Senator Kamala Harris made history this month when Joe Biden chose her as his running mate. Daughter of a Jamaican father, the economist & Stanford professor emeritus Donald Harris, she is only the fourth woman to run for that position in the US. She is also the only black woman nominated for national office by a US political party – Charlotta Bass, ran for vice president in 1952 for the fringe Progressive Party. And Kamala is the first Asian American to appear on a major-party ticket. Should the Democrats win, she would be the first US female vice president.
The world celebrates this advancement for gender parity in politics, and it is indeed another crack in the glass ceiling. But it doesn’t change the reality that US, women still only make up 23.5% of their government. Unfortunately, we face a similar reality in Jamaica. While we were progressive enough to vote for the Rt. Honourable Portia Simpson Miller to become our Head of State in 2006, only 23% of Jamaica’s Parliament are women, much like the US. Both Jamaica and the US sit below the global average of 24.5%.
That doesn’t mean that Jamaican women, who are over half the population, haven’t achieved equality in many areas. We rank 43 globally for gender balance, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Parity report, and 24th for parity in economic participation. We also rank high in the world for gender parity in education – you spot that easily in UWI, Mona’s graduating classes. In political empowerment, however, Jamaica ranked only 69th out of 153 countries although our 2011 National Policy for Gender Equality had set a target to increase women in government decision-making roles to 30% by 2015.
Of course, this is not to say that Jamaica isn’t making progress. Women dominate the Judicial branch of government as the majority of sitting judges for our two highest courts (27 of 40 Supreme Court puisne judges and seven of 14 in the Court of Appeal). And in 2019 we surpassed the previous record for women elected to our Parliament. But that was an increase of merely 9% since 2011. Even as we admire Kamala’s ascendance and the huge increase of female representatives in the US Congress last year, we have to admit that progress in our legislature has been painfully slow. There is clearly a lot more work to do to bring our glass ceiling crashing down.