unctad.org | #BalanceforBetter and #MeToo
#BalanceforBetter and #MeToo
08 March 2019
Written by
Pamela Coke-Hamilton is the Director for International Trade and Commodities (UNCTAD)

I think I’m a fairly typical woman (some may disagree, but it’s a free world).  I grew up with dolls (which I hated) and watching Princesses and Cinderellas live happily ever after having been discovered by the dashing prince. I watched women who were perfect mothers and wives and then Claire Huxtable came on the Cosby show and exploded all expectations because she was also the perfect professional lawyer and mother and wife and beautiful AND witty AND knew how to dance. 

My life plan was laid before me and according to Hollywood this was ALL attainable with a smile and a tall skinny latte (which I am yet to have).  By the time I had my first, and only child, at 35, I was convinced that I was clearly not meeting the grade. The ensuing years of trying to balance career, motherhood and life generally confirmed my deepest fears….I was a failure. 

Pamela Coke-Hamilton

The battle for balance is REAL and, for the vast majority of women, is a constant tug of war.  A war between your own internal expectations and the voices in your head stating what you “should” be. A war between the societal pressures borne out, in subtle and not so subtle ways, and the reality that there is no level playing field out there.  For 16 years I never got on a plane without a sharp pang of guilt.   After meetings, I would try to do homework with Matthew by remote and be as present as was possible.  There are career choices I made which many questioned. But it was my attempt to find that balance to be a “good” mother without completely surrendering my God-given desire to also utilize my intellect and gifts to create change and serve the greater good.  EVERY.SINGLE.ONE of my female friends has faced this dilemma and continue to do so as seasons of life shift and change and the demands therewith. 

But in this era of #MeToo it is also important to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Many of us women, seeking balance in the working world, have had to face sexual harassment in some form. It is endemic. Frankly we laugh about it because it is an obstacle course that we begin to face from as early as puberty and continue to navigate as we climb the proverbial ladder of success.  And we laugh, not because it is funny, but because for most of us, it is a coping mechanism that allows us to blunt the continuous trauma while staying true to our desire to “be allowed” to stay in the game.  Add to that the trauma of realizing that you may not be believed and the “silencing of your soul” in order to stay current. 

I vividly recall, 27 years ago, at an informal function in Geneva, where our then Minister of Labour was attending an ILO conference, (she then went on to become the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller) the issue of sexual harassment arose. At the time there was not even a name given to it…. She asked about “being propositioned” and I remember being very honest about my own experience, and being shocked at the reaction, NOT from the men, but from other women in the room. It was painful then and decades later still is. I learned that day that the silence was not just about men, it was also about the complicity of us as women.

The inherent power of the #MeToo movement for me, is not merely in the giving of a voice to the voiceless but more importantly in highlighting that at its core the issue is one of a balance of power.  And that is the greatest balancing act of all.  Underlying all the stories that have emerged over the past two years is the pivotal role that economic empowerment plays in shifting the dynamics of power among the players on the board. This is why I stayed in the game and why I do what I do.  A woman empowered changes the world not just for herself but for her children and for the wider community.

I want to end on a note about balance, because I truly believe that this element is just as important in all the variables of #BalanceforBetter.  I was incredibly blessed to grow up in a household where the views expressed by my brothers were given no more credence or weight than those expressed by the girls.  I distinctly remember conversations about Pol Pot and Das Kapital and the cultural revolution in China at our dining table and being encouraged by my father to express our opinions loudly and vociferously (sorry, blame Dad… LOL).  I took that for granted. I did not realise it was a gift.

Fathers, men, brothers…you are an irreplaceable part of the balance. Let us all together #BalanceforBetter.

Pamela Coke-Hamilton is the Director for International Trade and Commodities at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Her responsibilities include the Trade and Gender Empowerment for UNCTAD.


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