Saluting Rural Women
Growing up in rural Jamaica, I knew many women who were what I would now call 'strong women'. As a child and young woman however I saw them as merely women who because of their circumstances had no choice but to do what they did. Take for instance Ms. Mary, who went out to the field from 5a.m in the mornings and came back in just before the midday sun laden with bunches of banana, a few breadfruits and some fire wood. Or Ms. Rose, who made a similar journey to the 'bush. machete in hand, always a few steps ahead of her husband- and Ms. Rose's journey was especially long as her home was in an entirely different community. Ms. Peaches, Ms. G, Ms. Girlie- examples of women who were heads of households, homemakers and women of the soil all at once. Thursdays and Fridays were especially busy as Saturday was market day and they had to gather as much produce as possible to sell in the market in Kingston-several hundred miles away from Glengoffe. They went to market by truck - an old, open back truck- from Friday night, slept in the market until Saturday, sold the produce and headed back home in the truck late Saturday night- bearing shoes, books, pencils and snacks for the children for the following week. On Sunday morning, they would be the first ones at church, shifting benches, cleaning the building, getting things in order before the rest of the congregation came in. Tears sting my eyes now as I reflect on this and imagine how 'hard' it must have been; they must have been tired. Yet they carried on. Like I said, I failed then to realize just how phenomenal they were, and what it must have taken to do what they did. Note too that they were all women over 50.
These were the women on whose backs the community was built. They raised children, children who went on to become very successful. They brought in the income and kept the house and family together. They were active in the local churches, leading choirs and serving as secretaries and Deaconesses. They were also the ones who went to the houses of the sick and indigent to wash, cook and clean. Interestingly enough they were also at the fore of the political campaigns, mobilizing people and orchestrating the process. They carried the weight of the community on their shoulders- yet they were always off to the fields at 5 a.m.
Their stories are stories of inspiration and hope- in the face of adversity they never gave up. In the face of poverty they kept their dignity and knew that against all odds their children had to be educated. They were, I later realize, amazing women of strength. In their own way they were women who defied what was expected of them. They were the true pioneers of a women's movement in my community and examples for young women to emulate- women of character and strength and in their own way, they were empowered.
Theirs is the story of many women in rural Jamaica and in other parts of the developing world. I am sure we all know a Ms. Mary and Ms. G. I hope that unlike me you might have realized earlier how amazing they truly were and got a chance to tell them this. These women were probably never validated or had their work lauded. Now I pause to do so, though most of them have passed-on- I thank you for being excellent examples of strong women- women of spirit and heart, physical and emotional strength, selfless and caring.These women were the backbone of their families and communities and all across this nation they form the backbone of Jamaica.