“Every human story is one of courage, and determination and has a lesson for us.”
Before the last Seychelles elections in October 2020, I did not know much about Mrs Linda Ramkalawan—no surprise there, she was never in the limelight —by choice. When I heard her speak in her first televised interview, I found that I could personally relate to what she was sharing as a working mother, and wife and her Christian values. It was refreshing to note her authenticity, unassuming confidence and composure, so I wanted to know a little bit more about her. Whatever your political affiliation or background, it is easy to feel connected with Mrs Ramkalawan- articulate and intelligent, with an air of calmness when she speaks. Mrs Ramkalawan took some time out from her already busy life to answer my questions.
First Lady—that’s quite a title to uphold, what are the challenges you anticipated facing as the First Lady?
There is no school, course or training that prepares you for the role of First Lady, hence my initial challenge was to find myself, where do I fit in, which direction do I take, and where do I begin? Secondly, as a result of the country not having had a First Lady for a while, I believe there are a lot of expectations from the people. I have to find out what these expectations are, and how to manage them. However, the one promise that I have made to myself is to remain Linda and not allow others to transform me into another character.
How are you viewing your role in the State House?
My main role is to be a support to my husband in the enormous task that he has of leading the country. I have always been by his side in the political responsibilities he has had, but that was in his role in the opposition. Now, it’s a different story. The buck stops at him, and he will need greater support and understanding.
You are a very private person; what’s your biggest fear of living your life in the public eye?
To be under scrutiny all the time, people observing what you wear, what you say, what you do, waiting for the ‘faux pas”. All this can put pressure on someone’s life and make you lose the real you. As stated before, I want to remain the person I have always been.
Cosmocreole is all about inspiring other women regardless of their social background or political affiliation; as a woman, what do you think is the best way to inspire each other?
I believe women should constantly share stories of their struggles, how they persevered, their failures, how they overcame these, and their successes so that others may get renewed courage. Each story has a message that can ease the path for others along their own daily struggles. It is important that others can relate their own story to that of others. That’s how we are inspired and, in return, also inspire others. Every human story is one of courage and determination and has a lesson for us. Inspiration is not just from those with official positions but from everyone.
Who has been your greatest inspiration in life?
I greatly admire my husband– his determination and perseverance- but the first person who inspired me was my mother. I believe that we are shaped by the environment in which we grow up, and this is where we learn the values that shape us into who we are today. I come from a family where my father was the only breadwinner with a modest income, and he had alcohol issues. Life could have been more challenging had it not been for my mother. She made sure that her three children got the essentials as we grew up.
To me she is so many things: Financial controller – I believe she was an FC, way before I became one – she knew how to control our small budget and make ends meet. Designer – she sewed all our clothes from when we were babies to teenagers. Magician – she knew how to multiply things; a few groceries could be turned into a sumptuous meal. Clairvoyant – she possesses a good sense of discernment, she sees way beyond her nose, and those very close to her would say she has a ‘labous Kabri’ (goat’s mouth-predict that bad luck to befall someone or something) as we say in creole.
She is a woman of great faith and taught us the value of prayer. She instilled in us many values such as humility, not to waste, not to covet or be jealous of others and to live in simplicity.
Do you feel that the role of women in Seychelles have changed significantly?
Our basic roles in the home have not changed significantly. What has changed is that women have become more career-minded and ventured into entrepreneurship, hence becoming more independent. There are more women in leadership positions, and their roles are more valued. I have been really surprised at how the people of Seychelles have welcomed me as their First Lady. It looked as if they were wanting this for a long time. So, maybe, the time has come for women to step forward and take on new roles. Another event that speaks volumes is how the youngest minister in the present government, a woman, Mrs Devika Vidot was the first minister to receive the support of all members of the National Assembly. There is a thirst, and women must step forward and take on new, but important roles and responsibilities.
Do you think there is gender inequality in Seychelles? What’s your opinion about gender inequality?
I believe that a lot has been done to empower women in Seychelles, especially in the Public service, and tourism industry, and women have freely developed their entrepreneurship skills and have become successful business leaders. Seychelles does not have the same issues as mainland Africa in terms of land ownership, access to development funds and so on. To some extent, we can say that both men and women have equal opportunities, but we still have some sectors where we see that men are predominant, especially in politics. In the judiciary, we see a lot of women and we even had our first woman Chief Justice. We hear a lot of talk about empowering women, and there are concerns that we should be careful not to leave our young men and boys behind as we are already living in a matriarchal society. I was surprised to learn recently that we do not have a single organization for men that is currently active and running. Maybe the inequality is now on the side of men, and women need to encourage them!
We see, read and hear a lot about women being disrespected by men, as a mother to three boys, what kind of lessons have you instilled in them?
I guess just the fact that I am surrounded by males has taught them how to respect the female gender. They have grown up knowing the importance of showing respect to everyone and that violence is not a way to resolve conflicts. Furthermore, they observe our relationship and from there they receive lessons of compromise, understanding and the need for good communication at all times.
You retired early so that you can be more present in your son’s life, what would you say to working mothers with children, who are finding it hard to have a work-life balance?
Give the best of yourself to your work but do not overdo it – we are not indispensable. The business will go on without us. When planning your day off, at least set aside a little bit of quality time with your children. As mothers, sometimes we feel that we have to do all the chores at home, and we do not ask for enough help from our partners or children. If we can get everybody to help, then we would be able to have more leisure time with the children.
You have made it clear that you are a ‘woman of faith’, in what way has your faith helped you navigate through life?
It has helped me in every way. I compare it to a child who has a father who loves and protects him, he believes that his Dad is powerful and nothing is impossible for him. He trusts in him and his father never lets him down. So he feels loved, and secure and knows that whatever happens his father knows best. It does not mean he will not fall down and scrape his knees, but he knows his father is there to pick him up. I have a God who I can talk to and I know that he answers my prayers, guides and protects me. My faith is what keeps me going and I am always so thankful for my mum and others who have accompanied me as I nurtured it. Without that strong faith, I would not be the woman I am today.
If you were to freeze one moment of your life, which would it be and why?
My marriage on 4th May 1985. There was so much joy and my whole family was there.
Finally, what’s your definition of happiness?
For me, happiness is the feeling of inner peace and tranquillity, being contented and grateful for all the blessings you receive in your life. Finding pleasure in the little things in life, and not expecting too much from others. Accepting what we cannot change, and making the most of everything— seeing the positivity even in negative situations. Happiness is a choice that we have personally, it is up to us to be happy.