Lisa Hanna, former Miss World and current Minister of Youth and Culture in Jamaica was on August 20, 2013 voted in the top ten of the world’s worst politicians, in effect Jamaica’s worst performing cabinet minister. Hanna’s slide to this rather dubious ‘top ten’ spot stands in stark contrast to her former number one as Miss World in 1993. How does a former beauty queen turned politician become the world’s fourth worst politician? The authors of the website (WorldTopTen) are of the view that Hanna’s ranking comes as a result of her “failure to protect Jamaica’s youth.” In fact her tenure as Minister has been marked by a number of troubling revelations and near disasters as it relates to children in state care, especially because so many of these children are girls who are not necessarily in conflict with the law, but have been deemed ‘uncontrollable’ by their parents who have voluntarily, in some cases, handed them over to the authorities. Additionally, she is accused of having failed to inspire trust with the nation’s youth. So even as Jamaica faces another troubling set of economic circumstances and as the youth unemployment rate rises to troubling heights with young people becoming more disenchanted with the government she faces yet another, it would seem, insurmountable hurdle.
Despite Hanna’s shortcomings and her obvious failure to inspire trust in the nation’s youth, and despite her lack of political savvy on the troubling matter of children in state care or children in trouble with the law, I find unfair and obviously biased her placement on the list of the world’s top ten worst politicians. Jamaica’s political history is replete with stories of men who for decades turned a blind eye to the plight of children in conflict with the law. In fact the signal incident, which stands as a permanent stain on the history and conscience of this island, the Armadale Fire , did not inspire as decisive a demarcation for the government or the Cabinet Minister who at the time administered this portfolio. Additionally, the truth of Jamaican politics and its deadly associations with guns and violence is what inspired Jamaica’s oldest daily newspaper to write an editorial series titled ‘The Gangs of Gordon House’. And even as we try to understand and historicize the troubled and tribalized identity of Jamaican partisan politics so often we look at those who we have celebrated and made into national heroes and wonder about the truth of their service.
Two women made it on that list, Julia Gillard of Australia and of course Ms. Hanna. I cannot help but wonder if the inclusion of the two women on the list is directly related to the sexist, masculine stereotype which insists that women have no business in leadership and in particular political leadership. Julia Gillard who began her tenure as Australian Prime Minister with a commitment to not complain about sexism even if she experienced it had to go back on that commitment. It was just a couple months before that she delivered a scathing presentation in her country’s parliament which spoke to the deliberate and vindictive sexism she has had to battle since assuming leadership of the country. Both women are lined up with male political leaders who have been accused and sometimes found guilty of everything from theft, to rape and in some cases near murder. The fact that women are not held to the same standards as men in leadership is quite evident, the man who was listed at number six, for example, was caught watching porn on his phone in the Indian Assembly; both women were also deemed worse than the Honolulu Councilman who was charged with twenty-six counts of theft. In fact Lisa Hanna ranks just above the Palestinian politician who is accused of using violence to maintain his hold on power and is also accused of having an illegal armed wing and is involved in drugs, extortion and land theft. Whereas a man has to break the law or engage in embarrassing and publicly inappropriate behaviour to make it on the list, all the women have to do is not inspire trust as in Lisa Hanna’s case or with Julia Gillard be accused of creating ‘a sense of national drift and financial pressure.’
Women have a far way to go in really removing the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ in political leadership. The truth is, when women enter representative politics they are entering a domain that is still considered the sole preserve of men. While I believe that in some cases women like men fail to deliver on their promises and fail to live up to our expectations as a citizenry, I fully appreciate that men are allowed to get away with far more than a woman could even contemplate.
Finally, the double standards make it clear that women have a higher standard that they have to meet. Women who aspire to political leadership have to be guided by this even as they carry out what they see as their mandate. Lisa Hanna might well learn a lesson or two from Ms. Gillard who finally woke up to the realization that even as she tried to not earn the ire of the male status quo she was becoming its agent. Women who enter political leadership are often accused of taking on male leadership traits and also of walking far from a feminist agenda because they do not want to be labeled as possessing a female bias. The truth is all a woman needs to do to be labeled and treated unfairly is show up. Women literally change the ‘body politics’ and we live in a world that is still very hostile to women’s physical presence in boardrooms and meeting spaces that were built on women’s exclusion. This website and its rather biased claims are no exception. I look forward to a world where men and women are seen and treated as equals but until then as women we need to recognize that what is ‘good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.”
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Op-Eds.