by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 14 September 2007)
Last Sunday this newspaper published a letter of protest from the Red Thread concerning the fact that rice farmers were to receive a reprieve from VAT taxes on certain items needed for their farming activities. The Red Thread felt it was more important to focus on the poor women of the nation who could not afford to buy food.
There was a backlash of letters in response to the Red Thread, but there is only one to which I would like to react. My reaction is not really about the VAT tax and it’s impact on poor women and rice farmers. Nor is it about who needs a tax break more.
Rather, I would like to address the way in which one letter writer attempts to snidely counter the letter from the Red Thread in the same way a misogynistic husband would tell his wife that her constant yapping makes it hard for him to hear anything she says.
Although he subsequently gives the Red Thread a patronising acknowledgement for the work it has done for women, Dharamkumar Seeraj, the General Secretary of the Rice Producers Association, starts his letter with this statement, “The Red Thread’s contentious response to the VAT waiver in the rice industry impugns that Organisation’s creditability as champions of women and the poor and vulnerable in society.”
If ever there was a statement made by men that has crossed time and space to undermine the value of female input, this assertion by Mr. Seeraj is the epitome of the typical patriarchal response. It really gets my blood boiling when I see a situation like this where someone tries to shut women up.
It is nothing no skin off my back if the rice farmers get a tax break (although it might help Robert Persaud get some votes in 2011), but I sure as hell care when a representative from this industry responds to a women’s advocacy group in such a condescending manner.
I could not help but wonder if Mr. Seeraj understands that it is the women who buy a bulk of the rice sold in Guyana and across the world.
It does his industry great harm to insult the very people who buy his product. It would be far more profitable for Mr. Seeraj to walk a mile in the shoes of some of the women from the Red Thread before he so callously disregards even a small part of their fight for help to buy food for their families.
The rice industry is one of the most – if not the most – successful industries in Guyana. As such it is only logical for the women of the Red Thread to question government aid to those who are financially stable when it is becoming so difficult for the average woman in Guyana to afford just the basic staples of life.
Although Mr. Seeraj wanted to belittle this important work, the letter from the Red Thread that questioned the tax break given to rice farmers was absolutely appropriate in context of the reality in Guyana. The fight for help by those in the Red Thread is for the families of Guyana – not just the women who voice the issue.
Another letter on this issue from Mohamed Khan made the same point as Mr. Seeraj without undermining the value of the input from these women. Make no mistake; the importance of the Red Thread’s message remains intact despite sexist statements that would attempt to dismiss it.
The situation of the women in Guyana is not going to just disappear with a few trivializing comments – whether from a representative from the rice industry or from the government. These ladies have found their voice and they are finally using it for their own advantage.
As far as Mr. Seeraj goes, I wonder if he knows that most women who read his letter would not have given his words any credence after reading that highly insensitive first paragraph. In other words, his contentious response to the Red Thread impugns his organisation’s creditability.