The selection by the Government of retired Justice of Appeal Paula Mae Weekes to be its formal nominee for President is an historic precedent which sends a powerful message about the status of women in our society.
While the post is circumscribed by the Constitution, the President occupies the highest office in our land. The post is symbolic of our supreme law. Yet, amazingly, after four decades as a republic, we are yet to have a woman serve as President. The closest we have come was when there was speculation that former Senate president Dr Linda Baboolal and retired Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy were tipped for the post. Things could, finally, be about to change. It is hoped that all the requisite checks have been done by the Office of the Prime Minister to ensure there is no impediment to its proposed nominee.
As it is, the Government’s decision to announce Weekes is already a milestone since it makes explicit the notion that any person, once eminently qualified, can occupy the highest office in the land. All indicators point to Weekes’ suitability for the job. Prior to becoming a judge, she served with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for 11 years. She was in private practice from 1993. Weekes is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and the Hugh Wooding Law School where she was course director in ethics from 2011-2016. She also has a background in community service, being active in the Anglican Church.
Having a woman President will underline the tremendous progress we have made in terms of gender parity. We have already had women leaders in key positions including: prime minister, Senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives. Additionally, women are in leadership roles in a range of commercial entities as well as in civil society positions, sports and culture. Yet, as a society we still have a long way to go.
Tomorrow, members of civil society will embark on a special protest to highlight the problem of violence against women. Our society also continues to impose double standards when it comes to women and sexuality, as embodied by some of the lyrics of our most popular soca songs. A Port of Spain mayor was forced to resign when he thoughtlessly victim-shamed a woman found dead after Carnival. He remained unrepentant, even after he was forced out. There are also concerns about the prevalence of sexual harassment in society as well as disparities in pay between women and men.
A woman President will go some way towards shattering the glass ceiling. But unless we take action in all areas of our society, it will not be enough.