by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 17 Jan 2006)
On Sunday the people of Chile elected a new president; her name is Michelle Bachelet. In fact, Bachelet won the election by a good margin over her very wealthy opponent, economist and businessman Sebastián Piñera. Electing an unconventional woman as president is certainly no small feat for this conservative country that is predominantly Catholic.
Across the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, Africa's first elected female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was sworn in as U.S. First LadyLaura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looked on. The inauguration was also attended by Bush's daughter and was watched over by two American warships. This high-level delegation was no doubt a clear sign of strong support for the Harvard economist.
Meanwhile, Germany 's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel has certainly wasted no time getting right to work. She has been making her diplomatic rounds with a trip to the U.S. last week and one to Russia this week. She has taken a tough stand on Iran 's nuclear programme, insisting that the country has “crossed the red line” and at the same time is moving toward building a warm relationship with Russia . That is feminine leadership in action.
For all those nescient men, who obtusely believed a woman's place was only in the home…well, it looks as if the woman's place is also as heads of state. This is indeed a week of historical proportions for all women and we can expect the situation of our sisters worldwide to get progressively better as women begin setting the international agenda.
In Chile , the women have high expectations of their new female president. In an article by the Financial Times (www.ft.com), a 54-year-old Chilean secondary school teacher said, “Men scorn our abilities; a woman president will shut them up.” The President-elect has plans to do much more than that.
Bachelet has said she will include an equal number of men and women in her cabinet. When she does this, Chile will have a serving Cabinet that is closely representative of the country's gender demography. If this trend continues, we will soon see governments at all levels that parallel the make-up of the nation at large.
Bachelet has also promised more childcare so women can easily participate in the work force. It is about time that women had some friends in high places, especially since male legislators have yet to seriously address issues that are uniquely related to women, such as childcare.
In Guyana , women deal with the fear of rape, abusive partners and absentee fathers on a daily basis. The steady stream of articles in the newspapers that report on these atrocious acts do not seem to reach the ears of the nation's male leaders, for if they did hear about these events, surely they would have taken the drastic measures necessary to put an end to the ongoing suffering of Guyana's women.
On the very first day of 2006, this newspaper devoted a significant portion of its front page to the issue of sexual assault and called for a national strategy that included improved forensic technology, a special court to deal with this sensitive issue and a tougher stance by the judiciary against perpetrators of these acts.
There was also a statement concerning the inaction of Guyana 's women's groups. I have nothing but genuine respect for the Red Thread and Help and Shelter organisations, but it is time to turn the fire up a notch or two, ladies. You are leaders of women and it is your responsibility to keep these issues at the forefront of the community's awareness.
However, you should not be expected to do it alone. There are plenty of women leaders in Guyana that can lend a helping hand. Should I name a few? Ah, why not! We should start with Denise Boodie and Karen DeSouza and their staff members. Then we should add other women of influence like Bibi Shadick, Deborah Osman-Backer, Sheila Holder, Clarissa Riehl, Miranda LaRose (yep girl, you too) and Kaieteur News very own Gwen Evelyn.
Who else? The list should also include the nation's businesswomen, church leaders and educators. Of course, we cannot forget the one woman who should be known throughout the country as a staunch advocate for women's issues, Janet Jagan.
There is one more person who should care about the women of Guyana too – his name is Bharrat Jagdeo. Mr. President, the women of Guyana need your ear concerning their issues.
I should also mention that although it was impressive that the PNCR finally stood up for itself regarding my assertion that they have been a “missing in action” opposition, they have yet to respond to my request for a crime strategy that includes the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and paedophilia. If you guys need some help, why not ask a woman?
As the world moves closer to gender equality this week with the introduction of three women as national leaders, I feel like this is indeed a significant moment in history and can't help but revel in the triumph of the 21st century woman. At the same time, having been reminded just this week (again) that I am only a woman and my place is beside my husband, I know there is still so far to go.
My husband let this person know in no uncertain terms that he would never belittle me by expecting me to be only a mother and a wife when he knows that I am far more than that, just as he is more than just a father and a husband. Now that is my kind of man!
I wonder how many times Chancellor Merkel, President Johnson-Sirleaf and President-elect Bachelet has had a man tell them to fall in line? Probably a lot, and I bet they did the same thing I did this week when a man tried to “put me in my place.” I laughed and laughed and laughed – then I went back to the books to try and make this world a little bit better.
Where is this woman's place? My place is not just “in the home”. Sure, I thoroughly enjoy the comfort of my cosy home and I love my husband and kids to pieces. But my place is also in the world - travelling, learning, teaching, working and being part of the global community. In short, the world is my playground.