The Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar
The Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, is the seventh and current Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. She was sworn in as Prime Minister on May 26, 2010 and is the country's first female Prime Minister. Persad-Bissessar is the political leader of the United National Congress and leads the People's Partnership, a coalition of five parties, formed for the general election of 24 May 2010.
Her Journey – An experience of ‘Firsts’
As a young girl growing up in a rural community in Trinidad and Tobago, Persad-Bissessar’s mother encouraged her to pursue higher education in the United Kingdom at a time in Trinidad and Tobago when the pervading cultural norms relegated women and girls to the home. While studying at Norwood Technical College in England, she worked as a social worker with the Church of England Children’s Society of London. On her return to the Caribbean, she went on to teach at the University of the West Indies campuses in Jamaica and Trinidad.
It was her experiences of racial discrimination and social inequity of minority women in England, and the black power movement raging through the Caribbean that inspired her to pursue a career in law, as her life’s mission had then become achieving social justice and equality for all.
Persad-Bissessar went on to pursue her law degree at the Hugh Wooding Law School where she was awarded a B.A. (Hons.), a Diploma in Education, a B.A. of Laws (Hons.) and a Legal Education Certificate. After lecturing for a total of six years, Persad-Bissessar then became a full-time Attorney-at-Law. In 2006, she obtained an Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, Trinidad.
Persad-Bissessar began her political career in local government as an Alderwoman. Subsequently, Persad-Bissessar contested and lost her first parliamentary elections at a time when the parliamentary benches were dominated by men. But she says, “The acute disappointment I felt did not deter me.” It was her remarkable persistence and forward thinking that enabled her to achieve greater heights in the political world.
She became the first woman Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago; served as Minister of Legal Affairs, Minister of Education, the first woman acting Prime Minister, the first woman of a political party (the United National Congress), and the first woman Leader of Opposition.
Having participated at various levels of government Persad-Bissessar was able to broaden and deepen her vision of how her “political leadership should and could be used to provide equal opportunities for all.” Throughout her political career, she maintained her passion for women’s political participation, stating that “women politicians should contribute to decisions that improve the lives of women and girls.”
Now, as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Persad-Bissessar views her role as “pivotal in building a society that respects diversity, redresses inequalities, and promotes good governance that tackles corruption and addresses human and citizen security.”
As Prime Minister, in the 15 months she has spent in office, Persad-Bissessar has pioneered a number of revolutionary initiatives in the developing world. She has pledged to provide free laptops for all secondary school children by 2015: she has championed a national and regional Children’s Life Fund to allow impoverished children access to life saving surgery abroad, and she has established the “Helping Hand” Initiative, which sees private and public sector enterprises throughout the Caribbean banding together to provide Caribbean countries with disaster relief.
Awards and Achievements
First Woman Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth
Upon being elected Prime Minister, Persad-Bissessar simultaneously became the first female Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth. In her role as Chairperson-in-Office, Persad-Bissessar has used the opportunity to highlight issues that are very dear to her heart, namely gender equality and women’s political participation. Follow the links below to learn more about the key projects she has been involved with.
As she demits office in October 2011, Persad-Bissessar wishes to leave behind her vision of women as transformational leaders. It is her hope that women will comprise half of our legislatures, half of our local governments, half of our state boards and private sector board rooms, half of our leaders in civil society and community organisations, and half of our decision-makers in all other spheres.