By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
SEA Breeze MP Hope Strachan yesterday said she felt that the Free National Movement might have found it “easier” to elect Loretta Butler-Turner as their new leader if she were a man.
While FNM Senator Heather Hunt maintained that the focus of the party’s national convention was on leadership and not gender, she admitted that there were still some “patriarchal and traditional mindsets” that needed to be broken.
Mrs Hunt added that the effort was “something that requires more than just a two-month campaign”.
Both women gave their feedback on Mrs Butler-Turner’s reported landslide defeat to newly re-elected FNM Leader Dr Hubert Minnis during the convention on Friday.
Mrs Strachan said the Long Island MP’s defeat demonstrated that there was still a long way to go before women were viewed as equal and politically viable by the internal party electorate, and to a wider extent the general public.
However, she and Mrs Hunt agreed that the loss was not a setback for women in politics, but a teachable and historic moment.
Mrs Strachan said: “To me it shows basically that we women still have a way to go in politics, not only in terms of being the choice for the electorate, but particularly as it relates to internal party politics.
“It is still largely influenced by men and we have a way to go before we are basically looked at as being equal. One of the things that I thought to myself, when I learned of the race between Dr Hubert Minnis and Loretta Butler-Turner, is that if you looked at her character and personality, her outspoken manner, if you put those traits to a man I think the choice would have been so much easier for people.”
Mrs Strachan said: “It shows we have to work that much harder. We have just as much to offer, but we have to change the mindset and that is more to internal politics of the political party than the actual electorate.”
Both women agreed that Mrs Butler-Turner, the former deputy leader, raised the profile of women in the political sphere as the first female politician to contest the leadership of a major party.
Mrs Strachan pointed to the previous milestone passed by Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin, who served as the first and only female chairman of the Progressive Liberal Party.
Mrs Strachan said: “These are things that add to achieving that [equality] goal futuristically, each one of these achievements add to the bundle of things women have to do to reach that full potential in politics. I want to congratulate her [Mrs Butler-Turner] for that, to have the courage to see the process through to the end.
Reflecting on whether the need for greater representation of women could lead to tokenism, Mrs Strachan added: “[Mrs Butler-Turner] should be measured for her contributions, we don’t want this sort of tokenism where women are put in to make up the numbers or profile. We want to be accepted based on our contributions and what we can contribute to the development of our country.”
“There are many women out there who have proven themselves to be worthy of high office and leadership,” she added, “we want them to not be discouraged by this, we want them to take this as a moment where we can learn from.”
Mrs Strachan reiterated the need for a successful referendum on gender equality within the Constitution, adding that the changes would raise the consciousness of women towards their role in society and their right to aspire to higher political office.
Mrs Hunt said she was proud of the Long Island MP for taking bold steps to close the gender gap in politics, and carve out a path for future female politicians.
She noted that Mrs Butler-Turner had the opportunity to try again for leadership, a sentiment that Mrs Strachan also expressed.
The focal point [of the convention] was leadership,” Mrs Hunt said, “gender was one of the factors that people may have considered but I think that was way down the line next to what they really wanted in our leader.
“As far as leadership characteristics are concerned, I’m not naive to the fact that there are still some patriarchal transitional mindsets that we need to break.
“She has definitely beaten down the path,” Mrs Hunt said, “so that anyone who comes behind her or even if she tried again at a later date, she has made history and started to break down the notion that political leadership is still just a man’s place.”
Mrs Hunt said: “It’s a sustained message, it’s training young Bahamians or socialising them to appreciate that gender is not a factor to be taken into consideration. But when you have generations of Bahamians accustomed to men in the front of politics, that’s not something you can break in a two-month campaign.
“We have to sustain the effort of sensitising Bahamians generally that women need to become more active in political participation,” she said.
With Mrs Butler-Turner’s loss, there are no women in high-level leadership positions within the FNM.
Yesterday, Mrs Hunt expressed confidence that Dr Minnis would move to appoint more women to the executive team, and pointed out that the party’s vice chairman and the deputy secretary general were women.
She added: “We still we have our seat at the table.”