by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 25 June 2006)
When someone asks me where I find the passion to write about women's issues, I do not understand the question. To me, that question is like asking a dying man why he still fights to breathe one more breath.
In Guyana, no one asks why the Afro-Guyanese continue to fight to make their case known to the nation at large because everyone knows they feel abandoned and disenfranchised by the current ruling party. Likewise, no one asks why the Indo-Guyanese refuse to vote for another race because everyone knows the atrocities they suffered under the former PNC rule.
Each of these groups have a cause to defend and they are quite passionate about that cause. However, the cause for which each group struggles only began a short time ago compared to the millennia women have suffered some of the most atrocious indignities heaped upon any group of humans.
Kaieteur News printed a stirring editorial this past Friday that addressed only one of many such indignities – sexual harassment. If we took a sample poll of women worldwide on whether they have ever been subjected to sexual harassment, I would bet that over 90 percent would answer yes.
It is because of the overwhelming incidents of such lewd conduct that women often become accustomed to the humiliation. When a woman is sexually harassed in a workplace, she can feel trapped if she needs to keep her job yet wants to escape the degradation of her boss or co-worker.
However, sexual harassment is not limited to the workplace. In fact, it begins for most when they first start to blossom into women. How many times have you seen a young 13-year-old girl being subjected to all types of lewd and indecent remarks simply from walking down the street to the corner store?
A female child may have been able to live a totally innocent existence up to a certain point, but once she begins to look like a woman instead of a child, men quickly teach her that she is nothing but a sex object.
I have never seen a man clamour to watch a movie about an intelligent woman, yet just one glimpse of a woman with an hour-glass figure and a man will fall all over himself just to get her attention.
It is no wonder that some Muslim women cover their bodies (and sometimes their faces) with unflattering robes and veils. It must really cut back on the unseemly remarks to which these beautiful women would otherwise be subjected.
However, it is not the women who have the problem that must be addressed – it is the men. Why should a woman cover herself when it is the man who cannot control his behaviour?
If you ask me, the men should be made to walk around with their eyes covered if they cannot keep their hands and mouths to themselves when they see a beautiful woman. But that is not the case.
Stabroek News printed a letter to the Editor yesterday in which the writer says he performed fifteen pregnancy terminations on girls who had been raped while in the Guyana National Service. Rape and molestation is yet one more despicable way women have been victimised for thousands of years.
It would be difficult to list all of the demoralising acts to which women have been constantly subjected. Until the last few decades, we have been refused an education and the right to participate in political elections. Likewise, we have long been considered property instead of a person with rights.
So I just do not comprehend why people cannot understand why I fight so adamantly for women. Yet if I channelled my passion into something else, like a cricket game or the World Cup, that would be easily understandable.
The most ironic aspect of the worldwide struggle for women's rights is that there are still so many women who do not want to be a part of it. They have been told that things are just fine the way they are and that those Amazonian fighters just want to rule over men. They have also been told that God would not approve.
Consequently, women generally accept their plight without fighting back. Every other group in the human race that has been victimised - in far lesser degrees and for a far lesser amount of time – has fought back.
Women are strong, but we do not like to fight. Typically, the only time a woman will fight is to save the life of her child. However, though our nature is more subdued than that of the other gender, it does not give us an excuse for not fighting for our rights.
If we do not stand up and demand the respect and rights we deserve, then we have no choice but to keep our mouths shut when our daughters are the victims of sexual harassment.
Instead of simply accepting the atrocities that still assail our gender, would it not be better to finally take a stand against them? The one and only reason any other victimised group in the human race has ever been afforded its proper rights and respect is because they fought for it – with a passion.
Likewise, the one and only reason we have not been afforded our proper rights and respect is because we have not fought for it. We have become so desensitised to the victimisation that we accept it as being normal.
Here is a measuring stick to use as a guide in redefining your definition of normalcy when determining whether you should fight over a particular issue. Ask yourself whether any man accept this type of treatment if he were in your place at that moment. If you are in a situation when the answer to this question is no, then demand your rights and the proper respect that is due to you.
This struggle is not a fight of women against men or the god-fearing against the heathen; however, it is a struggle of one more group of humans that have been victimised and must fight back if they ever hope to see the atrocities end.
When the colonies demanded their independence from England, mighty Britain was forced to recognise them as humans and treat them accordingly. This has happened over and over again throughout human history whenever people have stood up for their rights. And now it is our turn, ladies.