May 9, 2017

Ruth Nita Barrow was born on November 15, 1916 on the island of Barbados at a time when colonial government held sway and women had few rights. She trained as a nurse, midwife and health care administrator, holding a variety of nursing, public health and public administration jobs in Barbados and Jamaica in the 1940's and 1950's. She became a public health advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1964 and later to the Pan-American Health Organization, (PAHO). Those were pioneer public posts for women in the developing world.
As Ambassador to the United Nations, Dame Nita sought to elevate women even higher: she made a bid for president of the General Assembly in 1988 and lost. That was about all Dame Nita ever lost. Before and after, she was a woman on a world stage.
She served as President of the International Council of Adult Education (1982-1990); President of the World YMCA (1975-1983); and President of the World Council of Churches, 1983. In 1986, following her leadership of the United Nations 1995 NGO Forum, Nita Barrow was appointed one of eight and the only woman of a world-level Emminent Persons Group who would research and negotiate the release of Nelson Mandela from his 27 years in South Africa's prison.
She was made Dame of the [British] Order of St. Andrew's in 1980 and awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the West Indies. Although she refused to call herself a feminist, she cared deeply about the plight of the people and was awarded the Carribean Prize for Peace through Struggle for Justice in 1986, and the CARICOM Award for Women in 1987. A pioneer and advocate she was; for many, many in the world.
  1. Blackman, Francis Woodie. Dame Nita: Carribean Woman, World Citizen. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1985.
  2. Fact sheet on Ruth Nita Barrow, courtesy of the Embassy of Barbados in Washington D.C.
  3. Personal interview by Dessima Williams, 1994.