(Ann Liburd was what many would describe as a phenomenal woman due to her many accomplishments and devotion as a mother. And in honour of her memory, SKNVibes.com has decided to post a chapter out of a book written by Nesta Hanif in 2003 on influential Caribbean women. The following was the chapter devoted to Mrs.Anne Liburd)
December 12, 1920
President, Caribbean Women’s Association
The capital of St. Kitts is Basseterre, a small charming city with narrow picturesque streets. The buildings are old quaint wooden structures with jalousie windows and large spaces. On Central Street there is a small shop called the Specialty Shop.
|Anne Eliza Liburd MBE, December 12th 1920-13th September 2007.
Here on can find a little of everything; colognes, the latest thing in blouses and handbags, shampoos and biscuits. One can also get freshly made “mauby” and ginger beer and Ms Liburd’s coconut cake. Such a shop used to be called a “cake shop” – a place where one can buy some essentials, sit and drink mauby or a cold drink, have a piece of cake and chat.
This is Ms Liburd’s shop. It is one of the fun places to be. Ms Liburd is entertaining and assertive. She sits behind her counter, chatting with her customers
Morning Ms Liburd, you that new shoes yet?
No darlin, I going Puerto Rico to buy next week, I will get some nice shoes then
O.K. Ms Liburd, I going come back
~~Adz:Right~~ Ann Liburd earns her living by running this small shop. She goes to Puerto Rico several times a year on buying trips. In St Kitts, most of the small vendoring businesses, be they shops like Ms Liburd’s or stalls in the market, are run by women. In this respect, Ann Liburd shares an occupation common to many Caribbean women. Going to the “Specialty Shop” watching the shopkeeper selling her goods, chatting with people about politics, about church, about cooking, about the latest marriage or birth, one would sense a warm and special person. Certainly one would have little inkling that Ann Liburd is a force to be reckoned with. She is a dynamo at conferences and meetings, she is an outstanding speaker and preacher, well-travelled, three times president of the Caribbean Women’s Association, the President of the National Council of Women in St Kitts and creator or member of several other women’s organizations.
Ms Liburd’s whole life has been in service to other women. In many ways these involvements are typical of what women have traditionally done. There have long been women’s organizations like the Toast Mistress Club, 4-H Parent Clubs, church women’s group and various kinds of women social groups. These groups however are not seen as organizations of great political power or effectiveness in larger society.
This view of traditional women’s organization is only a stereotype. It is true that these organizations held little political or economic power, but they fulfilled a great need. It was in these organizations that women took on formal leadership roles. It was here that they became exposed to, and generated new ideas on child rearing, cooking, managing their families and making miniscule budgets stretch. It was through these organizations that women raised money to build and equip schools and churches.
And yet, these women’s organizations were viewed as frivolous. Women themselves often saw their activities as marginal to the important work of running and maintaining a population. “She is just a housewife,” she is only the children’s mother,” ‘She just sells in the market,” and “it’s one of those women’s organizations – you know how they are.” There is always an element of condescension. Women have been discriminated against and their work devalued for a variety of reasons. Women are supposed to be selfless and not interested in personal gain. One rationalized for paying women a lower wage is that they do not need that much money because their husband are supporting them, and their income is supplementary, a little extra money for the home. This is a myth. Women are quite often the sole breadwinner in their families, and particularly in an island like St Kitts where 46% of the household are headed by women.
Women’s organizations have been seen as an activity for a particular class. Nice upper-class ladies who have nothing better to do but occupy themselves with volunteer work. Some women’s organizations may fall into this category, but what is true is that 4-H parent clubs and women’s church groups like the Mothers Union are not merely pastimes for the well off. Ann Liburd’s participation is an example of this.
Ann Liburd was born on December 12, 1920 in Antigua. Her mother was a washerwoman and her father was a farmer. Her mother was a strict woman who believed in education. Ann finished high school and passed her Senior Cambridge. Her ambition was to teach, which she did briefly. She considers herself a Kittitian, because she spent most of her adult life there. She married a Kittitian and moved to St Kitts in 1946. In many ways Ann Liburd’s life runs the gamut of traditional women’s jobs. She was in the St Kitts civil service as secretary to the education officer; she retired and used her gratuity to open the “Specialty Shop”. She has always been a strong church woman, worked tirelessly for women’s organizations, and is the mother of six children.
Ms Liburd has gained leadership and visibility in St Kitts by excelling at each of these activities. Her connection to the church is pivotal. She has been lay preacher and member of the church board. All of these activities, the church, the women’s organizations, and the shop are geared towards her work with women. In each arena, Ann is an example of how a traditional female activity can become a power base for women’s own self-preservation. As a mother, she has contributed lawyers, a teacher and a politician to her society. She uses this access to skill to facilitate services to women and their families on the island – invaluable on a small island with limited resources. As a church member she again redefines that traditional involvement for women by taking on the responsibility of being a lay preacher and involving herself in the decision-making process of the church. As a shopkeeper, another typical female acitivity, she becomes entrepreneur not only for goods, but for local products. She ensures that her shop sells mauby, tamarind and sorrel drinks and cakes of all local derivation. These are all directly related to her women’s organization activities. Here she provides the women who make these items with a ready market and at the same time promotes local culture.
~~Adz:Left~~ This is another unrecognized activity of women’s organizations. The use of indigenous fruit and vegetables has been a major economic and cultural enterprise for small developing countries whose only resources are local products and skills. Women in these organizations started years ago to experiment with and create local products which would benefit first their own families and their budgets, but which in the long run, benefited both the larger economy and cultural character of their societies. Finally Ann’s goal within various women’s organizations is to teach women skills for self-employment.
Women are the hewers of wood and the carriers of water. Many times when I was teaching in the country I would see women, pregnant women, their belly near to touch their mouths, with a buckets of water on their heads and de potato and so in their hands, you know, and my heart would go out to them. In the sun you seem them going. In St Kitts most households are headed by women. I don’t know, it is a Caribbean thing, but you know, it made an impression on me, that the women were neglected, you know women were not taken care of. And even husbands and wives in good homes, the woman was taken as a piece of furniture.
Ann Liburd, like Didi, is an activist. She acts when she sees injustice. No one would describe her as shy and retiring. She is a tall, striking woman, ebullient and articulate. She loves music and is a great storyteller. What makes her an effective leader is that her various activities keep her in touch with the woman who is struggling to make it. She listens, observes and talks to the women.
Well tem me man, what happenin with the children?
Ms Liburd, the big girl with child. She have to leave school.
I don’t know what to Ms Liburd, I thought she would be different.
At a conference in Barbados or in the United States, Ann Liburd would translate these conversations.
The women in our island are burdened by two things.
One is the number of children that they must raise.
These children are not only their own children,
but their grandchildren. This means that their money
cannot stretch far enough. The other problem is the
high level of teenage pregnancies.
One minute Ann can be talking to a rural woman about her problems and, in the next, to a representative from an international organization about the same issues. It is a skill that is essential to solving women’s problems or the community problems in general. This is at the core of the process of representing the people. It is fitting that she was elected by Caribbean Women’s Association three times. The Caribbean Women’s Association is an umbrella organization for over 500 women’s in the region. Ann Liburd was their first president. The women elected her because they were affected by her dynamism, her articulateness and her genuine concern for the welfare of women. She transforms traditional women’s roles and activities integrity. This she does by restructuring the perceptions of what women do.
I believe not in superiority but in equality. If you are
going to play domino, and draughts and bridge and
you have you night out, a woman should have her night
out too. When she stays up with the children when they
are sick and you don’t stay with them, well some of them
say that’s womans’s work. But I believe that women
have too long been in the background, and they must
come to the fore. In all population of the Caribbean,
especially in St Kitts, women are more than men.
Politicans all the time get up and say they are going to
take the country ‘forward’ and ‘progress’.
You just progress with the minority and leave the
majority behind? In parliament – men make all the decisions for you.
Women have always done meaningful things. Both women themselves and society have devalued women’s work. Ann values herself and tries to help other women value their labour. Ann Liburd looks around her and sees the everyday activities of her society, but she has the eye of a woman who sees the power and beauty in other women.
I see a woman whose husband works in the mountain
in Malineaux estate about eight miles from town.
And she only go up in the mountain to help him bring
food down. But she sells it in the market every Saturday.
And when she finish selling in the market, she walk
around and she buy the food, the relish they call it, the
meat that is necessary for next week, because she
is going to have all the potatoes and breadfruit and
maybe a little rice and so forth with it. The other day,
I saw her in town, and she said, “Well, you know,
I have a little money and I’m going down here to the
lumber yard,’ because she want to put another little
bit on the house, and nobody can pay her to do that.
The woman is a born economist. You know she
don’t have Ph.d in economics, but she is a born economist.
This is what I see.