As I entered the lobby of the Prime Minister’s residence, Sharon walked towards my direction and instantly greeted me with a warm smile, as she gave me a sincere and welcoming hug.
“It is good to see you,” she said. Her smile makes you happy on the inside and it can dissipate any feelings of discomfort or tension. Her voice is calming, while her confident graceful presence illuminates the room. The general public would have been familiar with Sharon for over 30 years, being known as the fabulously dressed attorney and wife of the Tobagonian born politician, Dr Keith Christopher Rowley.
Over the years, the public domain would have described Sharon as pure class, graceful, sophisticated, as well as intelligent and humble, On the night of September 7, 2015—as her husband Keith was victorious at polls of the General Elections—life as Sharon knew it would change. Overnight, she would have ascended to the title of Mrs Sharon Clark Rowley, wife of the Prime Minister of the Republic of T&T.
Mrs Clark-Rowley is a practising attorney at law of 36 years standing and is at present a partner with the firm of MG Daly & Partners, attorneys-at-law, where she heads the firm’s conveyancing department. Raised in Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain, Mrs Clark-Rowley attended Bishop Anstey Junior School, followed by Bishop Anstey High School, then the University of the West Indies and The Hugh Wooding Law School. In her early law career, she was an assistant corporate secretary at TSTT and a state counsel in what is now the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Dr and Mrs Rowley have been married for 34 years and are the parents of two daughters, Tonya, an attorney, and Sonel, a school psychologist, who is pursuing post-doctoral work in neuro-psychology. Mrs Clark-Rowley takes her philanthropic work very seriously being patrons to numerous organisations such as the Caribbean Association of Oncology and Haematology. She has also performed the role of event patron for several well intentioned causes in T&T.
In particular, Mrs Clark-Rowley has supported the work of the Down Syndrome Network, the WAND Foundation (Women in Action for the Needy and Destitute), Zebapique Productions, a Kiddies Carnival Band, brought out by Anthony and Andrew Alleng, a band which aims to build the Laventille and environs community through culture, the Laventille Nights Series, En To To, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to changing our social landscape through youth-oriented initiatives in T&T and, of course, her alma mater, Bishop Anstey High School.
While maintaining her legal profession, Mrs Clark-Rowley continues to advocate for the personal development of the young people of T&T, while being mindful of the need to support the elderly, and, in keeping with the celebration of women, both locally and internationally, she champions the cause for gender equality and gender equity. Enjoy my exclusive interview with Sharon as we get to know a little more about her.
Who is Sharon Rowley?
Sharon Clark-Rowley is a mother, grandmother, wife, daughter, sister (second in a family of three girls) and an attorney. I have been practising law since 1982 and this year I would have been married for 34 years. I grew up in Woodbrook, in a close knit family—mother, father and two sisters.
What is your role as wife of the Prime Minister?
I have no official role. I have no staff and I write my own speeches, which I hope are motivational. There is no office of the Wife of the Prime Minister. I however champion certain social causes, perform the role of patron of certain organisations and of events which are dear to my heart. I have just relinquished my role as patron of the Netball Association so that I can assist other entities and I am at present patron of the Caribbean Association of Oncology and Haematology
People often ask whether you continue to work since your husband became Prime Minister in 2015. Can you bring clarity to this question?
I went to work at 8am on the morning after the General Elections of the September 7, 2015 and I have continued to work. I work from 8am to 4.30pm to 5.00pm. I believe that it is important to maintain my independence. I have studied and worked hard to reach to where I am today and I like what I do.
How has the past 30 years prepared you for the role as wife of the Prime Minister?
Over the years I have moved from wife of an opposition senator, wife of a government minister—Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Housing and Minister of Trade, wife of a back bencher, wife of the Leader of the Opposition and wife of the Prime Minister. From that line up you can see that I have had much preparation. Almost a seamless transition. It has been a learning experience.
With the advent of social media there is constant public scrutiny. How do you deal and cope with the negative comments about your husband? Does it affect you in any way?
I am not on facebook for the very reason that there are many mean spirited individuals whose attacks are hurtful and often unwarranted. One should remember that life is not always a bed of roses. But there is also the good in social media which does have its own benefits and one should perhaps concentrate on that which is good.
What is your opinion on women’s liberal dress code in society today as it relates to how men treat them?
There is the stereotypical belief that women invite their own rapes, sexual assaults and sexual harassment in what they wear, their clothes being a mark of implied consent. This cannot and should not be the stand that we take. While clothing can be considered to be a form of non-verbal communication and there must be limits to what we choose to wear (or not wear) in public men cannot be allowed to abuse our women or be excused for wanton violence and abuse. They must accept responsibility for their actions and bear the full brunt of the law for crimes committed against women.
Domestic violence coupled with the physical and mental abuse of women is a serious national issue plaguing our country – what do you think is the root of this issue and what can be done to effectively bring about change?
Lack of moral values and respect. We must start at home to teach our boys and young men to respect our girls and young women. The book of Proverbs says ‘train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it’. There must be dialogue in schools and homes on gender equality, domestic violence and the abuse of women.
How would you define Women Empowerment?
The process of making women more confident. An empowered woman is one who knows her strengths and embraces them. She is in control of her life and is aware of her capabilities. She makes mistakes but learns from her mistakes. She makes every effort to empower other women after empowering herself and she ensures that both men and women stand up for justice and equality for all. While in Trinidad and Tobago we have made great strides towards gender equality for all we still have a long way to go. It is impossible for us, as women, to achieve the goal of gender equality/gender equity without the unwavering support of our men.
What can women do in Trinidad and Tobago to empower themselves?
Be self-aware, be your own role model, educate themselves, respect themselves. Understand that hard work, dedication and discipline are required. Remember that success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.
How do you create a balance for yourself being the wife of the Prime Minister, but also being an attorney, a friend, mother, sister and a grandmother?
Very simply put it is all about time management wrapped in love. Love of job, love of family and love of friends.
What values did your parents instil in you that make you the person you are today?
Integrity, honesty, scholarship and spirituality. Those values tied in very nicely with my school motto at Bishop Anstey High School – ‘Non Sine Pulvere Palmam’ – not without dust the palm – very simply put nothing comes without hard work.
Your daughters are all grown up and have their own families. Tell me about your girls?
My husband and I are very proud of our daughters, Tonya, an attorney at law, and the holder of a Master’s degree in corporate law from the London School of Economics and Sonel a Psychologist who has her doctorate in school psychology and is now doing post graduate studies in Neuro Psychology. They have always been very focused, loving and caring young people. My grandson is the apple of his grandparents’ eyes and will be off to ‘big school’ – Bishop Anstey Junior School – in September, following in my footsteps and those of my daughters.
Name some women locally and internationally who you admire and what do you admire about them?
Locally, persons such as Jan Ryan who is part of the leadership of WAND, and who gives of her time for the betterment of the needy. These people care about the downtrodden who should never be forgotten. My mother who was the perfect mentor. I will have to say internationally it is Michelle Obama who I regard as an empowered black woman who has been an inspiration to many women, young and old, around the world. I am reading her book ‘Becoming’ at this point in time.
How would you describe your sense of style?
Classic/Timeless/lady-like. I like the styles of the 1950’s – Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot. My wardrobe is a sea of colour interspersed with traditional black. I always support our local designers, too many to name. Most of our local designers are at the top of their game and can easily compete on the international stage.
Tell us one thing that most people don’t know about you?
If I didn’t practise law I would be an artist but I’m mindful of the fact that up and coming artists need to supplement their income, so I would have had to have an occupation to fall back on. I have a purple belt in karate – I did karate while at school. I also held the long jump record at high school for a while.
What is the one thing you have maintained as a constant throughout your life that has helped and guided you?
An unshakeable faith in God.
What do you do for fun?
It sounds shallow but shopping is perhaps my only ‘vice’; at Carnival time it is a good ‘All Inclusive’ or a Back in Times Fete where the music of the 1970’s and 1980’s reigns supreme.
What does the future hold for you? Anything within the political arena?
Absolutely nothing in the political arena. I have no such aspirations. I am now 60 and I retire in a few years’ time. I look forward to my retirement and I hope that I will be in good health and am able to enjoy it.
What words of advice would you like to give to the young women (and men) of our country?
Whatever your circumstances in life – where ever you come from, how much money you may have, whatever your race or religion – these things should not prevent you from realizing your full potential. These things should never hamper your aspirations. Be the best that you can be.
Hair: Ashvin Bally| Make-up: Katrina Laydoo of The MUA House| Styling & Creative| Direction: Brian Matthew| Wardrobe: Claudia Pegus, Peter Elias & Charu Lochan Dass| Jewelry: The Gallery, Long Circular Mall| Production Assistants: Ariann Thompson & Amanda Elliot