April 24, 2006 – What are the barriers that prevent women from seeking political office and how can these barriers be overcome? These were the topics of a Women's Leadership Forum held recently on St. Croix. "Claiming Political Power: Moving More Women into Public Office" examined women's roles in politics, the need to have women's issues heard, and strategies for conducting a winning political campaign.
The event was sponsored by the U.S. Virgin Islands Commission on Women, Women of Color Living in the Virgin Islands Path to Health Justice, and Generation Now. More than 50 women attended, including politicians and women in private and civil service.
Some of the reasons discussed as to why more women don't seek political office were the challenges of raising children, support of one's family, and the support, or lack of support, of women in the community.
One audience member, Mary Moorehead, said women in our society do not support other women.
Presenter Sonia Jacobs Dow said, "We need to make better choices in electing our leaders."
Dow explained the concept of a servant-leader, one who leads through service to the community. She said to achieve a greater good for the society is nobler "than anyone's personal achievement."
Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen said, "It's not that women have not held power, but they are mostly the power behind the throne." Christensen, presently serving her fifth term, is the first woman elected from the territory to that post.
"We have empowered others and now we must empower ourselves," she said. Christensen said that women, who tend to be more flexible in their thinking, more compassionate and empathetic, by nature are suited for political office.
"Leadership is a parallel to what we do as mothers," Christensen said. "We prepare our youth for the future."
The delegate said family support is important for someone seeking office. "It's painful for you and your family; you must have a partner who is patient and understanding."
Former Sen. Stephanie Scott-Williams suggested that people seeking political office first get a mandate from the people.
Williams advised the group to seek out community activists and draft them to political office by gathering signatures on a petition. That way, Scott-Williams said, the potential candidate would have the endorsement of the community to seek office.
Scott-Williams participated in the program as part of a four-member panel including Senate President Lorraine L. Berry and former senators Lilliana Belardo de O'Neal and Violet Ann Golden.
Berry, who is presently serving her 12th term as an elected senator from the district of St. Thomas-St. John, said the Virgin Islands has many examples of women leaders, including Queen Mary and Queen Coziah.
"It's our turn to preserve that historic road map," she said.
Berry said that during her years of public service, her husband has helped her by completing family responsibilities such as picking up children from school and cooking dinner. "You need the support of your family," she said.
Belardo asked participants to forgo political agendas and to vote for people who will represent them well. She spoke about her legislative career that spanned more than a decade, and remarked on her personal experience with professional jealousy shown by her female peers.
Golden remembered, "The matriarchs in V.I. history were powerful."
"It is time women send a message to the community that women have had enough," she said.
Another topic covered at the seven-hour meeting, held Saturday at Gertrude's Restaurant, included the establishment of a local leadership training facility. And participants wrote a letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull requesting funding for the V.I. Commission on Women.
Sonia Boyce, commission chairwoman, moderated the event. Dr. Gloria Joseph, Dr. ChenziRa Kahina, Miriam Osbourne-Elliot, Luz Belardo-Webster, Barbara Lee-Jackson and Sonia L. Boyce were on the planning committee.
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