THE WATCH WOMAN
By NOELLE NICOLLS
AT the final Free National Movement (FNM) rally on Saturday, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham made an overt pitch to women voters, particularly mothers, asking them to vote for the 'FNM Delivery Team'.
In discussing the road improvement project he compared the tangled utility wires found underground with the jumbled up wires women often find in the back of their televisions, emphasising the risk of fire and other serious electrical problems. "You know how frustrating it is to have to untangle all those wires," said Mr Ingraham, addressing women.
Mr Ingraham took the risk of sounding patronising and explained with new details, the value of the road improvement project and the challenges that come with development. Speaking directly to women, he reframed the roadwork debacle, and he gambled that women would be more willing and able to readily connect with what he had to say.
"I want to speak directly to every mother in this country, including young mothers, and women who are now pregnant. Paving a road does not take a very long time. If that is all we had to do, the roads would have been paved earlier. But it was the work under the road that you can't see that took most of the time. We found under our roads pipes laid 30, 40, 50 years ago. Many of them were rusted and burst," said Mr Ingraham.
He told the women it was necessary to label thousands of feet of wires so they would not get twisted up again, and also 'to dig up and throw out miles and miles of old rotten pipes'.
And then Mr Ingraham attempted to appeal to the provider instincts of women, by apologising for the hardships caused by the roadworks and framing the road issue as the 'most massive water upgrade' in the history of the country. He took a gamble, but I think it had some payoff.
Mothers and grandmothers, particularly those in over-the-Hill communities will be able to connect with the ambition to see every house over-the-Hill have 'a proper connection to the main water system'. In case they forgot, Mr Ingraham reminded them that 'good, clean water is critical for national and economic development' and that 'good water is essential for health and nutrition, especially for newborns and children'.
With that, he said he was not willing to apologise for delivering clean, fresh water and good water pressure. "There is an old African proverb that says, 'Filthy water cannot be washed.' We do not apologize for banishing orange water from this island," said Mr Ingraham.
"I am truly sorry that the road works caused difficulties. Still, we had to act in a comprehensive manner. We couldn't risk your health and that of your families by taking another decade to complete work that should have been done decades ago. More delay and half-steps were not an option," he said.
That was the core of the red meat Mr Ingraham had for the women. It resonated for some I am sure, but it probably did not deliver the make or break blow.
I wondered why Mr Ingraham had waited until the last hour to make this pitch. I found it more endearing than the FNM television commercials with all of the female candidates, which came off contrived. Women were virtually hidden in all of the PLP television commercials, which goes to the FNM's advantage, but the FNM undercut its edge because, in my view, the commercial made the PM look like a sugar daddy with all his ladies.
Going back to the water argument, however, assuming it is based in truth, it would have resonated more widely with Bahamians if the Prime Minister had driven home the message from jump street, not just to advance his electoral ambitions.
I thought it was interesting though that women provided the platform for Mr Ingraham to introduce his more personal and passionate appeal for support in light of the unpopular road improvement project that is general loathed for the inconvenience it has caused.
Win or lose though, I think it is fair to say, the FNM seemed to have made a more deliberate strategy to court female voters. Mr Ingraham consistently and repeatedly referred to men and women, and Bahamians in all of his speeches. The FNM was able to make the argument for having the most female candidates, and those women in their stump speeches pitched arguments, although mostly weak, about why the FNM was best for women.
Now having the best strategy to reach women is not the same as being the best party for women, but it is one way to differentiate the parties in the thick of things. I was hard pressed when looking at the PLP for a discernible strategy to target women. Outside of party leader Perry Christie referring to the PLP's accomplishment of having the only female acting prime minister, deputy prime minister and female minister of national security, there was little else that stood out that could be called a strategy.
How will all of this have impacted the vote? It is difficult to say. I maintain that until women are more united around a common agenda, their power at the polls will not be truly actualised.
Read the Watchwoman every Tuesday in the Tribune's Women Section and follow Noelle online at Twitter.com/noelle_elleon.