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Women in Politics in Dominica

Women acquired the right to vote and to become members of parliament in Dominica since 1924. The granting of Universal Adult Suffrage in 1951 gave everyone the right to vote without the ‘qualifications’ of land and/or income that were previously required. Despite women being underrepresented in politics generally, Dominica has led the way with women in politics in the Caribbean by electing Elma Napier, the first woman in parliament in the region in 1940, the first woman Minister of Government in 1958 for the West Indies Federation, and locally in 1966. The first woman Prime Minister was elected in 1980 and in that same year the first woman Speaker took up duties.  Indeed, over 30 women have served as members of the legislature since the first woman was elected in 1940.

Women in Political Leadership

Women have always been visible in party-political structures of the country including as leaders of political parties. Since independence in 1978, women have operated at top levels of political decision-making, and at political leadership levels.

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Dame Mary Eugenia CHARLES
Dame Mary Eugenia Charles was the first female lawyer in her native land of Dominica and the first female to be elected Prime Minister in the Caribbean. 

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Phyllis Byam Shand Allfrey was a Dominican writer, social activist, and a former parliamentarian in the West Indies Federal Parliament.

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Mary Eugenia Charles was the first woman lawyer in Dominica, and went on to be Dominica's first, and to date only, female prime minister. She was the second female prime minister in the Caribbean after Lucina da Costa of the Netherlands Antilles. She was the first woman in the Americas to be elected in her own right as head of government.  Having led her Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) to victory in the 1980 election, Charles served as prime minister from 1980 to 1995.

Other notable women political leaders include:

  • Phyllis Shand Allfrey – Founder of the Dominica Labor Party
  • Judith Eleanor Pestaina – Former Political Leader of the Dominica Freedom Party (2009-2012)

Women Parliamentarians

In the 1980s, Dominica saw the rise of Freedom Party appointees in Senators Bernie Didier and Judiana Henderson.  In 1995, women comprised three out of Parliament's 30 members, with two women serving in Edison James' United Workers' Party Cabinet – Doreen Paul as Minister of Health and Social Services, and Gertrude Roberts as Minister of Community Development and Women's Affairs.  There was also a woman parliamentary secretary, Vernice Bellony, who attended cabinet meetings.  Lorraine Bannis-Roberts would later serve as Minister of Community Development, Culture, Gender Affairs, and Information, while Sabina Williams would be appointed a senator and parliamentary secretary.

Jacqueline Theodore, who contested the Castle Bruce seat for the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) in 2000, was appointed a senator and made parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Health.

The Roosevelt Skerrit administration would draw on the legal expertise of Attorney-General Francine Baron-Royer; Minister for Community Development, Culture, Gender Affairs and Information Lorraine Bannis-Roberts, who crossed the floor; Minister for Education, Sports and Youth Affairs Sonia Williams; and Senator Josephine Dublin-Prince. Sonia Williams was appointed Education Minister November 2008 by a cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Skerrit.

Two of the nine women who contested the 18 December 2009 general elections emerged successful. Justina Charles and Gloria Shillingford won the Grand Bay and Wesley seats respectively. Both women contested the elections on a Dominica Labour Party ticket.  Both were appointed to Prime Minister Skerrit’s cabinet - Gloria Shillingford as Minister for Social Services, Community Development and Gender Affairs, and Justina Charles as Minister for Culture, Youth, and Sports.  A third woman, Tammy Jean-Jacques, was appointed a government senator at age 24. Justina Charles was the wife of Dominica's sixth prime minister, Pierre Charles, who died in 2004. In that 2010 election, which she won overwhelmingly, she represented the Grand Bay Constituency, the same one in which her husband ran and won.

Women Speakers of the House

Between 1980 and 2006, Dominica benefitted from experiences and knowledge of three female speakers of the House of Assembly - Marie Davis-Pierre (1980-1989), Neva Edwards (1990-1995), and as of 2009, Alix Boyd Knights. Boyd Knights was the first speaker in the history of Dominica's parliament to be elected for a third consecutive term.

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First Woman Speaker of the House of Assembly.

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Second Woman Speaker of the House of Assembly.

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Third Woman Speaker of the House of Assembly.

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Timeline of Women in Parliament

Dominica has experienced a drop in the percentage of women parliamentarians from 18.75% in 2000, to 12.90% in 2005, and 12.50% in 2009. But both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of parliament are women.

Out of 44 candidates in the 2014 general election, only six were woman, and of them, only three won seats. There are three female senators out of nine appointees. The position of house speaker – one of two ex-officio members of the legislature – is held by a woman.

In 2019, eight of the 21 (38.1%) elected parliamentarians were women.

List of Women Parliamentarians

  Name Party Role Tenure
  Elma Napier IND Member of Parliament 1940-1951
  Mary Eugenia Charles DFP Senator 1970-1975
Member of Parliament 1975-1995
  Sylvia Burton DLP Senator 1975-1980
  Judiana Henderson DFP Member of Parliament 1980-1985
  Marie Davis Pierre DFP Speaker of the House 1980-1990
  Bernie Didier DFP Senator 1980-1985
  Gertrude Roberts UWP Member of Parliament 1990-2005
  Doreen Paul UWP Member of Parliament 1990-2000
  Vernice Bellony UWP Senator 1990-1995
Member of Parliament 1995-2000
  Neva Edwards DFP Speaker of the House 1993-1995
  Loreen Bannis-Roberts UWP Member of Parliament 2000-2009
  Alexis Boyd-Knights DLP Speaker of the House 2000-present
  Jacinta Bannis DLP Senator 2000-2005
  Jacqueline Theodore DLP Senator 2000-2005
  Josephine Dublin-Prince DLP Senator 2000-2005
  Sonia Williams DLP Senator 2005-2009
  Gloria Shillingford DLP Senator 2005-2009
Member of Parliament 2009-2014
  Tahira Blanchard UWP Senator 2005-2009
  Marcel Nicholas UWP Senator 2005-2009
  Sabina Williams UWP Senator 2005-2009
  Justina Charles DLP Member of Parliament 2009-2019
  Tammy Jean-Jacques DLP Senator 2009-2014
  Catherine Daniel DLP Member of Parliament 2014-preesnt
  Roselyn Paul DLP Member of Parliament 2014-present
  Francine Baron DLP Senator 2014-2019
  Miriam Blanchard DLP Senator 2014-2019
  Mornell Williams UWP Senator 2014-2019
  Denise Charles DLP Member of Parliament 2016-present
  Ocatvia Alfred DLP Member of Parliament 2019-present
  Gretta Bernadette Roberts DLP Member of Parliament 2019-present
  Melissa Ponponne Skerrit DLP Member of Parliament 2019-present
  Chekira Lockhart Hypolite DLP Member of Parliament 2019-present
  Adis King DLP Member of Parliament 2019-present

Women in Local Government

At the local government level, in 2016/17, female councillors were 35.0% of total councillors (28/80) across both urban and rural councils, down from 42.2% in 2015/16. The proportion of mayors/chairpersons who were female in 2016/17 was 34.9% (15/43), up from 30.2% (13/43) in 2015/16. In 2011/12, women made up 30% of councillors in town councils, 43% in village councils, 37% in urban councils and 14% in the Carib Council.

DLP = Dominica Labour Party; UWP = United Workers Party; IND = Independent Candidate; *incumbent; ** Political Leader
Electoral Office of the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica
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