Aug. 24, 2006 — Words like "empowerment," "determination" and "sisterhood" filled the grand ballroom of the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort on St. Thomas Thursday, as a group of some the territory's most successful female figures, along with an energetic group of community members and informational speakers, examined various issues plaguing the everyday woman.
As part of this year's Phenomenal Woman Speak Conference — presented by the USVI Commission on the Status of Women, WTJX-TV Channel 12 and the Department of Tourism — there was earnest debate on the status of women in the territory and abroad, along with a wide range of interactive sessions, which gave participants the opportunity to open the channels of communication and work toward addressing issues such as gender discrimination, the lack of female leaders within the community and the economic hardships facing single mothers.
"These issues, coupled with a general lack of wholesome education, are the biggest roadblocks for our women and children," attorney Adriane Dudley, the keynote speaker during Thursday's conference, said. "And I hate to say this, but it seems as if we are moving backward instead of forward."
After highlighting such critical issues as the increasing AIDS rate among women living within the territory, Dudley specifically touched on the importance of putting women in leadership positions. "No society should be satisfied when more than 50 percent of its population is women, but only one member in a 15-member Legislature is a woman," Dudley said, adding that women should be given a greater share of the positions in government, which would allow them to make contributions to the social, political and economic development of the territory.
She said the Virgin Islands currently has — "for the first time in history" — the "unique" opportunity to elect one of two female candidates to Government House. "Such a leap cannot happen without your unconditional support," Dudley said to the large group of women in the audience.
"We must dare to teach and encourage women to lead our organizations, businesses, and most importantly, to run for office," she added, pointing toward Sen. Lorraine L. Berry and Dr. Cora Christian, both running for lieutenant governor in the upcoming election.
Dudley's message helped advance the discussion throughout the day, as many local female leaders — including Berry and Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards — stepped up to the microphone to encourage women in the community to become principals within government, and to act as role models for "future generations of girls."
"Women must step up to the plate and be counted," Berry said. "Because we are essential partners in society, in every social situation. From the cradle to the grave, women are indispensable."
Linda Ellis Eastman — president and chief executive officer of the Professional Woman Network, who gave a presentation entitled "The Professional Woman and the Superwoman Syndrome" — also discussed the movement of women within the political arena.
In response to a question from senatorial candidate Shirley Sadler — who asked why more women were not being elected to political offices — Eastman said that women have to start working together instead of competing against each other.
"One of the weaknesses of women is that they still succumb to gossip," she said. "There are women out there who get caught up in minutiae, who are self-defeating, who treat themselves the same way they allow other people to treat them. In order to rise above that, women have to realize that they have to get serious, because the only way to have sisterhood is through trust, and not competition."
She suggested that women within the community "get a dialogue going" about the issues that impact them. "It's all about finding a common ground," Eastman said. "You'll find that all women, whether they are different ages, colors, shapes or sizes, are having the same problems, and getting these groups together can help address that."
The Phenomenal Woman Speak Conference is the first step in that direction, Sonya L. Boyce, chair of the USVI Commission on the Status of Women, added. After Eastman's presentation, Boyce said the forum was established to create a common ground for women living within the territory and to give them the opportunity to break the proverbial "glass ceiling" of gender discrimination in both the workplace and the social community.
"It's important to consider that until policies are created to remove the barriers we're faced with, then we'll always be dealing with issues like these," Yvette deLaubanque, development officer for WTJX, said. "And, while we have made great strides here at home to address some of these things, there is still much left to be done. That's why this conference is so important, and I wish all women in our community would show up and participate."
The conference, which will continue at the Wyndham until Saturday evening, will feature discussions on health, business, spirituality and economic opportunities for women in the territory and abroad, along with a presentation by Paula A. Cox, Bermuda's minister of finance.
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