Remarks by Dr. the Honourable Nyan Gadsby-Dolly at the National Action Cultural Committee’s 36th Annual Emancipation Day Dinner
Saturday 4th August, 2018
Subtly or overtly, women have driven the Emancipation movement for centuries. They achieved change across the world without the benefits of adult suffrage and ability to exercise political influence; how then did they etch their marks into history? Through ingenuity; and through an unfathomable maternal instinct that fiercely protects yet gently cradles all of mankind.
The infamous Slave Sugar Boycott of 1791 saw hundreds of thousands of British households boycott sugar from the West Indies in protest of Parliament’s failure to pass the Abolition of Slave Trade Act. Importing more expensive sugar from the East Indies where there was “free labour” became the alternative, leaving an economic fallout as almost 46,000 tons of the sweet import now became the subject of bitter arguments among the British lawmakers. Women, such as Elizabeth Heyrick, campaigned extensively for the sugar boycott and certainly exercised their power from the kitchen without having to set foot in the British Parliament…
Mary Prince is yet another heroine in the Emancipation story. Brutally separated from her family during a slave auction in Bermuda, Mary was taken to Britain and unleashed the harrowing stories of slavery to the growing anti-slavery movement in that country. Her 1831 book, “The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave” coupled with her targeted campaigning efforts were instrumental tools in the fight that saw the passing of the Abolition of Slave Trade Act in 1833.
A tragic stain in the slavery chapter was the sexual exploitation of the enslaved woman. These assaults on the woman’s mind and body were compounded by the fact that both men and women were flogged and brutalized in the same way; with accounts of women receiving even more floggings in some colonial jurisdictions. It can perhaps be argued that the enslaved female’s misery was endless, perhaps more burdensome that that of the male slave. However, as discussed by Henrice Altink in his publication “An outrage on all Decency”, abolitionists used female slave floggings as one of their main strategies to depict the absolute horror of slavery, fueling discussions on how a society’s advancement is based on its treatment of women.
This discussion continues even in today’s rapidly modernizing world, as Emancipation is an ongoing process in both developed and developing countries. The post emancipation journey has seen women ascend to leadership roles across all sectors of society, especially in the political domain. Women, particularly the West Indian female emerging from the emancipation and indentureship periods, have greater control over their futures and play an influential role in shaping homes and communities. There are more matrifocal homes emerging in the Caribbean; many women are at the centre of the domestic sphere, supporting families financially and emotionally.
As leaders, politicians, human rights advocates, educators, and parents, we are all responsible for realizing the dream of ‘true emancipation’, that which transcends not only race, but gender. It starts with adjusting our paradigms and acknowledging the advances made by women in getting us to this point in our nation’s trajectory. It scales lofty heights such as fortifying and enforcing legislative frameworks to ensure equal opportunities for all, and spreads its tentacles into our homes, as we teach our sons to respect our women, and our daughters to value and guard their self-worth.
I once again take this opportunity to thank the Emancipation Support Committee for providing platforms like these to bring critical issues to the fore. I congratulate you on another successful Emancipation Day observance.