Time Magazine names Janet Jagan among “History’s Most Rebellious Women”
Time, the world biggest weekly news magazine, has named former Guyana President, Janet Jagan, as one the History’s Most Rebellious Women. In honour of International Women’s Day, the renowned publication carried an article featuring what it described as “some unlikely revolutionaries”.
Also named in the magazine’s top 16 were Tawakul Karman of Yemen, Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma), Corazon Aquino (the Philippines), Phoolan Devi (India), Golda Meir (Israel), Angela Davis (U.S.), Vilma Lucila Espín (Cuba), Jiang Qing (China), Nadezhda Krupskaya (Russia), Susan B. Anthony (U.S.), Emmeline Pankhurst (Britain), Harriet Tubman (U.S.), Mary Wollstonecraft (Britain), Joan of Arc (France) and Boudica (Britain).
Mrs. Jagan, who died on March 28, 2009 at the age of 88, was an American-born (Chicago, Illinois) politician who served as President of Guyana from December 19, 1997 to August 11, 1999. She previously served as Prime Minister of Guyana from March 17, 1997 to December 19, 1997.
In 1942, aged 22, while working as a student nurse at Cook County Hospital, she met Cheddi Jagan, an Indo-Guyanese dentistry student at Northwestern University. They married on August 5, 1943, and she moved with him to Guyana in December 1943.
On January 1, 1950, she and her husband were co-founders of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) where she served as the PPP’s General Secretary from 1950 to 1970.
Also in 1950, Mrs. Jagan was elected to the Georgetown City Council. She was subsequently elected to the House of Assembly in the April 1953 election, winning a seat from Essequibo constituency. She was one of three women to win seats in that election; following the election, she was chosen as Deputy Speaker of the Legislature.
The PPP briefly formed the government but was removed later in the year, and Cheddi and Janet were jailed for five months; they were subsequently kept under house arrest for two years.
Mrs. Jagan was elected to Parliament in 1973 and was re-elected in 1980, 1985, and 1992, eventually becoming the longest-serving member of Parliament (46 years). Cheddi Jagan was elected as President of Guyana in 1992, and Janet Jagan became First Lady. She represented Guyana at the United Nations for three months in 1993, temporarily replacing Rudy Insanally when the latter was President of the United Nations General Assembly.
After Cheddi Jagan’s death, Janet Jagan was sworn in as Prime Minister as well as First Vice President on March 17, 1997. Jagan was the presidential candidate of the PPP in the December 1997 election.
After the PPP won the election, she became the second female President in the history of South America (after Isabel Perón of Argentina) and the first to be democratically elected. Janet Jagan not only became the first female President of Guyana, but she was also the first U.S.-born and the first Semitic person to lead the nation.
Jagan announced on August 8, 1999 that she was resigning as President because her health meant that she was no longer capable of “vigorous, strong leadership”; she said that Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo would be her successor. Jagdeo was sworn in as President on August 11.
Despite her resignation, Jagan remained active in the PPP. At the PPP’s 29th Congress, Jagan had received the second highest number of votes (671) in the election to the party’s Central Committee, held on August 2, 2008. She was then elected to the PPP Executive Committee, in addition to being elected as editor of the PPP paper Thunder, on August 12, 2008.
Janet Jagan died on March 28, 2009 at the Georgetown Public Hospital. Her body was cremated on March 31, 2009.
Rebels with a cause
Tawakul Karman, who is a 32-year-old mother of three and chair of Women Journalists Without Chains — a Yemeni group that defends human rights and freedom of expression — was filled with renewed energy watching the people of Tunisia and Egypt fight for democracy in January 2011. Karman has been protesting in front of Sana’a University, in the nation’s capital, every Tuesday since 2007. She insists upon a peaceful approach to bring about change.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 15 long years under house arrest in Burma and is a Nobel Peace laureate. She was finally granted freedom in November 2010, even as her country and the cause she’s been fighting for sank deeper into political imprisonment under the military junta’s repressive rule.
A self-proclaimed “plain housewife,” Corazon Aquino led the Philippines’ 1986 “people power” revolution, toppling autocrat Ferdinand Marcos after 20 years of rule. Aquino’s journey from Senator’s wife to President of the Philippines began with the 1983 assassination of her husband Benigno Aquino Jr., who had returned from exile in the U.S. to run against Marcos. When the autocrat called a snap election, Corazon took up her husband’s cause. Though Marcos claimed electoral victory, Aquino led a peaceful revolution across the nation of impoverished islands. Emotional supporters came out in droves during a two-week standoff, and eventually, the military reversed course and supported her. Aquino became President upon Marcos’ resignation. Despite coup attempts and corruption charges, she took significant strides toward democracy, including ratifying a constitution that limits the power of the presidency. Long after stepping down in 1992, Aquino continued to advocate against policies she felt threatened the country’s democratic ideals. Though she died in 2009, Aquino remains a symbol of the power of peaceful popular movements.
Phoolan Devi, the “Bandit Queen,” is remembered as both a champion of India’s poor and one of the modern nation’s most infamous outlaws. Following an early, nonconsensual marriage and several sexual abductions, Devi began a streak of violent
robberies across northern and central India, targeting upper castes. In 1981 she led her gang of bandits to massacre more than 20 men in the high-caste village where her former lover was killed. Devi negotiated her sentence with the Indian government to 11 years in jail. Within two years of her release, she was elected to Parliament.
While some say she did little to improve the lower castes’ plight during her two terms in office, her opposition to the caste system made Devi a symbol for the rights of the poor and the oppressed.
David Ben-Gurion famously described Golda Meir as “the only man” in his Cabinet.
Although best known as Israel’s Prime Minister during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Meir made her mark on the revolutionary Zionist movement during the pre-state period. After several influential Zionist leaders were arrested in 1946 in Palestine, Meir became the primary negotiator between the Jews and the British Mandate. Simultaneously, she stayed in close contact with the armed Jewish resistance movements. When the Arabs rejected the U.N.’s 1947 recommended partition of Palestine, Meir ensured that the young Jewish settlement would not be defeated in the imminent war. During a January 1948 trip to the U.S., she raised $50 million from the Jewish diaspora community.
Joan of Arc was a French peasant girl with a dream — in fact she had many dreams, visions in which Christian saints would come to her, urging her to take up the fight against the English, who occupied much of northern France.
Improbably, Joan made her way to the court of the cowed French dauphin, or prince, and impressed the royals with her holy cause to the point that she was given armor and troops to command. At Orleans in 1429, Joan proved her mettle by famously leading the assault that lifted the English siege of the city. A pivotal victory, it spurred other quick successes and turned the tide against the English invaders. A few years later, though, Joan was captured by the forces of England’s French allies and burned in a public square on grounds of heresy and witchcraft. The French King Charles VII, whose crown had been secured in part by Joan’s heroics, did little to try to save her. But history and popular legend redeemed Joan, who was canonized in 1920 by the Vatican and remains one of France’s patron saints.