Noellie Alexander

Noellie Alexander

Date: June 5, 2012
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Globally, 6.8 percent of ministers of the public service are women. (IPU 2000)

Being myself- Seychelles Minister for Administration and Manpower Development, Noellie Alexander

“It is interesting, I have never thought of myself as a woman, just as a person. I don’t consider gender as something special. I am a mainstream feminist. I believe that you should strive for what you want, whether you are a man or a woman.”

This is the outlook of Noellie Alexander, the Seychelles Minister for Administration and Manpower Development. She attributes it largely to her unconventional mother, who broke all the rules of her age, “wore the pants” and left an indelible mark on her extended family, whom Alexander holds together in her parted absence.

“My mother had a major influence on my life. In her own way, she was a freedom fighter. She had a strong sense of right and wrong,” she remembers fondly of this strong matriarchal figure in her life.

Born in Seychelles, but itching (like most Seychellois) to see the bigger world, Alexander’s mother chanced on an advert from a widowed Mauritian man in Mombassa, Kenya looking for a wife. She responded, got on a boat, and set out into the sunset. Her widower husband had six children. They had a further two children. Alexander grew up in Mobassa. To support the family, her mother became a tailor. After her father died, her mother decided to move back to Seychelles with the eight children in 1969.

She became paralysed at age 55. Even as Alexander cared for her, “she was still the matriarch. Whatever she said was law. She suffered great pain, but bore her pain. She was my role model.”

Alexander, who had a secondary school education, worked in a clerical job with the commissioner of police; “hated it” and moved on to finance. Thanks to her short hand abilities, she got promoted to recording meetings of the legislative assembly where she met many politicians and joined the ruling SPUP.

When the British airline BOAC opened offices in Victoria, Alexander moved to work there, but continued “my quiet but deliberate interest in politics.” She also travelled with the airline: “For ten years, I travelled, read, saw the world” and enrolled at the University of Manchester to read for a masters degree in public administration. “My view was always: the world is your oyster.”

In 1993, Alexander became the director general for public administration, and then the minister in 1998: “(President) Albert Rene gives you a lot of space. If you are competent you will get the job. He does not genderise things. It’s about the person,” she says.

Alexander says her academic qualifications and experience in the bureaucracy have stood her well, but are not the only keys to her success: “It helps to know your subject matter. I ask a lot of questions, but I know they are not stupid. I am a perpetual learner.”

Are there particular features of her womanhood that prove helpful in the tasks at hand? She pauses and says: “I bring heart to my job. I pay attention to detail. I take care of the little things and the big things.”

In her constituency, she says, “it is the women who come to see me and not the men. Women have an intuition, a sixth sense. In my district I know everyone. I have never felt at a disadvantage because I am a woman. On the contrary, I think it stands me in good stead.”

She notes that while she represents women and men, “as a woman I feel a particular affinity for other women, for what they are going through. I feel I am accepted by other women, that we have an understanding.”

Asked why Seychelles still uses the word “manpower” which most countries have long discarded she says: “Its semantics. Within the department we talk about human resources. For us it does not mean anything what you call the ministry.”

Alexander, who has one son, never married. She explains that this is common in Seychelles, and does not carry a negative label. “I never made a conscious decision not to marry, but it left me free to pursue a career in public life. I was my own woman. And I have always had a good relationship with the father of my son.”

She sees many social changes in Seychelles that mean in future women will not necessarily need to choose between marriage and public life: “The mind set of women is changing. Now you can have a home and family and still be what you want to be. Men are changing. Before they would never take children to the day care centre. My son bathes his daughter and picks her up from school. Girls are going into non traditional areas like mechanics.”

Still, Alexander has no regrets: “When I look back on my life, I feel satisfied. I have done the things that other women do. I have kept a home, raised a child, looked after my mother, and I am a grandmother. But I have also had another life. I have combined all this.”

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