The XX Factor

Turks and Caicos Isn’t Just a Caribbean Paradise. It’s Also a Matriarchy.


Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Beaches Turks & Caicos

The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) are a low-lying Caribbean archipelago surrounding by calm, crystal-blue water. Tropical fish flit in and out of coral reefs, and pelicans and flamingos swoop along its balmy shores. It is paradise, and not just in the geographic sense: Politically, the British territory is practically a matriarchy.

As the BBC reports, women fill the roles of deputy governor, attorney general, chief justice, chief magistrate, director of public prosecutions, and five of the seven positions of permanent secretaries there. And in December, Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson was sworn in as TCI’s first female premier.

Cartwright-Robinson is a 45-year-old lawyer who has led her party, the People’s Democratic Movement, for four years. In interviews, she acknowledges her place in history as the country’s first female head of government. “There may still be one or two pastors who think women can’t lead,” she told the BBC, “but because of the work I have done over the last few years, I wasn’t looked at as a woman but as a person who could get the job done.”

The Caribbean island nations of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have also elected women leaders in recent years. Come to think of it, more than 70 countries around the world have elected a female head of state at one point or another. Just try to imagine a country so backward that it would refuse to elect a female leader, especially one who was infinitely more experienced, intelligent, and empathetic than her rival. Unthinkable, right?

Cartwright-Robinson’s victory was historic, to be sure, but it was only a matter of time before a woman took over the top leadership there. TCI women are outperforming men by so many measures that its Gender Affairs Department, traditionally focused on women, is now spending some of its efforts empowering boys and men. Deputy Gov. Anya Williams tells the BBC that the department is hosting summer camps for boys with sessions on anger management and communication and wants to help high-school boys prepare to “take up pivotal roles in society.” In November, the department hosted a conference commemorating International Men’s Day (who knew?), whose goal was to “engage men” and reflect on their “contribution, sacrifices and progress.” Take a moment to appreciate the instructively bizarre existence of a conference held to praise men for their special contributions to society.

TCI has a small population, and beyond the pristine beaches and gated resorts, it’s not all dreamy: Unemployment is high, and the crime rate, while low, has been rising. The territory enjoyed self-rule for decades, but after a scandal forced the (male) premier’s resignation in 2009, Britain took back day-to-day operation of the government for three years. With that upheaval still fresh in TCI’s memory, Cartwright-Robinson has her work cut out for her. But as one of her campaign slogans put it, “She’s just the best man for the job.”