutty would not be amused. I think he rather liked the image of himself as a fearless warrior for all sorts of causes. He loved to deflate people who were full of themselves; and full of it. He was no Mr Nice Guy. Walk good, Mutty! I’m certainly going to miss sparring with you.

Paying Tribute To Trench Town

Two Saturdays ago, Jamaicans of all social classes converged in west Kingston for the 12th staging of the Bob Marley Tribute Concert, ‘Trench Town Rock’. It was the largest crowd ever. With an entrance fee of $300, the concert was clearly designed to be inclusive. Bad as things may be for so many people in Jamaica right now, JEEP or no JEEP, most could probably afford to come to the show. No need to jump the fence.

The Trench Town concert, sponsored by LIME, was the first of two in honour of Bob Marley that were supported by our warring telecommunications companies. Digicel’s free concert was held in Emancipation Park the next day. In a clash worthy of Sting, LIME and Digicel waged a noisy battle for dominance using popular music as the weapon of choice. The clear winner of the concerted war was certainly the audience, which was very well entertained at little or no cost.

Trench Town police station

The police locked down the lengthy Trench Town tribute at about 4 a.m. I asked the senior officer on duty if anyone had complained about noise and wondered why he couldn’t have exercised discretion and allowed the show to go on. He admitted that nobody had made a complaint. It was a matter of principle. The cut-off time on the permit was 2 a.m., and he had given almost two hours’ grace. I could see his point. The organisers ought to have known that with the large number of ‘and many more’ performers on the show, they couldn’t possibly have ended at the approved hour.

Coming around like tourists

Still for all, given the extraordinary nature of the celebratory event, common sense ought to have prevailed over principle. The Bob Marley Tribute concert pays respect not only to the singer, but also to Trench Town. It brings into the legendary community visitors who would ordinarily steer clear of what they see as a dangerous place.

Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley mocks these outsiders in Welcome to Jamrock:

Dem only come around like tourist

On the beach with a few club sodas

Bedtime stories, and pose

Like dem name Chuck Norris

And don’t know the real hard core

The ‘tourist’/’Norris’ rhyme underscores the DJ’s disdain for tourists of all stripes – whether domestic or international – who claim to know the real hard core. Instead, they betray their ignorance. They are just posing, playing a role in a television drama. Living in a world of bedtime stories, they assume that they can always retreat to the security of their ‘safe’ homes.

Residents of Trench Town have no such illusions. They know intimately the prison of alienation in which they are forced to live. As Bob Marley puts it in Trench Town:

Up a cane river to wash my dread?

Upon a rock I rest my head?

There I vision through the seas of oppression?

Don’t make my  life a prison

Desolate places

An unidentified victim of the 2010 Trench Town massacre; photo The Guardian

The visionary Bob Marley ‘sighted’ the power of music to free the people from imprisoning stereotypes: “They feel so strong to say we’re weak.” But Marley is definitely ambivalent. He knows all too well the very real economic and political power that ‘they’ wield with great authority. So he turns his statement into a question: “Can we free the people with music?”

Salome with the head of John the Baptist, Caravaggio painting

Drawing on his knowledge of the Bible, Marley does not give in to despair. He declares: “In desolate places we’ll find our bread.” This is a reference to the story of the retreat of Jesus after he learns about the beheading of John the Baptist. It is told in Matthew 14, verse 13, English Standard Version: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the town.”

And this is how the bread comes into the story: “Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’

Patriarchal mathematics

Eurocentric image of Jesus and his followers

“Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up 12 baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

In the patriarchal mathematics of biblical times, only men count. If each man came with his wife and two children, the number of people fed would rise to a whopping 20,000. Add a concubine or two and that’s at least another 5,000: a grand total of 25,000, by my irreverent calculation. And there were even leftovers!

If only Sista P could look up to heaven, say a blessing and break bread that magically multiplies to satisfy the hungry crowds! She wouldn’t even need to fix the JEEP. Of course, the real miracle would be turning “another page in history”, as Marley says, and emancipating ourselves from slavish dependence on politicians to feed us.

The reggae industry, with its roots in Kingston’s concrete jungle, has unquestionably demonstrated that creativity can both free and feed the people. Cynics ask, “Can anything good come out of Trench Town?” Paying tribute to his adopted yard, Bob Marley responds with a liberating “yes!” that resonates across the globe.

Jobs For The Girls (And The Old Men)

PM Portia Simpson Miller and members of her Cabinet

In defeat, the ageing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) continues to wage its war of contempt against Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. Her decision to appoint three other women to the Cabinet has been mockingly dismissed by Arthur Williams as jobs for the girls. It’s not a dead issue. This disdainful reduction of adult females to mere ‘girls’ is pure sexism; putting women in their place as minor players in a big man’s world.

Attorney-at-law Paula Kerr-Jarrett

It makes you wonder if the 13 female candidates fielded by the JLP in the recent election were nothing but window-dressing. How many of these ‘girls’ would have been appointed to the Cabinet had the JLP won? Hardly any, it seems.

In an article headlined ‘JLP unleashes Operation Beautification’, published on November 20, 2011, an Observer analysis  makes an intriguing claim: “When Prime Minister Holness names the election date, four PNP men will find they have a pretty little problem on their hands.”

Dr. Saphire Longmore

The ‘problem’ women were Dr Saphire Longmore, Dr Patrece Charles-Freeman, attorney-at-law Paula Kerr-Jarrett and attorney-at-law Marlene Malahoo Forte.

Attorney-atl Law Marlene Malahoo-Forte

As it turns out, all four pretty ladies failed to defeat their male opponents. I don’t suppose these accomplished women were campaigning on the basis of their looks. They’re too smart for that, I trust. In any case, the Jamaican electorate is sufficiently sophisticated to look beyond appearance. It’s substance, not style, that matters when you cast your vote.

Dr. Patrece Charles-Freeman

But it does seem as if the men in charge of managing the image of the JLP believed that good looks, rather than political acumen, would give the female candidates an edge. Daryl Vaz’s enthusiastic parading of his party’s “13 ‘boonoonoonus’ pretty women” did suggest that women in politics are decorative objects first and foremost.

‘Man must run tings’

There are only four women in Portia Simpson Miller’s Cabinet of 20: a mere 20 per cent. Yet this relatively small number is cause for great concern. The troubling disrespect for the ‘girls’ appointed to the Cabinet seems to confirm that the JLP is committed to the backward notion that ‘man must run tings’.

Eighty per cent of the Cabinet is male! Nobody in the JLP is complaining about jobs for the boys. Why not? Is it because the presence of boys (or old men) in the Cabinet – whether PNP or JLP – is ‘natural’ and, therefore, taken for granted? Turning the size of Mrs Simpson Miller’s Cabinet into a gender issue betrays a deep-seated prejudice against women in politics.

It is true that the prime minister set herself up for sharp criticism by appointing such a large Cabinet. Her own words have come back to haunt her. Last May, when she was asked if she would appoint 18 members to her Cabinet, her response was, “I will not give the country a breakfront.”

The prime minister has definitely given us a breakfront which many fear will ‘bruck wi pocket – back an front’.

All the same, it is not the four women who have turned the Cabinet into a breakfront. The imbalance is decidedly in favour of the 16 far more weighty men sitting pretty in their rightful place, it would appear. And some of these heavy men really do need to lose a lot of ugly weight. They might just tip over the breakfront.

The 51% Coalition

Attorney-at-law Arthur Williams

There’s a movement afoot to right the gender balance in Parliament and across the public and private sectors. It’s called the 51% Coalition. And its watchword is ‘development and empowerment through equity’. In a recent press release, ‘More Women in Decision-making – Good for the Country!’, the coalition lauded the JLP for endorsing the National Policy on Gender Equality in its manifesto. It also expressed disappointment at Arthur Williams’ unfortunate remark.

Launched last November, the 51% Coalition takes its name from the percentage of women in the Jamaican population and the world at large. In December, the coalition outlined its objectives in a letter to Portia Simpson Miller, then leader of the Opposition:

i. Quotas must be legislated for public-sector and publicly listed companies to have no less than 40 per cent and no more than 60 per cent of either sex as board members;

ii. The principle of the 60-40 quota for either sex as proposed be applied to the appointments to the Senate and to appointments of members to public-sector boards and commissions even before any law is passed;

iii. The quota principle outlined above be applied to the selection of candidates for local government elections;

iv. A plan for effective implementation of the National Policy for Gender Equality be developed with specific and measurable outputs and specific timelines.

The South African Experience

At the launch of the 51% Coalition, from left, Dr. Leith Dunn, Mrs. Judith Wedderburn, Her Excellency Mathu Joyini, Mrs. Lorna Green

If you think these goals are far too ambitious and contentious, think again. The keynote speaker at the launch of the 51% Coalition was the South African high commissioner to Jamaica, Her Excellency Mathu Joyini, who lauded the bold initiative:

“Quotas tend to generate discomfort in a society, and it takes leadership and courage to take them on. Often people think that it is about just putting women in positions they do not deserve.

“This cannot be further from the truth. It is really about creating space for women who are capable and competent to break through structural and artificial barriers that are often put by society to limit equal access to opportunities and resources, and equal enjoyment of the benefits of society.”

As a result of the introduction of the quota system in South Africa, there has been an astounding increase in the percentage of women in government: from two per cent before 1994 to 18 per cent in 1994; and 45 per cent in 2010! If the 51% Coalition is successful, there will be far more jobs for the ‘girls’. Not just in the Cabinet but on every public- and private-sector board. And the women, most certainly, will not be dead wood.