Sunday, September 10, 2006

Stella Says…How will the re-election of the PPP affect women for the next five years?

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 9 September 2006)

After considering the ramifications of the PPP's recent election victory on the nation's general population, my first and foremost thought always returns to the women of Guyana. As such, I think it is important to consider the implications of what another five years of PPP rule will have on the female half of the population.

For example, in America, another term with the Bush administration basically stalls most of the progress that should be taking place for women. There have been some small victories here and there, but this president's administration, and his party, work hard to make sure women have not gone too far from where they were in 2000 when the Republicans took over the White House.

In Guyana, there are some celebratory aspects as well as some vital areas of concern with the re-election of the PPP. On a positive note, the PPP does not seem to be hesitant about putting women in decision-making roles. It seems we can anticipate a healthy number of women in leadership roles again for Jagdeo's new Administration, which he has done in past terms as well.

The new Cabinet appointees still do not add up to a 50/50 split or anywhere close to actually representing the number of women in population at large; however, Guyana's record in this regard is typically higher than most other countries and that alone is a reason to celebrate.

I have to say (once again) that although I supported Bibi Shadick and her work with women's issues in Guyana, I was emphatically disappointed by how badly she recently handled a very sensitive case when some young women charged some well-to-do young men with sexual misconduct.

Up to this point, the PPP had been making some measurable progress on women's issues with Shadick at the helm. This included new legislation that raised the legal age of consent from a mere 13 years old to a more reasonable 16 years of age. In fact, there have been various programmes and government sponsored organisations started under the PPP to address women's issues.

This is in stark contrast to the PNCR-1G, who kindly sent me a draft of their crime strategy last December for review. However, they absentmindedly forgot to include any programmes in their initiative to protect women, discourage domestic abuse or create stricter legislation that would send a clear message to rapists and women abusers.

Having pointed out the positive aspects of the PPP regarding women's issues, there is another side to the story. On paper, the PPP's track record looks promising for women, but in real life, there are some glaring discrepancies that should be addressed in the upcoming term.

Domestic abuse is still a very alarming problem in Guyana. It is very disturbing to see the amount of disregard new mothers receive from their healthcare providers in the medical facilities. Absentee dads leave so many women all alone to rear the children and provide for the family without any help. Rapists are very seldom caught, and when they are, they get a slap on the wrist, which is basically an invitation to rape again.

Sexual abuse is a very real fear for girls and can come from a total stranger, a friend of the family or even a family member. Although it is not gender specific, the quality of education afforded to young women is also an important matter. On top of everything else, there are still remnants of the "boys club" mentality that slams the doors of opportunity on intelligent women and sexually harasses those they do hire for "female" jobs.

My point is that although gender equality is slowly becoming a generally accepted concept, and although the government has taken some meagre steps to address the progress of gender specific issues, there is still a cavernous gap that distinguishes men from women in their everyday lives.

Until some positive results from the various programmes and women's organisations created by the PPP spill over into real life, there cannot be any claim of actual progress on women's issues. The establishment of these initiatives alone does not change the climate of gender discrimination if the government does not act in accordance with their own women's issues agenda.

In other words, the PPP needs to do more than just talk the talk on women's issues in the upcoming term. They need to walk the walk. This does not include appointing a minister who will negate all of the hard work the party has put into women's issues by making statements that further victimise women.

What can we expect from the PPP in the next five years? Since they have not invited me to their brainstorming sessions (I guess that means I didn't get that job as the new Information Liaison. Darn!), I cannot say what they have in store for women in the next five years.

However, I am hopeful that with a change of guards in the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, there will also be a change of focus that encompasses more than just the obligatory response to the international community on this subject. It would be nice to see the PPP initiate some real progress on women's issues that will help reshape the gender discriminating socialisation that preys on half of the nation's population.

Email: StellaSays[at]

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