Playing the Victim (Or Why Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the Worst Thing to Happen to the Regional Feminist Movement)

After listening to Aunty Verna's outburst about Keith Rowley not understanding female leadership last night (feb 29th, 2012), I had to re-blog this. Bear in mind this was written in October of 2011, and I haven't updated a thing on it. So you'll notice that Kamla's penchant for jumping on Carnival stages all blinged out to the nines not even mentioned.  

On May 24th, 2010 Kamla Persad-Bissessar came to power as the first elected female Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Her platform mantras were Change and Woman Power. Her victory was seen as a victory for political alliances, women and Indo-Caribbeans throughout the nation, region and Indian diaspora.People couldn't get enough of her. During the campaign she was surrounded by foreign body guards like the heir apparent to a throne, or rock star (take your pick). She pandered to the younger generation with multi-coloured manicure jobs, singing along gaily to Bob Marley songs and often reminding her supporters that she was both a mother and a grandmother. Ross Advertising placed her in a central position throughout the advertising campaign. Mindful of the importance of the visual impact. There was Kamla, wielding power, not like a man, but as a woman, capable of leading men.On her first day on the job she was clad in overalls and boots (but perfectly coiffed) leaping lithely from helicopters to greet flood victims. It was almost as if Lara Croft had become PM.In those first few months of the political honeymoon Persad-Bissessar could be seen everywhere. On motorcades in Trinidad, motorcades in Tobago, taking questions during post-cabinet briefings. She appeared enthusiastic, outgoing and certainly less arrogant than former Prime Minister Manning. And the population waited for the job of changing the nation to start.By the end of the first month there were calls to "stop the campaigning and do the job we hire yuh to do, nah." The voting public was becoming restive. It seemed as if all the PP Govt was focused on was preening at press opportunities and blaming the prior government for all its problems and citing them as the reasons they hadn't yet started to do their jobs.Here was the perfect opportunity for Kamla to apply her much self-referenced motherly and grandmotherly qualities and attend to matters at least in my upbringing that's what my mothers and grandmothers did. They looked after their children and ran the home, efficiently.Fast forward from May to December of 2010.The Prime Minister's demeanour by this time has changed, and rapidly so. Having never given herself a portfolio (to better manage her Cabinet, she said early on in her term) she very often had little to contribute in Parliament by way of content or guidance. Gone was the pro-active female. Instead, precisely the thing the PNM warned us about on their hustings seemed to be happening before our very eyes. The men in the party had taken over. More often than not the voice of this new government was Jack Warner, Anand Ramlogan, Tim Goopeesingh, or Suruj Rambachan.

The women in her Cabinet barely have a face, much less voices. Persad-Bissessar herself often hides behind the trousers of these men and allows them to field questions and give responses onĀ  matters that ideally should be coming from the Leader of the Government.Is this Woman Power?On the matters of Reshmi Ramnarine, Persad-Bissessar came across as lying to and hoodwinking the country by implying that the underqualified Ramnarine was the most suitable person for the job.Is this Woman Power?On the matter of Nizam Mohammed's outbursts in Parliament about ethnic parity in the Police Force, Persad-Bissessar's lollygagging on the matter made her appear to be in favour of statements that could incite racial tension and conflict in the country. Her strongly worded letter a week into the matter was too little too late. That, coupled with her Government's granting of a national award to the controversial leader of the Maha Sabha, has raised many red flags. would you want your mother rewarding a child who is prone to inciting prejudice and division?Is this Woman Power?

In the midst of these stumbles there was also the PM's public image. She seemed to be jetting of regularly, often with an entourage. The very same thing she had spoken out against in the former regime she was now guilty of.Is hypocrisy Woman Power?Coupled with the jet-setting behaviour was the frequent illnesses. A tin of peas to the PM's ankles (an excuse given by Dr Tim Goopeesingh to the media) has had the PM laid up for more than a month. So much so that on her current trip to Australia to represent us at CHOGM it took the PM almost 5 days to get from Trinidad to Australia, because (according to her advisor Lisa Ghany) the PM had opted to take an easier route since she was still recovering from her most recent bout of illness. Most other members of the delegation left last Wednesday, had a 24-hr lay over in London and flew to Australia via Singapore on Friday. Is it that the PM stayed in London longer to rest? Took another route that takes longer? Took a slower form of transport? How strenous is first class on a recovering flu and peas tin victim?

These bouts of illness question her reliability as a leader. They are also used effectively by the PM to get angry voters to "ease her up" because she is frail, ill, suffering the wear and tear of age. A male leader couldn't get away with playing the victim card. But Kamla uses it like an Ace of trump.Early on in her administration Jack Warner came to her defence over some misgiving or the other saying that she was being attacked because she is both a woman and Indian.17 months into her tenure in office, Persad-Bissessar, the feminist poster girl embodies some of the worst traits to be found in either gender. As a female leader she seems:

  • more concerned with the perks and trappings of the job than doing the actual job.
  • Often caught lying or confused by facts and figures or concealing pertinent information.
  • Often hiding behind the men of her Cabinet; allowing them to be the big decision makers, while she appears standoffish or worse, helpless. Picture being disciplined by a harsh father in the face of a helpless, mute mother: or the country, the AG and the PM during this SOE!
  • Reliant upon her frailties as a mother and grandmother to get her excused. Everyone knows the woman who constantly has to bring up her every illness as a reason to not pull her weightin an organisation or group project. She is whiny and plays the frail female card constantly, always reliant on solicitous and gullible people to do her job for her.In light of these persistent features, I think as a leader Persad-Bissessar has failed us. As a woman, Indian or otherwise, that's not the prism through which I want a nation to see me. As a leader she is sending all of the worst messages to men and women about female leadership. Throughout their campaign the PNM under Manning insisted that Persad-Bissessar was a figurehead, a puppet, a marionette and the feminists among us rushed to her rescue. Militantly asserting that she was a strong female leader and that what the country needed by way of leadership was precisely what Persad-Bissesar was. Manning was the poster-boy for arrogance and patriarchy (but at least the mofo accepted responsibility for the party's failure at the polls, KPB is yet to accept responsibility for anything, even misspeaking). Three weeks ago at a public forum, activist Merle Hodge expressed fear that "her sister Kamla" was perhaps being pushed around by too many dominant Hindu or Indian males, but she held out hope that "Kamla" was indeed strong and should get out from under those men.This SOE has shown us every single last one of her flaws. Is this what female leadership really is? Is Kamla Persad-Bissessar something for the regional women's/feminist movement to be proud of? Has she in fact set the perception of female leadership back by 50 years? Would you want your daughter to grow up to be this kind of leader or woman for that matter?I know I wouldn't.