A Bit of BPW History by Jackie Banfield

A BRIEF HISTORY

 In April 1966, the President of the Canadian Federation of BPW, Mrs. Maudie Bayley visited Barbados with a view to introducing the BPW Movement to business and professional women on the island.  This organisation is a status-of-women movement whose major interest and aim is to empower all women through advocacy among women working in business and the professions.

Mrs. Rosita Scott, (later Lady Scott), hosted a group of women at her home, Woodside, Bay St. and the Barbados chapter was formed. Mrs. Eve Johnson,(later Fernandes), became the first President, serving until 1969.  Eve has remained interested in the progress and work of the Club ever since.

From 1969 to 1971, Miss Grace Pilgrim served as President.  It was at this time that Grace represented the Government at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  On November 22nd of that year, in Grace’s absence, Mrs. Patricia Thomas, as acting President, received our Charter of membership from The International President, Mrs. Patience Thoms.

1975 was celebrated worldwide as International Women’s Year.  Under Phyllis Redman as President 1974-75, our Club published The Barbadienne, a document of prominent Barbadian women. Sonya Lawrence was largely responsible for this excellent publication.  Messages were recorded from Lady Scott, Prime Minister Errol Barrow and our Club President.

Over the years, club members have been appointed to serve on several Boards and Committees, and to both chambers of our Legislature. Our President at the time, Milroy Reece, was appointed to the National Commission on Women 1976. Members have also been appointed to serve on Government delegations to United Nations General Assembly meetings and The World Conferences of Women.

For several years in the 1970s and 80s the Club ran The Young Career Award Programme to highlight and pay tribute to the work and achievements of young women in the business and professional world.

 BPW Barbados was the first organisation to plan and mount Careers Showcase, an exhibition showcasing the requirements and opportunities of a wide variety of jobs and careers available in the island. In the 1980s these were put on annually and attracted large numbers of seniors from all secondary schools.  In more recent times individual schools have undertaken this exercise under the supervision of the Guidance Counsellors.

In 1986 The Crisis Centre, a 24- hour telephone hot line for women in crisis, was established under the guidance of the late Milroy Reece and Cheva Thompson. This project has been responsible for much advocacy on behalf of abused women and has organised a motor Rally and a number of Vigils against VAW.

 Since 2003, we have seen the collaboration of BPW Barbados, through The Crisis Centre and The Shelter, with The Albert Schweitzer Institute of Quninipiac University in Connecticut in USA.   Each year, a group of faculty and graduate students spend a week here as our guests.  Ably led by Professor Barbara Moynihan, they conduct a series of training and educational seminars for a variety of groups of persons working or interacting with vulnerable and abused persons.

In 1999 the Club was instrumental in the establishment of The Shelter for Abused Women. The Shelter is managed by a Committee of the Club and a Board of Management, supported by the volunteers of The Crisis Centre and funded by the State.

The Club is also engaged in presenting a week- long seminar each year for unemployed young women.  This project focuses on introspection and self-development skills under the theme: Educate to Eradicate Violence and Abuse.

In 2005, BPW Barbados was chosen as the lead Agency to collaborate with The Bureau of Gender Affairs in a worldwide project organised by The International Office for Migration, (IOM), in an effort to tackle Human Trafficking.  Three public Rallies were held in each of our major towns.  Following these, the Club has been represented at Seminars organised by The Bureau to devise a national policy on Human Trafficking.

Regular annual club activities and functions include:

  • Participation in activities to mark International Women’s Day in March;
  • Observance of International Night and Candle-lighting Ceremony, when we acknowledge our membership of BPW International, one of the largest and most influential Women’s Organisations globally.
  • Activities during the United Nations Sixteen Days of Activism Against Violence to Women held each year in November/December.
  • Charter Night, when we celebrate receiving our Charter.
  • Our Christmas social event.
  • The Emblem Breakfast when we focus on the meaning of our emblem.
  • The Tea and Topic: a social event with a speaker on issues of topical interest.

Issues and Causes: 

  • Made submissions to the constitution Review Committee and made strident representation for foreign-born husbands of Barbadian women to be able to live and work here.
  • Submitted recommendations with regard to the Education Act.
  • In 1991/92 presented recommendations with regard to the proposed Domestic Violence Act and The Sexual Offences Act.
  • Made proposals to Government on the Draft Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act. This has not yet been enacted.
  • Supported the call of NOW for a Minimum Wage Bill.

Regional: On the Regional scene, BPW Barbados is a member of The Caribbean Women’s Association, through our membership of the Barbados National Organisation of Women.

CIM/OAS:  Two of our members have served as the National Delegate to the CIM/OAS, the Commission of Women of the Organisation of American States: Dame Maisie Barker Welch served a term as President and is now President Emeritus.

BPW International Membership:

 BPW Barbados is one of thousands of BPW clubs charted by BPW International all over the world. In larger countries, individual clubs come together, and hold    membership within International as a Federation.  Individual clubs are called Associate members.

Membership gives us all access to the deliberations of international, global agencies including the agencies of The United Nations.  The individual member, through her Federation or Club is thus able to affect public opinion by making her opinion public and by sharing with our international sisters.

The founder of the International Federation was Mrs. Lena Madesin Phillips of the USA who was instrumental in the formation of the movement of business and professional women in her country during the First World War when women took on the work left behind by men sent off to the War.

Lena Madesin Phillips eventually linked up with similar groups in Europe and The International Federation emerged in 1928.  Six National Organisations of women came together in Geneva.  The founder countries are Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Canada and United States of America.

Since that time the movement has grown in strength, numbers and influence.

The International Federation maintains permanent representation at the headquarters of several of the world’s global agencies, including many United Nations Agencies, in New York and other capitals.

In the Caribbean there are BPW Clubs in Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago.

As a member of BPW Barbados, one belongs to a wonderful collection of dynamic, dedicated international women, an organisation whose work is felt globally. The main focus of the BPW movement is ADVOCACY.  As a Status of Women Organisation, BPW Barbados is chiefly concerned with empowering women and encouraging them to be actively involved in the affairs of their own country. The movement also seeks to educate women about the situation of women worldwide.  All of our projects are geared to these ends.  BPW Barbados is not a social group and does not engage in projects just to relieve the plight of women, but rather our social actions are aimed at improving the social, political and economic status of women.

AS our founder, Lena Madesin Phillips once said:  “We have a great work to do.”

Jacqueline A. Banfield SCM;JP. 2014

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