With the country gearing up for a general election due by the middle of this year, political scientist Peter Wickham says women could make the difference to the results.
Delivering the Milton Reece Memorial Lecture at Solidarity House earlier this week, the pollster said women continued to show up at the polls in larger numbers than men, adding that Leader of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Mia Mottley had a good chance of leading her party to victory.
“Women have, and continue to, control the processes of socialization . . . [and] women continue to control the electorate in terms of numbers,” Wickham said.
“The challenge, however, is that even though we have so many women who are [professionals], most of them are still not empowered. Another negative is that there is still a perception that politics is not a woman’s world and that men are better suited,” he added.
Wickham, who heads the Caribbean Development Research Services, said that since 1981 the number of women registered to vote exceed men by an average of over 12,000, while the voter turn-out for women since 1971 has been around 73 per cent, or 13,000 more than the 60 per cent turn-out for men.
Wickham said it was highly possible that Barbados was ready for a female Prime Minister, pointing out that in addition to Mottley, the newly formed United Progress Party had a female leader in Lynette Eastmond, and its only Member of Parliament – Dr Maria Agard – was a woman.
“After 50 years of independence we finally have a female candidate who is leading one of the two main political parties and it looks like she has a reasonable chance of winning,” Wickham said in reference to Mottley.
“The Mottley elevation is significant for women because it shatters the political glass ceiling . . . The first point I want to make about Mia Mottley is that I think she is an outstanding politician and she compares favourably with any man that is in politics and has been in politics recently, and indeed she has outperformed many of them as well,” he said.
The political analyst said far from enjoying special treatment because of her gender, Mottley has had to confront several challenges, including the threat of being kicked out of the BLP several years ago.
However, he said, when compared to men in politics who have had similar struggles, she had “suffered” just about the same despite her gender, and in some cases, had “handled her situation a bit better”.
Wickham referred to his June 2017 opinion poll which found that Mottley had emerged as the number one choice for Prime Minister with 54 per cent support, a long way ahead of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, with 18 per cent support, and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who enjoyed the support of only eight per cent of Barbadians at the time of the poll.
“The important thing is that she is beating two men . . . . Of course it has a lot to do with who you are running against too,” Wickham said.
“There is enough information to suggest that she should beat Stuart. However, if she doesn’t, I should recall that I also argued that Hilary Clinton should have beaten Donald Trump. If she fails we can ask the question, whether gender had anything to do with that failure. If she wins we can say she won in spite of her gender and not because of it, and if she loses maybe we can say it is a small factor.”
Stating that women had long been the “vanguards of politics”, he said they often have a great influence over how family members vote, especially if they were the head of the household.