The governor of the Cayman Islands is an interesting job with serious responsibilities. Yes, some view the four-year job as mostly symbolic, a fun overseas posting for aging British bureaucrats who have done well enough to earn some beach time. Others see it differently. They point to the governor’s duties—head of the Royal Cayman Islands Police, for example, and rightly argue that governors do matter and have great influence.
For the moment, I am less concerned about whether the appointment is deserving of heavyweight or lightweight status. I am curious as to why London only sends us men and never a woman. It’s the 21st century and the UK is one of the most enlightened and progressive societies on Earth. I hope we can assume that they generally grasp the whole gender equality thing. So what’s the problem? Why no female governors for the Cayman Islands in our entire history? Since 1750 Cayman’s top UK administrative post has been an exclusive all-male club. Of 38 chief magistrates, commissioners, administrators and governors and acting-governors, 100 percent of them have been men. How long will this strange streak endure? I think it matters and I think it should end sooner rather than later. My hunch is that little Caymanian girls notice such things. What do you think they conclude when they never see a woman in this very public and prominent leadership role?
For those who haven’t been paying attention, here is a brief review of what women are up to in other societies these days:
Dilma Rousseff, recently became Brazil’s first woman president;
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany;
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina;
Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia;
Tarja Halonen, President of Finland;
Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania;
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia;
Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica;
Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh;
Johanna Sigurdardottir, Prime Minister of Iceland.
These women are not simply elected politicians. They are leaders of entire nations. Four of them are heading G20 nations, major players on a global scale. If this is going on out there beyond our shores, then we need to figure out why we never have female governors and why Cayman’s girls aren’t growing up to become elected leaders at the rate our boys do.
The truth is, we are not doing so well. Out of the current 15 elected members of the Legislative Assembly only one is a woman. This 6.7 percent woman-to-man ratio puts us slightly ahead of Pakistan and Yemen but well behind Iraq and Vietnam. We aren’t even in the same solar system with countries such as Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Rwanda, and Spain. They tend to have elected female ratios of around 40 to 50 percent.
Sadly, there are still places in the world such as Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, Afghanistan, and so on that seem determined to keep women from assuming top leadership posts. But surely we don’t want to lean in that direction. Whether it is overt or subtle, holding women back is wrong—and stupid.
Perhaps the blame for never getting a female governor lies with us. Maybe the UK feels we just aren’t ready for the radical concept of a female governor. Worse, they might feel justified in thinking this because we recently made it clear to the world that we feel strong rights for women are not important enough to have included them in our new constitution. Perhaps the fact that a majority of Caymanian voters embraced a constitution that was designed to keep our society firmly planted in the past when it comes to basic human rights did not escape the notice of those who appoint British governors. We adopted a constitution that had been gutted and wrung dry of strong protection for women’s rights. Perhaps this confirmed to the UK that we are working from an 18th century playbook here in the Cayman Islands. We may see many more years pass without a female governor because they might think we can’t handle the idea of a woman dressed in white, carrying a sword, and holding the authority to speak for the UK government. I hope this is not the case.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that it’s desirable to elect or appoint women solely for the sake of having women in power. Like men, they must be judged as individuals based on ability. Sure it would be nice to see eight or nine women sitting in the Legislative Assembly, but not at the expense of quality. It means little good for Cayman if elected women are dim, corrupt or backward thinkers. If we are content with that then we can just stick with the men! I don’t think standards must fall to see women rise. I’m convinced that there are many good and brilliant women out there who can fill these roles. We only have to stop sending the wrong messages to little girls and then get out of their way.
This is not about evening the scoreboard or gender-balancing government just for the sake of balancing it. This is about the efficient use of a society’s human resources. When virtually half of Cayman’s citizens are scarcely engaged at the top levels of political power, something vital is being lost. We are squandering intellectual power and creative energy. A more appropriate number of women running for seats in the LA would mean more competitive elections and probably higher quality leaders in the end.
No more waiting. It’s time for the Cayman Islands to finally welcome a female governor from London. And it’s time that we see many more Caymanian women fill seats in the Legislative Assembly. Get busy dreaming and achieving, ladies. Cayman needs you.