Verene Shepherd | Salute for the life and work of Lucille Mathurin Mair
March is not only important for the celebration of one day – International Women’s Day on the 8th – but is increasingly celebrated as Women’s History Month.
In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate the life and work of an outstanding Jamaican and Caribbean woman, Dr the Honourable Lucille Mathurin Mair (1924-2009), the 10th anniversary of whose death we mark this year.
She was the daughter of Edith Cadogan of Barbados and Guyanese Eric Derwent Walrond, Garveyite and a central figure, with Langston Hughes, in the Harlem Renaissance.
Mathurin Mair was educated at Wolmer’s Girls’ School, the University of London and the University of The West Indies, where she also served as the first warden of Mary Seacole Hall. She was a scholar, diplomat, women’s rights advocate, and someone recognised internationally for her activism in the struggle against all forms of discrimination and for the cause of peace and disarmament.
Historian by training, she was the first scholar to undertake research on the role of women under slavery in the Caribbean and her field of study made her sought after as a consultant and adviser on ways to improve the status of women by the Government of Jamaica in the 1970s.
Mathurin Mair served the Government of Jamaica as a senator, diplomat in New York and Cuba, and also served in several capacities at the United Nations. She participated in several sessions of the Third Committee in the United Nations General Assembly of which she was chairperson in 1977.
Before that, she served on the UN Commission for Social Development, the UN International Forum on Women and Population, was vice-chairperson of the Social Committee of the UN’s Economic and Social Committee and member of the UN Consultative Committee on International Women’s Year.
HELPED DRAFT THE MEXICO DECLARATION
As Jamaica’s delegate to the associated International Women’s Conference, Mathurin Mair helped draft the Mexico Declaration of 1975 and the Regional Plan of Action for Women of Latin America 1977.
As secretary general of the mid-decade World Conference on Women at Copenhagen, she steered the Programme of Action for the second half of the decade. She also served as special adviser on women’s development to the United Nations Children’s Fund before being appointed as undersecretary general (the first woman to hold that post at the UN) and secretary general of the International Conference on the Question of Palestine.
Mathurin Mair is celebrated for her scholar activism, which contributed to the integration of women and development studies at The University of the West Indies and the elevation of Queen Nanny of the Maroons to the status of a national heroine of Jamaica.
Her 1974 thesis, ‘A Historical Study of Women in Jamaica, 1655-1844’ (now a book), which placed gender firmly on the agenda in the academy, has helped to shape our understanding of the role that African women played in the development of Jamaica and in the shaping of our uncompromising stance on all forms of injustice.
March is for Mathurin Mair on whose shoulders we stand.