Women debased during Vincentian electioneering

A prominent Vincentian community advocate and educator in New York has lamented what she views as the negative image being portrayed of women, saying that they emerged on the “losing side” of recent electioneering in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Having just witnessed the conclusion of what she characterized as “a vicious election season” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sherrill-Ann Mason-Haywood told the 6th Annual Dinner / Dance and Awards Ceremony of the fast-rising group, VincyCares, Inc., on Saturday night, that she weeps for “the injured soul of our nation.”

“Among other injuries, I saw firsthand how far women have not gone since the birth of our nation,” said Mason-Haywood in delivering the keynote address on the theme, “Women Who Empower Our Nation,” at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn.

“While there is still debate about the winners and losers of the election polls, the image of women has emerged on the losing side of our electioneering,” added the daughter of the late Vincentian cricketing legend Frank O. “F.O.” Mason.

Mason-Haywood, a community development specialist, with expertise in education and human development, said that “the overarching images” of Vincentian women in the election campaigns were that of “sexual weapons; victims; window dressings; political pawns; sheeple; and, for the most part, supporters — not leaders.

[According the Oxford Dictionary, “Sheeple” is when people are “compared to sheep in being docile, foolish, or easily led.”]

“The issue of women generally was not shown in a positive light,” said the general secretary of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York, Inc., which is chaired by her husband, Maxwell Haywood, a United Nations social development specialist. “Sadly, it was used for political expediency – and not for the genuine upliftment of women or our nation.

“This reality has demonstrated the urgency with which we must work to highlight women as positive contributors to our nation’s development,” added the academic support coordinator for the Percy E. Sutton SEEK Program at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College, City University of New York.

“We, as Vincentians, have got to show the world that Vincentian women are not only victims, but Vincentian women are strong,” she continued. “Think deeply about the resilience of our women, and you will see the strength of which I speak.”

The former National Under 23 netball captain, therefore, said that “the urgent task is to change the narrative about our women, so that women are seen as agents of change and human beings, possessing agency to effect change in their own lives and the life of the nation.”

She said there was also need to “get to the place where, like Canadian President [Justin] Trudeau, who, when questioned about why he appointed women to 50 percent of his Cabinet positions, simply said: ‘Because it’s 2015!’”

“Sticking with the Canadians, we have got to have the same attitude as we head into 2016,” Mason-Haywood urged. “And, we must not be afraid to embrace what Canadian writer G.D. Anderson espoused ‘feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It is about changing the way the world perceives that strength.’”

She regretted that much of the narrative currently about Vincentian women is “that of women as victims of domestic and work place violence, victims of rape, victims of men’s desires, sexual objects and submissive actors.

“While acknowledging these realities, we must not let that be our dominant frame of reference,” she said. “We must seek to showcase more of the stories of women like the ones who are being honored tonight.

“We must show women in a more positive light,” Mason-Haywood added. “We must show women as courageous. This is not to minimize the challenges and the need to address them, but it is a recognition that, equally important, is the need to inspire more greatness by showing possibilities and images of women who are daring, ambitious and outspoken. Women must be seen as strong, important and valuable partners in our development.”

In this nexus, she urged women to “stand up and stand together to demand better conditions that would allow us to safely leave bad situations, or to defend ourselves from the assault of sexual predators, knowing that there are strong laws and programs to protect us.

“We must demand that women share power equally so that, when decisions are made that impact our lives, our unique needs are considered,” she said. “We need to ensure that there are programs that teach women and men how to love and respect each other, and how to parent well, so that our families are a strong foundation for our society and our children become more respectful, industrious and critical-thinking Vincentians and citizens of this world.”

Additionally, Mason-Haywood advocated the promotion of programs “that encourage us to pool our resources, small as they may be, so that we can help to create employment; genuine upliftment for women; and a more empowered, stable nation.”

During her youthful years in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Mason-Haywood was involved in the Girls’ Brigade, Methodist Youth Fellowship, Methodist Dramatists, SVG Junior Red Cross Society, Maples Netball Club, SVG Netball Association, SVG Athletics Association, National Olympic Academy and National Youth Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

She also represented the nation in netball, athletics, youth and women’s affairs.

In addition, Mason-Haywood represented St. Vincent and the Grenadines at the International Olympic Academy Session for Young Participants in Greece (1996), the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Scotland (1997), and the United Nations World Youth Forum and the World Ministers Responsible for Youth Meeting in Portugal (1998).

After migrating to New York in 1999, Mason-Haywood was integral in the formation of a Vincentian Students Association (VINSANY) and was the organization’s president when it first offered scholarships to its members.

She is chair of the Board of Directors for Traditional Educational Centers in the East New York and Bushwick sections of Brooklyn, and president of the Home School Association at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Academy in Brooklyn, where her daughters, Njeri and Makeda, attend school.

Mason-Haywood holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Broadcasting from the City University of New York (CUNY) BA Program, and a master’s degree in Urban Affairs, with a concentration in Community Development and Social Policy, from Hunter College, CUNY.