Celebrating The 50th anniversary of the Gibraltar Women’s Association

image001 At a reception to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Gibraltar Housewives’ Association (now named the Gibraltar Women’s Association – GWA), organised by its current Chairperson, Amber Turner, the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo paid tribute to the Association’s historic achievements for Gibraltar’s society.

Mr Picardo welcomed the active campaigning role the GWA currently fulfils, which has greatly expanded and developed from the vision of its original founders: pioneers who took it upon themselves to ensure gender equality across all aspects of Gibraltar’s society. Their example had cut across the sexual divide and inspired an equal number of women and men.

The Chief Minister said: “I am honoured to take this opportunity to thank the GWA and all of its members throughout its history, and its Committee members in particular, for their dedication in improving life for all women in Gibraltar. Of course, the Association also has a very special meaning to me personally in addition to the importance it has to the local community. That is why I am proud to announce that the long-awaited statue celebrating Women in Gibraltar will finally take its rightful place in this, the Association’s 50th anniversary year.” The statue is to be erected on the Queensway roundabout opposite Britannia House.

Letter to the press by the Association’s founder member and its first Chairperson, Mrs Angela Smith

The 50th anniversary of the Gibraltar Women’s Association is indeed a milestone worth celebrating and I wish to offer my very best wishes and congratulations to Chairperson Amber Turner, her committee and the membership in general. When the original association was formed, it was in reaction to many local issues adversely affecting our families. Problems were disregarded or went unresolved, for example the lack of traffic wardens around schools, few lifeguards at the beach and so on. It became increasingly evident that someone had to do something. When I invited some friends to my home for tea to discuss the issues that concerned us, it was agreed to form a group. Days later, the initial Parish Hall meeting was well attended by many women and The Gibraltar Housewives’ Association was formed. Nowadays, the association has a more inclusive name, The Gibraltar Women’s Association. The Association has served Gibraltar well and I will highlight two particular instances when our intervention was successful.

Firstly, soon after the association was formed, Gibraltar was stunned to hear the announcement by the British Government, that contrary to their stated and well established policy, they would meet under duress with the Spanish Government to discuss Gibraltar. Action was required and fast. That’s when it struck me that the Queen needed to be made aware of the feelings of Gibraltarian mothers and the anxieties that the announcement by the British Government had evoked. We should write to Her Majesty who as a mother would understand how insecure we felt. The committee was immediately onboard regarding the letter. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine the results of our modest letter. It galvanized women all over The Rock! Young and old, healthy and infirm they came out. The number of women milling around waiting to sign the petition was amazing. I would be remiss not to mention that without the unstinting support of all of them what we accomplished would not have been possible. Of special note is Mrs. Mariola Summerfield who has been a stalwart member and President of the Association and who accompanied me to London. Once in London, it was evident that the British press was taken with the image of two young women who had a clear message. Gibraltar was our home and it was not up for barter. More importantly, we had an opportunity to shed light on the human aspect of our struggle. It was also clear that the British press was most supportive of our efforts! After some anxious days, we were invited to go to Buckingham Palace. We were received with the greatest kindness by the Queen’s personal secretary, Sir Michael Adeane and we handed in the petition. We felt a great sense of relief. Our job was done. Later that day we received a thrilling surprise. We were informed that the Queen’s Equerry had been paging Mrs. Angela Smith at the hotel! And there it was, a letter in reply. It meant that we had not just been received, but heard and even better there was a heartwarming verbal message from H.M. the Queen! We were elated. The letter from Sir Michael Adeane, strengthens the plain truth that when women decide to work together we can be an irrepressible force. The reception we received when we returned to Gibraltar by everyone, but particularly the women, is forever imprinted in my heart.

The second challenge came months later, when overnight the Spanish Government announced that Spanish female workers would no longer be allowed to enter Gibraltar to work. Most of our hospitals, restaurants, and shops were dependent on Spanish female labour force. It took us a few hours to get mobilized and once the word got out, we managed to arrange for women volunteers to cover those jobs. It was a stunning success for Gibraltar as a whole. We met the challenge head on and essential services to our community were covered. Local women were no longer relegated solely to the home, but began to assume essential roles as a public workforce. In facing the difficulties those challenges posed, we found our strength, a healthy resilience, also a measure of pride. We could withstand, endure and succeed. Many others have followed in keeping the association going throughout these years. Gibraltar has undoubtedly benefited greatly from their efforts. Lately, I have noted with interest, that despite the wonderful and beneficial changes that Gibraltar currently enjoys, there has been a marked increase in the number of women who have joined the association. It is heartening to think that fifty years ago we laid the groundwork for our daughters and grand-daughters to know that as women they have an invaluable contribution to make. Also, that our organization continues to offer a powerful voice for the women of Gibraltar. Here’s wishing continued success to everyone involved with the Gibraltar Women’s Association. All best wishes and kindest regards,

Angela Smith

IMG_4622-68Starting from the left, Mrs. Llambias, Mrs. Summerfield, Mrs. Picardo, Mrs. Baker and myself. Missing from the photograph are Mrs. Ramirez and Mrs. Dumas also stellar members of our committee

I enclose some press clippings one of which is a provocative editorial in The Telegraph.