This year’s International Women’s Day theme “Time is now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives” could not be more apt as women’s activism globally is on the increase in sharp contrast to a slowing down on the advancement of the women’s agenda. This slowing down or reversal is no more telling than here in Guyana.
After decades of activism, especially sustained by rural and working women for their right to vote, to work, equal access to health and education, to end discrimination against women and to end domestic and sexual violence, and to hold political office, we are witnessing our proud achievements as Guyanese women being rapidly undermined and reversed by the APNU+AFC government.
The World Economic Forum 2017 Global Gender Gap Report concluded that:-
“On current trends, the overall global gender gap can be closed in exactly 100 years across the 106 countries covered since the inception of the Report, compared to 83 years last year. The most challenging gender gaps remain in the economic and health spheres. Given the continued widening of the economic gender gap, it will now not be closed for another 217 years. However, the education–specific gender gap could be reduced to parity within the next 13 years. The political dimension currently holds the widest gender gap and is also the one exhibiting the most progress, despite a slowdown in progress this year. It could be closed within 99 years. The health gender gap is larger than it stood in 2006.”
Guyana, which was reported on for several years in the Global Gender Gap reports, was ranked # 66 of 145 countries in the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report with a ranking of 1 for both Educational attainment and Health and Survival, and 37 for Political Empowerment and 124 for Economic Participation, its weakest area. Guyana, however, strangely is no longer included in the reports of 2016 and 2017.
Of note is that of 125 achievements advertised by the APNU+AFC Coalition government for its second anniversary, not one related to the status of women, youth or children in our society. These omissions are most significant.
Despite the fact that the APNU+AFC Coalition government inherited a healthy economy and an emerging middle income, democratic nation, we, in Guyana, have witnessed the regression in the economic participation and empowerment of women, and lack of concern of the APNU+AFC government with its retrograde measures such as the practical abolition of the “Women of Worth” programme, and the “Single Parents Assistance Facility and the abolition of the “Cash Care Programme” for all children in school, the introduction of VAT on essential items and services that were designed to help the poor and vulnerable, and the noticeable reduction of women’s presence and role in the political and public spheres.
After 2 years of the APNU+AFC government the emerging trend in Guyana is clear, the government is reversing the democratic gains, bit by bit, methodically; the decline in all sectors of the economy, increased poverty and hardships with 200 new taxes, reversals of the social programmes, including property rights through the housing programme, reversals of social safety nets for children and elderly, and of course, witch hunting of political opponents to the government.
Since the APNU/AFC Coalition took office we are witnessing at an alarming rate an open level of discrimination against women, most especially of Indo-Guyanese and Amerindian women, particularly in the public sector. Pre-1992, Indo-Guyanese and Amerindian women, held less than 1% of the public service posts, now 26 years later they have once again been reduced to a token presence.
The composition of government and state Boards in 2015, 2016 and 2017 have been overwhelmingly male dominated, and, visibly dominated by one ethnic group. This reduction of women’s participation in decision making, workforce and in the economy is telling and an indictment of the government.
This discriminatory trend is not only focused on women in high and senior positions but women also at the lower levels of the public service. Women who were in clerical and lower technical areas have been terminated as “suspect PPP supporters” because of their ethnicity or alleged political affiliation.
The state owned sugar industry is the largest single employer in the public sector. The closure of Wales Sugar Estate in December 2016 led to 1700 workers losing their jobs of which 300 were female (field and administration). With the closure of three more estates in December 2017, another 5000 workers have lost their jobs with more pending, of these 2000 are females. Women in the sugar sector have become mere “collateral damage.”
The multiplier effect of more than 2,000 women in one sector losing their jobs coupled with their male counterparts is devastating at the individual, familial, community and national levels. In a small economy such as ours, their removal is irreparable, unless the government takes corrective measures. Regrettably, the government churns out a time warped mantra of the 1970s of investing in making and selling plantain chips as an entrepreneurial opportunity! Surely this cannot be the answer!
The PPP wishes to place on record it’s condemnation of the suffering being endured by the women in the sugar belt where estates have been shut and calls on the Government to immediately introduce comprehensive programmes to alleviate the hardships being endured by these workers, their families and communities.
Unemployment since 2015, due to the government’s incompetence in managing the economy and ill-advised decisions, has reached alarming levels with almost 25,000 workers losing their jobs in both the private and public sectors, a significant percentage are women and single parents.
Even the Minister of Business acknowledged that the group hardest hit in the small business sector was businesses headed by female single parents. These include those involved with catering, hair and nail craft, sewing and tailoring.
The short and long term socio-economic repercussions of women being removed from the work force, is damaging at many levels:–
-their personal careers and advancement are stymied;
-their families suffer from reduced incomes and access to goods and services, this is particularly devastating for single parent headed households (29%); their children’s access to health and education are also reduced;
-their purchasing power has been reduced which impacts negatively on the quality of their lives and on the economy;
– psychologically the levels of depression and anxiety about their future options weigh heavily on them and their families;
– contributions to the NIS and income tax are reduced;
– their dependents, not only in their immediate families but their extended family, are also negatively affected;
– loans for their education, or, houses they built through the housing programmes, and or, cars or motorcycles they purchased, are in jeopardy, thereby impacting negatively on the banking system and the quality of their lives;
Poverty reduction, maternal and infant mortality, sexual and domestic violence, and suicide continue with little or no priority given to address these ills. The public health sector upon which over 70 % of the women depend on for services is in collapse mode and hardships worsen. Yet the government blindly sings praises to itself.
On this 2018 International Women’s Day, we condemn the APNU+AFC government for its betrayal of our women and all Guyanese. This overwhelming male dominated- senior citizens and urban middle class men and former military and serving military officers at the highest levels- government has little room for women, especially for young professional women in their midst. After 30 odd months, we conclude that the APNU+AFC Coalition government holds the record for callous neglect and discrimination against women.
Here in Guyana, the silence of those who had held themselves up to be protectors of the women’s rights movement is nothing short of curious. This must change, as it remains true, that were we as a county to invest in our women and in empowering our women, Guyana would grow at a far more advanced pace. Guyana cannot develop unless the inclusion of all women, regardless of their ethnicity, class, geographic location, religion, marital status, etc., are treated as critical, urgent and essential to developing a democratic nation.
To spout compliments on IWD in central Georgetown while driving irreversible staves of destruction in the lives of so many of the country’s women makes a mockery of the lofty goals and intentions of International Women’s Day.
The “Time is Now” to expose these dangerous retrogressive trends and to renew the long held traditions of activism for women’s rights and women’s rightful place in our nation– To be silent in the face of these reversals in to stand on the wrong side of history.
In closing, we support wholeheartedly the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres ’s message on 2018 International Women’s Day when he said “Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world….. this is not a favour to women. Gender equality is a human rights issue, but it is also in all our interests: men and boys, women and girls. Gender inequality and discrimination against women harms us all”.
In 2020, we are certain that the PPP/C will return to office and we shall be able to return, reinstate and advance further the position and rights of women in our nation once again.
Gail Teixeira, M.P.,
Priya Manickchand, M.P.,
Gillian Burton- Persaud, M.P.,
Pauline Sukhai, M.P.,