About Dame Nita Barrow
Dame Nita Barrow
“Lost is a true daughter of the soil”
- Erskine Sandiford, Former Prime Minister of Barbados
Dame Nita Barrow was an exceptional woman and transformative leader. Born in Barbados in 1916, she began her career as a nurse, and was one of the first Caribbean women to earn a degree from the University of Toronto. She was later awarded an honorary degree by the University of Toronto in 1987.
Nita pioneered in many fields. She was the first President of the Jamaica Nurses Association, which she helped to found; the first matron of the University College Hospital in Jamaica; the first World Health Organization appointed nurse for the Caribbean; and the first woman to head the Medical Commission of the World Council of Churches. Her transformative work was carried out in many contexts: As the first majority world person to head an international women's organization, she changed the YWCA into an organization with a concern for socioeconomic development; as the first woman to head the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), she introduced new visions of the role of adult education in participatory development; and as her country's ambassador to the UN, she strengthened that institution's links with NGOs.
She was a natural choice for Convener of the NGO Forum at the 3rd World Conference on Women held in Nairobi in 1985, helping to negotiate space for the 15,000 women who had converged in Nairobi to mark the end of the Decade for Women and the beginning of a new presence of women in international politics. Nita was later the only woman selected to be a member of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons, a group chosen to negotiate rapprochement with the racist government of South Africa before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. In this position she went above and beyond her role to work with the people of the townships.
Finally, as her country's first female Governor General, she remained accessible to her friends around the world and used what was previously a largely ceremonial post as a position of leadership. She demonstrated that power and prestige could be shared and used to empower and give recognition to those who have neither; that women’s leadership can be found in both traditional and non-traditional spaces; and that one can combine compassion with the firmness and skills required to lead.
The Story of the Dame Nita Barrow Distinguished Visitorship
The Dame Nita Barrow Distinguished Scholar Visitorship was established in 1997 by the Centre for Women's Studies in Education and the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology (AECP) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE/UT) to provide an opportunity for a woman from the Global South or Eastern/Central Europe, who has played a leadership role in autonomous women's organizing for transformative change, to spend time in residence at CWSE, to teach a course as part of the Adult Education and Community Development graduate program, and to give a university-wide lecture. Visitors bring their international reputation and their diverse knowledge to educate and inspire the OISE and Toronto communities.
The Dame Nita Barrow Distinguished Visitorship is generously funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Read more about them at www.idrc.ca.