Women Leaders and Transformation in Developing Countries
Home Profiles Index Course Syllabus Document Index Video Clip Index Brandeis University Home Page
Ruth Nita Barrow (1916-1995)

Governor-General (1990-1995)
Ambassador to the U.N. (1986-1990)

Barbados Flag of Barbados


By the time she was appointed Convener for the United Nations "Forum '85: a World Meeting for Women," (in Nairobi, Kenya 1985) Nita Barrow was an accomplished hand at supporting women and heading their worldwide organizations. She would go on to become the first woman Ambassador of Barbados to the United Nations, 1986-1990, and later the first woman ever to be appointed Governor General of that Commonwealth Carribean country for five years until her untimely death in 1995. Indeed, her record of service has been dscribed as "pure sterling" and her memorial services in Bridgetown, Barbados and New York were overflow capacity tributes. For women around the world, she represented what a community-conscious, educated woman can achieve: leadership in the service of community, women, country, and indeed all humanity, working within and outside the United Nations system.


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.

Map of Barbados
Click on map to see full size version.
Click on inset for clickable world map.

Statistical Highlights
Total Population (thousands) - Est. July 1999 259,191
Population Growth Rate - Est. 1999 0.04%
Per capita income $6,500
Population of African heritage 80%
Population of European heritage 4%
Population of mixed heritage 16%
Primary language English
Achieved independence from U.K. 11/30/1996

Gender Equity Information
Adult literacy rate for women 98%
Parliamentary seats held by women 18%
Percentage of university professors who are women - 1990 23%
Female unpaid workers 69%
Literacy Rate (F/M) 99% / 99%

Development Information Score
(of 1.000)
(HDI of 174)
(GDI of 163)
HDI 0.909 24
GDI 0.889 16

Hear the National Anthem of Barbados, from National Anthems of the World
Flag graphic by Mark Sensen, courtesy of FOTW: Flags Of The World website <http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/> 3/16/00
   (Click on flag for full size version)
Map courtesy of theUniversity of Texas' Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/Map_collection.html> 3/16/00
Statistical Information on Barbadosprovided by the United Nations Human Development report 1997 <http://www.undp.org/hdro/97.htm> 3/16/00 and the CIA Factbook entry on Barbados <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/bb.html> 3/16/00

Development infromation provided by the United Nations Human Development Report 1998 <http://www.undp.org/hdro/98.htm> 3/16/00
   HDI = Human Development Index; GDI = Gender-related Development Index; Click on an index name in the table to view the full chart for that index.

Biographical profile ©2000 Dessima Williams, with research support from Marjorie Pauleon and Sarah Richmond. Compilation of some country information by Michael Cohen '01. Site as a whole is ©1999 Dessima Williams and CIMTech at Brandeis University. All rights reserved. Further copywright and contact information available at the site index.