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JANET JAGANBy: Brigetta Thomas"The women must join in the struggle to bring about political and socio-economic changes so that there will be equal opportunities for all, so that we can end unemployment, poverty and hunger, so that genuine democratic institutions can flourish, so that our women can be free and equal citizens in the countries in which they live." Janet Jagan, September 1975.
How a Chicago-born Nurse Ascended to Be the First Female President in the Americas
Though American women gained nominal steps toward equality with right to vote in 1920, social progression since has been rudimentary. However, females today cherish the rights to vote, to divorce, to own property, to drive a vehicle. We can earn educations and self-sufficient incomes; basic freedoms still not granted in all countries. There are societies where misogyny runs so deeply, women have next to no human agency. But even in USA, the scales of gender parity remain nowhere near even. Men occupy the top rungs of not just politics, but all industries. Female authority is mainly shown in the gendered roles of mother or school teacher. Many jobs available are not authoritative, but supporting roles- waitress, flight attendant, dental assistant, secretary, maid, nurse, retail/cashier. Some will never see beyond the limited, paltry view of life options they are taught. Popular culture rarely display girls full capability to succeed. Rather, girls see men in power- as the CEOs, the bosses/owners, the pilot, the doctor. Even with our equal rights, how can we expect for men and women to truly exist as equals, when the system in place is still inherently patriarchal?It is evident how detrimental white male supremacy has been on the minorities and women they limit. Millions may blindly accept a narrow path they were taught was life. To accept the pattern of all mighty white male power, some unjust standards and prejudices inevitably reflect in the public. One of the most absurd and commonly accepted facts about American society is that there has never been a female President. But, actually an American woman has been elected President before! Janet Jagan (ne Rosenberg) was born in 1920 and raised in Chicago, Illinois in a middle-class Jewish immigrant family. Jagan is celebrated as the first elected female Prime Minister and President of Guyana. She proved to be a survivor, following decades of attempts to remove her from leadership positions. Janet Jagan ultimately succeeded due to an unwavering belief in herself, a conviction she harnessed in far more dire times.
In the 40s and 50s we fought for and won the right to universal adult suffrage. Before it was introduced, following mass protests including thousands of women, very few women had the right to vote. The vote then had been based on property and income qualifications, which only a very few privileged women could meet."
-Janet Jagan, Sept 1975
Photo sources- http://jagan.org/Janet%20Jagan/Remembering%20JJ/remembering_jj.html http://jagan.org/Gallery/Photos/photos.htmlhttp://www.pbs.org/independentlens/thunderinguyana/janet.html
Quote source- http://jagan.org/Quotations/jj_quotations.html
Janet first met Dr. Cheddi Jagan at Northwestern University; they wed in 1943, and moved to Cheddis homeland Guyana (known then as British Guiana). She worked as a nurse at Cheddis dental clinic for 10 years, and lost her U.S. citizenship due to her Marxists-Leninist beliefs. Jagan, already a strong political activist in the States, began her rise to power in Guyana. In 1946, she founded the Womens Political and Economic Organization. She created Guyanas first modern and democratic political party in 1950, the People's Progressive Party. That same year, she was elected to the Georgetown City Council. In 1953, she was elected to the House of Assembly and chosen as Deputy Speaker of the Legislature. Jagan served as the secretary general of the PPP for 20 years. The party had no easy success and had to overcome decades of oppression, as their primary goal was decolonization. The South American nation had been under British rule and exploitation since the 1700s. The PPP fought labor struggles, inspiring workers strikes and labor unions. This scared British Prime Minister Winston Churchill; as result Churchill put Janet and Cheddi Jagan in jail for two years as political prisoners.
Janet and Cheddi Jagan
Photo sources- www.gettyimages.comhttp://jagan.org/Gallery/Photos/photos.html
Unwavering from her goals when freed, in 1957, Janet was re-elected to the House of Assembly and became Minister of Labor Health and Housing. In 1966, Guyana was finally independent from the UK! But plagued with decades of rigged elections and national debt. Given the political turmoil/unrest, and her labor unions targeted by JFK, Janet took her Presidential strengths beyond the PPP. Jagan was elected to Parliament in 1973, and she was the longest-serving member for 46 years. She served as editor of the Mirror newspaper from 1973-1997, and co-founded the Union of Guyanese Journalists. Journalism was a strong tool for her to gain influence and continue improving the South American nation. Outside of politics, Jagan was always involved with writing and literature, publishing many books and poem collections in her later years.
Entering Georgetown Prison, Sept. 1954 Crowds waiting outside the Prison for Jagans release
Addressing U.N. General Assembly, 1998
Leaving Law Courts, 1960s
In 1992, Guyanas first truly fair and free elections, Cheddi Jagan was voted President. As first lady, Janet held many significant positions, such as the country's ambassador to the United Nations in 1993. When Cheddi died in March 1997, Janet Jagan was sworn in as the country's first female Prime Minister and first Vice President. Janet then ran for Presidency in the December 1997 elections. She was the victorious candidate, winning with the PPP she formed nearly fifty years prior
Info source- http://www.biography.com/people/janet-jagan-279082
FEMALE PRESIDENTBy the time Jagan was voted Commander-in-Chief, the country achieved the independence from Great Britain she sought and had nationalized most of its economy. She established health centers, maternity and child welfare clinics, and still improved wages and working conditions. Janet Jagans lifetime of accomplishments made her only the third woman elected in her own right as chief executive of a country in the Western Hemisphere. As a great President, Jagan gained worldwide respect and won the Gandhi Gold Medal for Peace, Democracy and Women's Rights from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Sadly, Jagan was forced to resign from her Presidency in August 1999. Her poor health meant that she was no longer capable of "vigorous, strong leadership. Despite heart conditions and her resignation, Jagan remained very active in the PPP for the rest of her life, still working in her office each day and editing the newspaper Thunder until 2008. Janet Jagan died at age 88 of an abdominal aneurysm on March 28, 2009.
Janet Jagan Funeral
The age-old adage, well-behaved women rarely make history, could not be more true. Only revolutionary and defiant women have rose above to create change. Not many recognize how severe and even fatal the price was that women paid for life as we know it. Most all the rights had to be brutally, slowly, senselessly earned. Women and suffragettes were jailed, beaten, raped, underestimated, constantly shut up and put down. We owe it to a tenacious few heroes who were brave enough to fight the status quo. Janet Jagan is one of these heroes; Born a strong American woman who earned her rightful place in world history. That deserves to be celebrated! She was fiercely passionate in her socialist ideals, her confidence as a politician concrete. Jagans legacy should inspire all to continue promoting human rights, to believe in and pursue their individual dreams. We need girls to set higher goals, and see more female representatives in all positions of power. Regardless of how far society has come, difficult work remains ahead for women and minorities. We are not equal, and we owe it to the accomplishments of women such as Jagan to act for a better future. Nothing much frightens me. Janet Jagan
Quote Source- http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/thunderinguyana/janet.html
Works CitedBiography.com Editors. "Janet Jagan Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. Nov. 2015. .
Jagan-Brancier, Nadira. www.Jagan.org. Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, 1999. Web. Nov. 2015. .
"Thunder in Guyana." PBS 2015 Independent Television Service (ITVS), 2015. Web. Nov. 2015. .