Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where are the female voices on national issues?

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 11 August 2010)

Nearly every time I sit down to pen this column, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that there are very few public female voices in Guyana who speak on political and social issues. I do not believe this void is for lack of desire, because Guyanese women have told me they would like their voices to be heard.

The numbers of women who have told me they would like to do what I am doing are not dramatic in the least, maybe only a handful over the years. Yet those are just the ones who have spoken their minds to me on the issue. I believe there are many more who would like to join the national conversation on issues that impact Guyana.

In fact, there are women in Guyana who are far more qualified than I am to speak on Guyana’s politics, government and social issues. When I am asked why I was chosen for this column, I do not have a proper response. I suppose the reason probably included a combination of ingredients like my cheeky attitude, my obvious interest in important issues, the fact that I have an opinion on almost everything, and I suppose being able to form a coherent sentence helps as well.

However, let us be honest, there are plenty of women in Guyana who fit that same list of ingredients. Therefore, why are there not more female voices in the column pages speaking about the national interests? I do not begrudge Freddie his column, of course. That is not my point. I do not always agree with Freddie, but he has my utmost respect. Though I cannot help but consider how much better the column pages of Kaieteur News would be if there were a female version of Freddie.

Imagine the level of national discourse that could be accomplished by the sprinkling of a few more female voices throughout the commentary pages of the national newspapers, as well as the radio and television shows. I am not speaking of pretty faces to gaze upon so as to appease the obviously insatiable desire for attractive distractions. What is truly needed are women who know the issues at stake in Guyana and can intelligently speak on those issues.

It is important to have both male and female voices working in unison toward the common goal – a better Guyana. I am not attempting to work myself out of a job. I thoroughly enjoy writing my column and hope to be doing so for a long time. However, common sense tells us that a woman from Guyana could speak on issues about Guyana far more effectively than I could ever hope to speak.

I envision a chorus of diverse voices that could forever change the landscape of political and social dialogue. For those whose knee-jerk response was to imply that women would change the conversation into something akin to a cat fight, it is exactly because of this archaic and misogynistic viewpoint that more female voices are needed.

To presume that only male voices can speak on critical issues is to negate the involvement of the many women whose contributions have helped to shape and fashion Guyana – for better or worse. I continue to maintain that until men and women stand on equal footing in all areas, balance cannot come to the human race.

Guyana is further advanced in the area of gender equality than many other countries, yet there are still very obvious disparities that permeate the society at large. These disparities are in bold type in the headlines of the newspapers all too often, but they can also be seen in the column pages and sports pages. These inequalities are a reflection of society at large and should be rectified.

Some of my favourite columnists are women. They are hard-hitters, unafraid to speak the truth and do not shrink from outside pressure to toe the line. These are women who walked right into the boys club – of journalists, politicians and businessmen – and planted themselves with a reporter’s notebook ready to get the story.

It is time for Guyana’s women to step up and take their rightful place on the commentary platform. I have always been of the opinion that if there is no road to get where I need to go, then I must make the road myself. Should it be found that the women of Guyana attempt to make their voices known and are shut down, then perhaps it will be necessary for women to create a forum for women to speak.
Women in Afghanistan are struggling to hold on to the very minimal rights they have accumulated in the last few years.

They just want to be able to get an education, to walk on the street without a male escort and to leave the house without permission. All of this could be lost if their government makes concessions with the Taliban. There are Afghan women who have lost their lives trying to maintain these rights – the ultimate sacrifice.

For women in Guyana, the struggle is of a different type altogether, but it is just as important. To make the female voice ring proudly on the national commentary platform is to finally achieve what men received as simple birthright as a male – the right to be heard.

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