The Jamaica Labour Party and its contribution to the turning tide for women’s political leadership in Jamaica (2016 & 2020): Lessons for an equitable future

May of 2017, in a blogpost Listen: The six-letter word to election victory, I wrote about the soft revolution I believed was taking place in the JLP. 

During the August 29, 2020 national leadership debate, Andrew Holness in responding to a question about gender equality in political leadership had this to say: 

“I think it’s a simple thing that you can do, which is to ensure that in your recruitment at least, you have more women. We have done that in the Jamaica Labour Party. We have been deliberate in going out and seeking to recruit women. And now we have more female candidates representing the party than ever before.” 

Andrew holness

Since I was born, there have been a total of eight contested general elections in Jamaica. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) included women in all eight of these elections, however, very few, such as Enid Bennett, Olivia Grange, Shahine Robinson, Verna Parchment, and Marisa Dalrymple Philibert were successful candidates at different points since 1989 and prior to 2016. I wonder whether this could have been a combination of not strategically selecting more winnable women, the political tides in that era, seat placement, and the cultural attitudes towards women’s political leadership in the past. 

The highest number of women on a JLP ticket in its recent history has been under Andrew Holness’ leadership, with 13 in 2011, eleven in 2016, and a new record of 18 in 2020. While the win rate for women on the JLP slate in 2011 was low at approximately 23.08%, the 2016 and 2020 elections proved that Andrew Holness and the JLP leadership have been getting it right, perhaps because of this soft revolution I mentioned earlier. The party strategically fielded winnable women (some of who were in rather competitive seats) in a society that I believe is politically maturing and becoming more appreciative of the kind of astute leadership that women bring to the political landscape. 

Women who were JLP Candidates in 2016

NameConstituencyMajor OpponentWinner
1Beverley PrinceSt. Andrew East CentralPeter PhillipsPNP
2Fayval WilliamsSt. Andrew EasternAndre HyltonJLP
3Juliet HolnessSt. Andrew East RuralImani Duncan PriceJLP
4Juliet Cuthbert FlynnSt. Andrew East RuralPaul BuchananJLP
5Shahine Robinson (inc.)St. Ann North EasternDesmond GilmoreJLP
6Olivia Grange (inc.)St. Catherine CentralNorris GrantJLP
7Kerensia MorrisonSt. Catherine North CentralNatalie Neita HeadleyPNP
8Saphire LongmoreSt. Elizabeth North EasternEvon RedmanPNP
9Marlene Malahoo ForteSt. James West CentralSharon Ffolkes AbrahamsJLP
10Marisa D. Philibert (inc.)Trelawny SouthernLloyd GillingsJLP
11Andrea WaltersWestmoreland EasternLuther BuchananPNP
(inc.) means incumbent

In 2016 when I found out that the JLP was fielding less women than it did in 2011, I must admit I was a bit disappointed; at the time, it didn’t feel like the kind of political prosperity for women that I was beginning to expect from the party. But that feeling soon passed when I realised that because the 2016 win rate was so high for women in the JLP at roughly 63.64%, it meant that four more women would be in the parliament. This was a 133.33% increase on the number of women from the JLP elected to serve in 2011. I was pleased too, that three of the seven women who won in 2016 were incumbents who retained their seats; for me, that’s building on a foundation for growth.

Women who were JLP Candidates in 2020

NameConstituencyMajor OpponentWinner
1Tamika DavisHanover WesternIan HaylesJLP
2Rhoda Moy CrawfordManchester CentralPeter BuntingJLP
3Ann-Marie Vaz (inc.)*Portland EasternPurcell JacksonJLP
4Jodian MyrieSt. Andrew East CentralPeter PhillipsPNP
5Juliet Holness (inc.)St. Andrew East RuralJoan Gordon WebleyJLP
6Fayval Williams (inc.)St. Andrew EasternVenesha PhillipsJLP
7Kari DouglasSt. Andrew South EasternJulian RobinsonPNP
8Moureen LorneSt. Andrew South WesternAngela Brown BurkePNP
9Juliet Cuthbert Flynn (inc.)St. Andrew West RuralKrystal TomlinsonJLP
10Marsha SmithSt. Ann North EasternKeith BrownJLP
11Krystal LeeSt. Ann North WesternDayton CampbellJLP
12Olivia Grange (inc.)St. Catherine CentralMaurice WestneyJLP
13Natalie C. RodriquesSt. Catherine North CentralNatalie NeitaPNP
14Kerensia MorrisonSt. Catherine North EasternOswest Senior SmithJLP
15Marlene Malahoo Forte (inc.)St. James West CentralAndre Haughton JLP
16Michelle CharlesSt. Thomas EasternFenton FergusonJLP
17Tova HamiltonTrelawny Northern Victor Wright JrJLP
18Marisa D. Philibert (inc.)Trelawny SouthernLloyd GillingsJLP
*The 2019 by-election victory by Ann Marie Vaz in Portland Eastern made her an incumbent (inc.) in 2020

The year 2020 arrived and I became even more hopeful. The JLP included 18 women on their slate of candidates for this general election. This was an increase of 63.64% over the 11 women they fielded in 2016. What made me ecstatic was the win rate of the women in the party. Fourteen of the 18 women won their seats, for a record win rate (in my lifetime of contested elections) of roughly 77.78%. With 14 women victorious for the party in 2020, that translates to a 100% increase over 2016 when seven women won. And of this 14, seven were incumbent members of parliament who retained their seats – growth pon top a growth.

With 14 women victorious for the party in 2020, that translates to a 100% increase over 2016 when seven women won.

I feel justified in looking forward to a more equitable future for women in political leadership in Jamaica. And much of this hope, quite frankly, resides with the current thinking of the leadership of the JLP. From three winners in 2011 to seven winners in 2016 to 14 winners in 2020, that’s real growth that I expect will continue until at least 40% of the slate of candidates are exceptional women and at least 40% are exceptional men. Oh what a Jamaica that will be! Some folks may believe that a 14-strong victory for women in the party is not much to celebrate, because it is still below the critical mass of 30%. But I am focused on the growth trend of women winning elections, and what I have seen from the JLP, under its current leadership, validates my hope. 

I appreciate what the Andrew Holness-led JLP has done for women’s political representation in Jamaica. I appreciate the fortitude of these women and their astute leadership. And I appreciate the people of these constituencies, who have shown that they too, believe in women’s leadership. 

The year 2020 has signalled a turning of the tides, a watershed moment even, for women’s political leadership in Jamaica.

The year 2020 has signalled a turning of the tides, a watershed moment even, for women’s political leadership in Jamaica. And it underscores the importance of the leadership philosophy of those who run our political parties. Because I imagine that if the leaders and influencers in the JLP were not deliberate, thoughtful, and evolutionary on this issue of gender equality in leadership, it would not have augmented its recruitment of winnable women, much less believe in these women’s demonstrable capacity to lead. 

I know I was just briefly examining women’s candidacy in the JLP for contested elections in my lifetime, but to further validate my position that shifts are occurring in the JLP, and that 2020 is indeed a watershed moment for women’s political leadership in Jamaica, consider this: 

The number of women in the JLP who won in 2020, and will soon be heading to parliament, is significantly more than the number of women in the JLP who sat in parliament following the uncontested 1983 elections.

Within the context of gender equality in political leadership, this 2020 election is worthy of a study.

Signing out hopeful, and looking forward to the JLP slate of women in 2024/5!

One thought on “The Jamaica Labour Party and its contribution to the turning tide for women’s political leadership in Jamaica (2016 & 2020): Lessons for an equitable future

  1. Very interesting observations and I concur that the 2020 election is worthy of a study with a focus on gender equality.

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