Carolyn Hanna - being the change you want to see

FACE TO FACE by Felicity Darville

CAROLYN F Hanna is a living, powerful example of “being the change you want to see in the world”. While some complain about the state of affairs in their country, point fingers and cast blame; others, like Carolyn, are quietly making a difference by putting their passion into action.

Carolyn is a matriarch, community activist, hospital chaplain, and veteran in the telecommunications industry. She is a person who believes in helping others and making a difference wherever she goes. A former employee of BaTelCo (BTC) for 36 years, Carolyn found herself just as busy in the corporate world as she was in her community and spiritual life.

She dedicated herself to her God, her family, her church and her country and as such, she injects high energy and a jubilant spirit into everything she does, even though she is now 82-years-old.

This year was a special one for Carolyn. This was the fifth time that she travelled to the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York, USA, to attend the Commission on the Status of Women. This year’s session was the 68th international meeting (CSW68) and countries around the world came together to discuss women’s issues, report on progress made, and map out plans for areas in need of progress.

What makes Carolyn’s attendance at CSW68 so special is that she funded her own trip. She did not go as a guest of the government, as a part of a group, or attached to an NGO. She simply went as a woman who is invested in the advancement of women in her country and around the world.

“From the first time I went,” she said, “It opened my eyes to what women are going through around the world, and how they come to the UN to represent their countries and speak for women.”

Carolyn attended for four consecutive years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year was the first time she returned to CSW since the pandemic, and she hit the ground running. She attended every single event she could during CSW68, including side events, meeting women, hearing from them, and sharing her testimony as a Bahamian woman.

“I have met thousands of women by attending CSW over the years,” Carolyn said.

“Our stories are all the same. We have issues with women and the wage gap - women not getting their fare share. There is a billion dollar sex trafficking industry that affects not only countries around the world, but The Bahamas as well. We need more women in leadership, especially in government. Some African countries seem to be doing well with promoting women to Parliament. But wherever the women are from that I meet, we all have the same issues and concerns.”

Attending CSW as an individual, taking on the expense on your own is no easy feat. Carolyn had to fly to New York, get a hotel, and cover all her expenses. She is so convicted in her belief in the power of advocacy that on one occasion, she arranged for ten women to attend the conference with her. This year, she took a young lady who had never attended CSW before for the “eye opener” of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, she says sometimes, the information goes over the heads of some of the attendees. Carolyn says that training is necessary, so that attendees could gain the necessary skills to not only represent their countries at the meeting, but return and make formal reports on the outcomes so that other women in their country could be informed and enlightened. In addition, she said it’s important for “continuation”, so that the work for women being done in the country can transcend changes of ministers, political parties, and so on.

The greatest indictment for women, Carolyn said, is that women do not support one another enough.

“We keep talking about the men allowing us to lead, but we really don’t want to lead,” she opined.

“Women are quite happy with men in leadership. They talk about it, but they don’t strive towards it. There is no reason why a woman can’t be leader of this country - because we are the majority. The men support the men, but women don’t support women enough. We have to get together and fight for us to be on the front line. Sometimes this opinion is taken as a negative, but it’s really a positive for our country.”

“More women ought to get involved and speak truth to power in The Bahamas. If you are not in a position to do so, life becomes difficult and our cries fall on deaf ears. Every female Cabinet Minister in The Bahamas should have gone to CSW68. I personally shared my experiences with President of the Senate Lashell Adderley and kept encouraging her to go. I was happy that she made it this year, as well as Urban Renewal State Minister Lisa Rahming. But I feel that they need more opportunities to speak at these events. This year, there were so many attendees in the general assembly that I ended up sitting in the overflow. But I shared my knowledge and gained from others. Other countries have so much literature to share. Our country is kind of back on this, but I would love to see this happen.”

With seven women parliamentarians currently in the House of Assembly, Carolyn says she is proud of her country’s advancement, but there is a long way to go.

One way to increase women’s leadership in politics, she said, is for women to come together across the political divide to commit to the improvement of women’s issues in The Bahamas.

She gave a charge: “Women in The Bahamas ought to get up and do something tangible and do something to help our country. Women in parliament should form a conglomerate and see how they can focus on their issues. The politics will always be there, but we as women need to stand up in this country and bring things together. We have a loud voice if we come together. Don’t allow the things that divide us cause us not to come together and speak truth to power. “

Former Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin is a perfect example. During one of Carolyn’s CSW missions, Minister Griffin, a PLP MP, invited former FNM MP and Attorney General Janet Bostwick and former Social Services Minister Loretta Butler Turner to attend. Together, they hosted a high-level side event, and Mrs Bostwick was given a special award during a luncheon there at UN headquarters.

Carolyn told me that when Minister Griffin learned of her mission to New York, she went out of her way to ensure that her personal taxi driver took Carolyn to and from the sessions. Carolyn could not afford a hotel near the UN headquarters, and would have to travel a distance to attend sessions every day. Minister Griffin waited each day for her to be secured to her hotel. This kind of personal women’s empowerment is important to her, and it’s something that she passes on to every young woman she mentors.

She first became invested in women’s issues when, as a corporate executive and community activist, she was invited to monthly meetings at the Ministry of Social Services. Today, even though the meetings are not as regular, she continues to push for women’s empowerment in every aspect of her life.

When she speaks about her sojourn to the UN headquarters, Carolyn finds that often, women aren’t even aware of the significance of these meetings, and they don’t understand the purpose of the UN. Therefore, she said, for women to truly become activists, they need to be informed and educated on how they can become local and global advocates.

This year, Minister of Social Services, Information and Broadcasting Myles LaRoda and his delegation, including Permanent Secretary Phedra Rahming-Turnquest, led a high-level side event that focused on gender and climate change. That event garnered a high turnout and sparked widespread interest. Women from countries around the world got a better perspective on how climate change affects them, and the numbers show that women are disproportionately affected by climate change than men. For example, in situations like a hurricane, women are more likely responsible for caring for the elderly and babies and preparing food, even in dire circumstances. They are more likely to be injured or lose their lives in these storms. Issues like these were laid out by an expert panel which included two Bahamian environmentalists - Dr Rihanna Murphy-Neely, Director of Environmental protection and Planning, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, and Dr Adele Thomas, vice chair of Working Group II for the IPCC Seventh Assessment Cycle and a Senior Researcher at Climate Analytics.

No matter how far she travels to advocate for others, Carolyn always returns home to a loving family. Born in New Providence to a father of Cat Island descent and an American mother, Carolyn is a proud mother of five, grandmother of 7, great grandmother of 11, and most recently, she has become a great great-grandmother.

She is setting an example for them that at any age, they can give their time and talents to enhance not only their personal lives or their communities, but to make a global impact that could be of benefit to all mankind.


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