Thu | Feb 20, 2020

Kristen Gyles | The unearthing of J’can girl power

Published:Sunday | February 2, 2020 | 12:18 AM
They say that Jamaican Koffee is the nicest.
Kristen Gyles

Prior to our Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944, our women never had the right to vote. Fast-forward to our 2016 general election, we find a record number of female house representatives sitting in Parliament.

We elected our first female prime minister in 2006 and shortly after in 2007, we named Dorothy Lightbourne our first female attorney general. That same year, we appointed our first female chief justice, Zaila McCalla.

Jamaican women have always known how to ‘nuff up demself’ just enough to make an impact. And this impact has, by and large, transcended our local sphere and has extended into the international arena, not just politically, but in almost all areas of societal development.

Especially given some of the depraved messages that have been stifling the Jamaican music industry, Koffee’s Reggae Grammy win at The 2020 Grammy Awards recently came as a breath of fresh air. It was a vivid reminder of how much talent our women have to offer the country and, by extension, the world.

Broad is the way and wide is the gate that leads to becoming the next ‘dunce thug’ in the music industry, but Koffee never walked in it! Our Jamaican Koffee isn’t the kind that is ‘dark like midnight’, but instead, her music is sweetened with the positivity and consciousness that our youth need. She should be lauded for this.

Her unique and distinct style has always stood out in the minds of her fans, and unlike many other Jamaicans who don’t need to spend more than 10 minutes on foreign soil before catching the highly esteemed and well-coveted twang, she represented herself and her country with pride.

They say that Jamaican Koffee is the nicest. We’re thankful she never lost her rich and flavourful essence trying to become tasteless American chocolate tea. As Jamaicans, we love down-to-earth sincerity, and Koffee has never stopped being just that.

The 19-year-old not only made history as the first female winner of the Reggae Grammy, but also as a young prodigy who has defied the negative label of unproductivity and entitlement frequently ascribed to our young people. She is not just a role model for them. She is one of them. It doesn’t get better than that.


We couldn’t talk about Jamaican women and their successes without talking about our distinctive performance in international pageantry. With the fourth Jamaican Miss World title holder, Toni-Ann Singh’s win at the 2019 pageant, it is becoming clear that we have the right formula for producing top-tier pageant winners. My guess is that one of the most forceful contributors to our track record of success in this arena is the confidence our women wear and the authenticity and genuineness of spirit they possess.

I hope the achievements of our women are being pressed into the minds of our girls not only as evidence to the fact that it doesn’t take much more than vision to make an impact, but also as evidence that authenticity goes a far way.

One of the first lessons a young girl should learn is the necessity of being herself and appreciating her own gifts and talents without consideration for what gifts have been bestowed upon others. So many of our successful women have embodied this and have been able to focus on honing their own crafts and skills.

What is astounding is that with almost one half of Jamaican households being headed by women who carry out all the necessary day-to-day domestic functions traditionally ascribed to women, Jamaica has been ranked as having the highest percentage of female managers across the world, with roughly 60 per cent of our managerial positions being occupied by women. (“A work we a work AND a chicken we a jerk!”)


After Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s outstanding performance in the 100-metre sprint at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Doha, we all got a glimpse of the balancing act that so many of our Jamaican women have mastered.

With her two-year-old son running out on to the track to meet her, we were reminded that even professional athletes have mommy duties. Intense physical performance such as would characterise the daily routine of any athlete is by no stretch of the imagination easy, especially after childbirth. But she did it.

Alia Atkinson, Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw, and many others who have performed outstandingly in their respective sports have also helped to bolster the country’s reputation as a massive sporting contender on the world scene, and not just in what was previously thought to be our only specialty sporting area – track and field.

Life has really evolved. Fifty years ago, women weren’t nearly as emboldened to take up the opportunities they do today. Furthermore, said opportunities were simply not forthcoming.

Fortunately, society has ‘wisened’ up. Our women are beginning to make full use of their talents (which we now are beginning to realise are not encapsulated in the performance of domestic duties) and oh how the society benefits!

Still, today, many espouse the view that women must avoid certain fields of study and shy away from specific career paths, of course, in an effort to be more ‘womanly’. We say it’s not the job that makes the woman, but the woman who makes the ‘woman’s job’.

Women should be encouraged to follow their various paths of innovation and achievement. Let our women chart their courses in their respective fields and continue to do what they have been doing well: making us proud!

- Kristen Gyles is a mathematics educator and an actuarial science graduate. Email feedback to and