Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Desperate times call for desperate measures

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 26 September 2010)

This is how the article in this newspaper started, “A 29-year-old teacher turned herself into a human torch at around 11:00 hrs yesterday, reportedly going berserk even as relatives were trying to solve a dispute between the victim and her husband.”

If ever there was an act of desperation, it was when 29 year-old Rhondina Adams lit herself afire to escape her domestic situation. No free man will ever be able to comprehend the type of desperation that sent Rhondina Adams over the edge. The only man who could ever understand that desperation is the one forced into a subservient role against his will. This type of desperation encapsulates despondency and hopelessness beyond mere words.

I felt just a taste of this despondency and hopelessness when I visited Guyana and watched how the social culture as a whole was saturated with disrespect and disregard for women. I have no doubt whatsoever that there are more women who would gladly mimic Rhondina Adams’ act if it meant they could escape the torture of being a female in this oppressive social environment. I beg of these women, please don’t do it. Let’s find a way to fix it.

Mark Benschop wants me to believe there are good guys aplenty in Guyana – and I’m sure there are. The problem is that the bad ones are killing all the women while the good guys sit back and allow it to happen. Edmund Burke said all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Allow me to describe my definition of evil in this context. Evil is degrading and humiliating remarks to another human because she is female. Evil is expecting a woman to be less than she is – socially, politically and spiritually – just to make a man happy.

Evil is confining a woman to the house and isolating her from friends and family. Evil is using a wife as a slave to cook, clean and wait on the husband. I could truly go on for days because this evil is pervasive.
I do not care how many scriptures are thrown at me to try to justify a subservient feminine role in society; I know very well what is right and wrong. I know evil and good. And I know without a doubt that it is evil to treat women the way so many women are treated.

How many headlines each week scream of another woman killed or maimed at the hands of her man? The time for action is long overdue, but the longer nothing is done to correct this social plight, the more women will die – and even more will want to die but choose instead to become the walking dead. These are most certainly desperate times for women.

I can absolutely identify with Rhondina Adams if she committed suicide to escape the social expectations placed on her by a culture that disdains women. I grew up in a similar culture (mine was a religious culture) and fought it tooth and nail for over 35 years until I simply left it. I refused to be squeezed into its tiny mould.
I refused to be less than I am to appease the archaic expectations. Something was going to have to go – either the antiquated ideology or me. I am the one still standing.

I can still taste that frustration and desperation at times. Like when I read about a Rhondina Adams – who set herself aflame to escape the same repressive type of culture that I fought and beat. I am going to say this as clearly as possible, any culture that oppresses one group of humans – whether because of race, class or gender – is evil.

I truly wish Kaieteur News had published a photo of Rhondina Adams as her charred body was removed from her home so the whole nation could see what the future will look like if good men continue to do nothing. At present, evil is triumphing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Leadership styles can make or break a nation

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 26 September 2010)

I have been in the presence of leaders for most of my life. At differing stages of my life I have found myself surrounded by religious leaders, business leaders, community leaders and media leaders. It is but a simple thing for me to assess a leader’s leadership style in short time.

I have very strong opinions on leadership styles. The authoritarian leadership style has always irked me because it feels like a throwback to feudalism when nobles owned everything and common folk were forced to work themselves into the ground just to live in squalid poverty. Having grown up in poverty myself, I vehemently reject the notion that only a few aristocrats possess the intellect necessary to be a competent leader.

My preferred leadership method is a participative approach that assumes a democratic way of addressing an issue. I truly believe two heads are better than one. When it comes to political leadership, I see the participative approach as the only practical method, since in a democratic society, politicians are representatives of the community at large, and therefore the wills of thousands of people.

In Guyana, the leadership approach of the ruling government is quite clear. Everything about it screams authoritarian. Each day reveals more of the government’s authoritarian approach. I see this as being in direct conflict with a democratic populace.

I have to admit I am quite puzzled by this choice of leadership style because it did not have to be this way. In fact, it seems to me that given the record of past PPP and PNC governments (pre-Jagdeo), the current president and his administration had the perfect opportunity to put themselves down in the nation’s history books as the best government the nation has seen since independence.

I do not negate the obvious economic and infrastructural progress in the nation. Not that everything is perfect, but perfect is an unattainable goal. However, progress has been made, which makes the chosen leadership method even more disappointing, because had the current government not taken up this feudalistic approach, the entire nation might be singing its praises today.

On the contrary, somehow the nation’s leaders (and their friends) rule Guyana with a firm rod and anyone who gets in their way seems to find themselves on the wrong end of that rod. Public-sneering quips and a submissive opposition have replaced statesmanship savoir-faire and genuine population representation.

When any political leader makes remarks about “sour” people and throws tantrums at every little bit of dissent, the message is apparent to all – do not get in my way. It sends a chill throughout the nation that quiets even more voices so the authoritarian can continue the feudalistic trend. Vassals be damned. The silent dissenting voice is the homage to the lord.

There is a reason the common folk of the 15th century revolted against medieval feudalism, because it was wrong, because every voice in a nation matters, because browbeating subjects into submission will never build a strong and thriving nation. Authoritarian rule is simply not compatible with democratic societies.

Imagine what Guyana could be today if the current government had chosen the superior leadership style upon winning its first election. Envisage a country vibrant in idea exchanges and energetic businesses unafraid of political repercussions. Picture dozens of radio stations alive with brilliant discourse and a rainbow collection of musical genres. Visualize a free press with access to the information it needs to competently report on the pressing issues of the day. That is a free society. That is a democratic society.

Instead, in Guyana, people are afraid to speak their minds because they might fall into the “sour” category and upset someone. Businesses are afraid to make a wrong move lest they get shut down. Local radio and television are stagnated from lack of competition to spark innovation. The press is almost always in the dark about almost everything important – and the feudalistic leaders like it that way.

Guyana could be a fully vibrant and thriving nation, but the authoritarian leadership has instead created a stifling and oppressive environment – and then it wonders why so many citizens escape into rum. It really is too bad when this government had the opportunity and the capacity to create a blossoming and prosperous nation.

The PPP announced this past week that it will choose its presidential candidate using the same process it has always used – “deliberations at the level of the Executive Committee and subsequent approval by the Central Committee.” Nepotism is another attribute of a feudalistic leadership style and does not bode well for the selection of a PPP leader who can and will disavow the authoritarian approach for the more participative style essential for a truly democratic nation.

Apparently, if given the choice between being a hero or a bully, some leaders prefer the latter. I do not understand this choice, especially when so many thousands of people’s lives are hanging in the balance. I have always been of the opinion that it is an insecure leader who chooses to be authoritarian over participative – and I have always been right when the time came to assess the person inside the leader.

Moreover, one cannot escape the cruelty attached to the authoritarian leadership style. It is a cruel leadership that chooses to refuse its people the vibrant and flourishing nation they deserve. It is a cruel leadership that scares businesses into submission. It is a cruel leadership that attempts to contain the media to reporting on car accidents and grand opening events.

The truth is that Guyana could really use a hero. Bullies seem to be a dime a dozen lately, but heroes are a rare breed. I met a hero while in Guyana. Too bad she will not be running for president next year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

All hail the Great Computer Donator!

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 22 September 2010)

While in Guyana a couple weeks ago, I was watching a newscast on the television as Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, was speaking about something concerning the flooding situation. The television was turned down in the public area, so I was reading the news ticker at the bottom of the screen. It said something about the Ministry of Agriculture donating equipment to help deal with the flood.

I thought to myself about how demeaning it was to use the word, “donate.” As if the Ministry of Agriculture, or Robert Persaud himself, were providing this equipment out of the goodness of their hearts with the money from their own personal bank accounts to the people of Guyana as an act of charity. I mentioned this to my husband and decided to write on it later.

I decided to search the Guyana Chronicle for the word donate and found this phrase is used for such events like the President “donating” computers to the village of Buxton. How so very kind of the President to donate to the people something the people themselves bought.

Just last week the generosity of the Agriculture Ministry was on grand display again. It “donated $18M worth of furniture and laboratory and field testing equipment to the Food and Drug Department of the Health Ministry.” Let me get this straight; one Ministry developed by the people gave furniture and equipment to another Ministry developed by the people to help further service the people – and all purchased with money from the people?

I am struggling to see how this action qualifies as a donation. It is nothing more than one part of the government working with another part of the government to do exactly what the government is paid to do – work for the people. Why must there be accolades? Why must the people be made to feel as if they should bow and curtsy in appreciation?

While in proper curtsy mode, one must remember that these leaders cannot stomach a dissenting voice. Sometimes I truly just want to say, “Get a backbone and understand this is part of the job.” In fact, it is a job the President – who does not like “sour” people – and his party ardently campaigned to get. Seriously now, the government barely gets any resistance from the opposition parties at all, and yet still it whines about the mere handful of dissenting voices left in the country. Poor babies. So fragile. Such tender sensitivities.

It seems as if those who lead Guyana think of themselves as Monarchs with a King and lots of little princes and princesses, lords and ladies, who expect to be worshipped, feared and adored. All hail The Donators! All hail The Great Computer Donator! Bend your knee to The Furniture and Equipment Donator!

During my search on the word donate, I found Lincoln Lewis had already briefly expressed my sentiments on this topic (not that that will stop me from speaking my mind as well – the more voices, the better).

In a September 19 letter to the Kaieteur News Editor, Lewis said, “The nation read that the President donated computers and steel pans to Buxton, instead of the State issued computers and steel pans. These things were bought from taxpayers’ money, not the President’s personal money; therefore the recipients are entitled, as any other, without having to feel that the Government is being benevolent. In fact, as taxpayers, they are the ones paying for the things they receive, funding the Government and paying the salaries of President Jagdeo, his ministers and advisers.”

A reality check is definitely in order. Both for the government who believes it actually owns the money entrusted to it by the people to serve the people – and for the people themselves who sit by and allow the government to treat them like lowly minions required to pander to the mercy of a fickle court of royals just to get a measly handout here and there.

Another reality check is further needed to clarify the fact that every single person in Guyana has the right to complain and be “sour” if they are not happy with the way the government performs the job it was hired by the people to perform. How on earth did the system get so absolutely askew? I thought Guyana left Monarchs long behind when it won independence from England. Someone should really send that memo to the sitting government.

Yes, public service is a demanding job and those who serve the public honourably deserve the esteem of the people. However, these public servants hold paying jobs (paid for by the people) and knew full well when they took the job that it would entail long hours and underappreciated labour. Almost every job is the same way, but you do not see the taxi driver or the food vendor or the security guard getting in front of a group of graduates complaining about unsatisfied customers. They suck it up and try harder. Shouldn’t that same standard apply to those who work for the people?

Allow me to summarise this column; firstly, there is no such thing as a donation from the government to the people when the people pay for it and, secondly, the people can complain all day long and the government must not only be able to stomach it, it is the one that must pander to the people.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How to choose a good man

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 19 September 2010)

Twentieth century French author, Anaïs Nin, said, “I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.”

It is no simple feat to find a man undaunted by a woman who unabashedly uses her brain. Women have long been taught to keep their thinking to a minimum if they want to attract a man. Conventional wisdom insists a woman should just look pretty and keep her mouth shut. I have never cared much for convention. It is petty society that cannot embrace feminine intelligence and drive.

Social infrastructures in patriarchal societies, as is standard throughout the world, have squeezed women into a very small box for centuries. No education, no civil rights, no political participation, no land ownership and no say in even whom she will marry. Only in the last century have women finally realised they are far too big for such a very small box.

However, although these established social parameters are changing rapidly to allow for the significant growth of women in every part of the community, there are sadly some men who want to beat women back into their submissive role. This is evidenced by the many domestic violence cases around the world. Just this week in Guyana, a husband murdered his wife when she attempted to leave him after putting up with his abusive ways for years.

So how is a woman to find a man who will not beat her? How can a woman determine which man is worthy of sharing a life full of love and adventure? Where can a woman look to find a man who welcomes her intellectual prowess as an asset toward building a successful future together? Does one look in a club? A church? At the work place?
If a woman is looking to get married – and not all women are – it takes keen senses, patience and a clear thinking head to find a man who is marriage material.

There are plenty of men who are worthy of a lasting relationship, but the loud, arrogant ones are usually the ones who catch a woman’s attention first – simply because those men refuse to go unseen or be unheard. That should be the first red flag to tell a woman to walk away. Rude boys are not marriage material – as Rihanna found out the hard way.

There are also some slick romancers who whisper all kinds of sweet nothings into a girl’s ear. Second red flag. Walk away, girl. Just walk away. Those Casanovas have had tons of practice and will think of you as no more than one more girl on whom they can practice.

I quoted the song, “Statistics,” by Lyfe Jennings in my last column entitled, “Why women do not want to get married anymore.” There are some additional lyrics – rules, in fact – in that song that I want to share to help women in choosing a good guy. This is just a song, but I like the perspective.

“Don’t be a booty call. If he don’t respect you girl he gon forget you girl.”
If a woman is just looking for a booty call, too – and both partners are responsibly practicing safe sex – then the relationship amicably ends when the sex ends. However, if a woman is looking for a partner with whom she can share her life, this rule is pertinent.

“If he’s in a relationship. If he will cheat on her that means he will cheat on you.”
This one should be instinctive, but sometimes women want to believe they are that special something that will make a cheater change his ways. Think hard. Is it worth the heartache if you are wrong, which you probably are? After a few of these types of relationships, women end up existing as nothing but a shell of a person who cannot trust even a real good man who would never harm her in any way. Protect yourself, girl. Protect your future relationships. Run from the cheater.

“Tell him that you’re celibate. And if he wants some of your goodies he gon have to work for it.”
This is a great way to filter out most of the “players.” After all, who likes to be played for a fool? If you are both looking to build a lasting relationship that will last a lifetime, waiting a while to initiate sex will only enhance the relationship experience. If the guy cannot wait, then think twice about how he views you and the relationship.

“Be the person you wanna find. Don’t be a nickel out here lookin’ for a dime.”
This one is my favourite. If you would not choose a guy who has had sex with half of Georgetown, then it would be wise to be the same type of person for whom you are looking. If you want a smart, hard-working individual who has a good head on his shoulders – then be a smart, hard-working individual who has a good head on her shoulders. And don’t ever hide your intellect just to appease a man’s ego.

My own advice, apart from what I have already stated, is to not be in a hurry. Take your time, rely on your gut feelings to guide you and in the meantime, enjoy life to its fullness. Travel, read, enjoy nature, work hard, build a good life for yourself – and if Mr. Right comes along to share that life, great. If not, you have already built something worthwhile all on your own. Enjoy it.

Why women do not want to get married anymore

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 15 September 2010)

I was talking to Kaieteur News’ editors last week about the topic closest to my heart (women’s issues) and Adam Harris turned to me and asked why I thought the institution of marriage is becoming obsolete. I did not have to bat an eye. I know exactly why women do not want to get married anymore and I promised Uncle Adam I would write on it.

The better question to ask is why on earth the women in Guyana would want to get married at all. Too many Guyanese wives are beaten, chopped, burned, shot and murdered by their husbands. Too many wives are treated like slaves and expected to wait on their husband’s hand and foot. Too many of Guyana’s husbands cheat on their wives – sometimes with several other women – and the wife is expected to accept that vile situation. In short, too many wives in Guyana are incessantly subjected to physical, mental and emotional abuse.

As such, it is not surprising that Guyana’s young women are going to school, getting an education and providing for themselves. These women are driven and they are building great lives for themselves.

Why would they introduce a man into the picture who is going to beat them? Why would they subject themselves to sexually transmitted diseases (because the cheater doesn’t like to use condoms) just to have a man around? Why would they get married just so they can be treated like a slave and have one more person to cook and clean for at the end of a long day at work?

Meanwhile, more and more of Guyana’s men are dropping out of school and spending their days drinking rum instead of getting a steady job. Speaking as a woman, this entire situation is highly undesirable – and there are many women who agree with me.
Consequently, women today do not want to be married. Instead they are choosing to take lovers with whom they can have sex and send home the next morning.

Some women are even choosing to have a baby and then raise the child on their own. Sure, this is not a traditional family. However, if a woman wants a baby, but does not want a man around to hit her and the baby, this solves the problem.

A woman can be perfectly happy raising her baby without a father when daddy is more of an impediment to a happy life than an asset. Some may ask, what about the father’s role? My response is this – which is better? To have a father who drinks, beats and cheats as a role model or to have a stable, loving, caring environment without a father? Women are choosing the latter.

I had a young woman whose father keeps pressuring her to get married say to me last week, “Why would I want to get married when so many marriages fail?” Great point. How many men do you know who have traded the wife of their youth for a “new young thing”? This foul lifestyle represents broken families, broken hearts and broken marriage covenants.

What makes the situation in Guyana even more unpalatable is that many of society’s leaders are the primary culprits. The very men who are supposed to set the standard for society are instead the worst role models of how a man should conduct himself.
One of my Kaieteur News colleagues introduced himself to me last week by asking if I am a man-hater. After spending some time with me, I think he now knows I am not. I advocate for women, but not at the expense of men.

I believe we should work together, women and men, for a better world. I know very well there are good men out there because I am married to one. The issue is whether there are enough good men for the women. When there is not, we find the women turning away from the tradition of marriage.

I heard a song this morning that sums up the current state of relationship woes for women when it comes to finding a good man. The song is “Statistics,” by Lyfe Jennings. I do not know if the statistics used in the song are accurate, but I think it comes pretty close.

The song declared, “Twenty-five percent of all men are unstable, twenty-five percent of all men can’t be faithful, thirty percent of them don’t mean what they say, and ten percent of the remaining twenty is gay.” If I am doing my math right, that leaves women with a measly ten percent of men who are marriage material.

And so, Uncle Adam, the answer to your question as to why the institution of marriage is becoming obsolete is because there are so very few men who are marriage material. Moreover, I would posit that the developing rejection of the tradition of marriage by Guyana’s women is a survival technique.

All species develop methods to stay alive in order to preserve their own kind. The clever females of Guyana know they have to protect themselves from the predator most likely to destroy their species – and at this moment in history, that predator happens to be the males from their own species.

Would a mouse sleep in the same bed as a cat? Not if it values its life. Likewise, women who value their lives are choosing not to sleep in the same bed as the foremost predator of Guyana’s women – which is Guyana’s men. Think about it. What other predator is killing off Guyana’s women faster than Guyana’s men? There is no other.

I want to continue on this line of thinking. In my next column I plan to write on how women can expose the men who are not marriage material and what they can do to keep those who are worthy of a lasting, satisfying relationship.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stella goes to Guyana

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 12 September 2010)

While most people read this Sunday column, I will be on a plane back to the United States from Guyana. My husband and I came here to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We chose Guyana over Hawaii for this notable milestone because we believed we would have more fun – and we were right.

It was not easy for us to get to Guyana though. We flew American Airlines from San Antonio, Texas to Dallas, Texas, then from Dallas to Miami, Florida. From Miami we flew to Trinidad where we arrived at the Caribbean Airlines ticketing counter just under an hour before our flight to Guyana. However, the ticketing agents would not even allow us to attempt to board, telling us we were too late to get to the plane even though this process only took 15 minutes the next morning, and that included going through security.

However, the agents were kind enough to tell us that if we had flown Caribbean Airlines from Miami, we would not have had this problem. This piece of information was very frustrating at the end of a very long day of travel. We contacted a hotel just a few minutes from the airport and shelled out US$200 to sleep four hours just to get up and walk those few steps from the ticketing agents, up the stairs, through security and then to our gate.

We arrived in Guyana at 8:30 am, which brought our total travel time to 24 hours. Like I said, it was not easy to get here.

I am writing this column on Friday morning (as I usually do). I have spent four full days in Guyana and I could not be happier that we decided to come here for this special occasion. We had already booked our hotel in Hawaii and had plans to go there instead. However, after attending a reggae concert on a short trip to the DC area, my husband looked at me and said, “Let’s go to Guyana instead.” And here we are.

We have visited family we haven’t seen in years and there were hugs and kisses galore. I finally got to meet some of my Kaieteur News colleagues. Talk about smart people! My husband got together with some friends he grew up with and they told so many great stories. In the first 12 hours after landing in Guyana, I cannot count the number of meals we were given – and everyone handed me a drink. I had so much alcohol by the end of Wednesday night that for the first time in years, I felt sick from it. I drank no alcohol on Thursday.

On Thursday, we went shopping. We did not shop for souvenirs, clothes or jewellery – we shopped for Guyanese treats. We bought pine tarts, sugar cake, beef patties, salara, Chinese cake, cassava pone, cheese straws and tennis rolls. Then we bought some cheese and margarine for the tennis rolls. We came back to our hotel room and started sampling every piece of it. We were in absolute heaven.

As we drove around to get our treats, my husband showed me where he went to school at Queen’s College – just as the children from that school were getting out sporting their uniforms. He was so happy to see the uniforms. He showed me other points of interest to him – a church he attended, a friend lived in that house, etc. – and some others he thought would be of interest to me. He also grumbled about the trash scattered about and the tall grass wanting to be cut. He mentioned that was never the case when he was growing up.

What did I see through my own ever-probing eyes? I saw people – lots of people – going about their lives. I saw a mother walking with a baby in her arms and a toddler running close by. I saw a boy trying to put his arm around a girl while she brushed him off and continued talking to her friends. I saw dozens of vendor booths overflowing with all kinds of fruits and vegetables that I cannot get in Texas. I saw life, vibrant and beautiful.

Speaking of vibrant, oh my how people can talk here. I just love it! I think on Wednesday, I listened to others talk from the time I woke up until the time I went to sleep. Since I am quite a talker myself, I had to force myself to keep my mouth shut and listen to the words of others. It is their voice I wanted to hear. By the end of the night, I was on information overload, but I am quite sure once I’m back in Texas I will be able to process everything that was said.

Earlier this week, I heard what I thought was music behind the closed door in my hotel room and when I opened the door to see where the music was coming from, it turned out to be the many sounds of the birds and other tropical wildlife. I took a nap one day and when I closed my eyes, I heard what sounded like the rain forest setting on my Sound Soother clock that I received last Christmas from my brother and his wife. Just beautiful and the real thing.

My point in referencing the clock is to show that what so many people try to copy in other parts of the world, Guyana has naturally. As I write this column, I still have two whole days to enjoy Guyana and I intend to savour each and every moment. And for the record, despite what the president says about Guyana’s hotels, I stayed at the Pegasus and it was absolutely perfect.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

If you are looking for women, don’t look on the sports page

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 08 September 2010)

Columnist’s Note: I am on vacation this week, so I have resurrected this column from August 3, 2007 because it speaks to an ongoing issue I see when it comes to women and sports. Enjoy the read.

I do not like golf very much. If I am going to watch a sport, it needs to have a lot more action to keep me interested for a long period of time – like volleyball or a swimming competition. Otherwise, I will be off to find something else to do that can maintain my short attention span.

However, although I do not like golf – I do become interested in sports in general when women start making the headlines on sports pages around the world. Otherwise, I would not give any sports page much more than a cursory glance.

Why should I give the sports page any attention – or for that matter a sports report from a news show on television? I probably have more pencils in my desk drawer than there have been articles on women athletes in my local newspaper this year.
I keep up on the news every day.

I watch or listen to the local, national and international news – just to keep up on what’s going on around me. A few weeks ago I was watching a local newscast in which all of the news stories had been covered, the feel good piece was done and the weather had been forecast, so guess what time it was? It was time for the sports report.

There was basketball, baseball and football – all of which have professional teams that are populated only by men. Click.

The television was turned off and I strolled to my computer to browse the Internet for a while. It’s not that I cannot watch something that involves men and omits women, it’s just that I simply don’t care to do so.

However, if more attention were paid to female volleyball or to women’s football, my television would remain on during a sportscast. Really now, is it so difficult to include at least one article a day about women athletes on the sports page? If there is one place where the old boys club still exists – it is in the sports page.

Sure, every once in a great while there will be an article on a women’s team or a spotlight on a female athlete, but those articles are the exception, not the rule. If sports editors want to increase their readership, there is a whole section of the population biting at the bit for some interesting sports stories about the world’s excellent female athletes.

The stories about these female athletic champions go untold in most newspapers today, while the world heralds the male athletes for even insignificant activities.
One might suggest that the lack of reporting on female sports has to do with the lack of females who play sports.

However, there are women playing every type of sports – even boxing and skydiving – and still very little is ever said about it. Moreover, I maintain that the lack of females on professional sports teams has to do with the lack of professional sports teams for females.

It is all about the male dominated teams of football, basketball, cricket, baseball, golf, hockey, etc. Where there is no team, there is no opportunity and women are sidelined to obscurity. Be that as it may, this has not stopped women from becoming outstanding athletes. The biggest difference is that the whole world knows who Joe Jock had sex with last night but the female athlete who just broke a world record goes unheralded.

It seems completely absurd to me that one complete section of the newspaper highlights male physical accomplishments and at the same time very seldom does the same for female physical accomplishments.

I bet that for every 50 males mentioned in the sports section of a newspaper or in a sportscast on television, there is maybe one female.

This is insulting to women each and every time a woman picks up a newspaper or turns on a sportscast. The sports page signifies one more place where women are made to seem insignificant when in fact they are every bit as competitive and athletic as men.

Until sports writers and sports editors start taking female athletes more seriously, my television will continue to go “click” when the sportscast comes on and the sports page will continue to get a cursory glance from me – if that.

There is actually only one reason I even glance at the sports page at all and that is to see if there are any stories that will be of interest to me. To be more precise, I’m looking for that elusive article on a female athlete. This is what I want to know about – what a woman can do – after all, I am a woman.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

This is not a man's world

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 05 September 2010)

I recently came face-to-face with the dreadful realisation that, despite the dog and pony show given by the President and his gifted thespians concerning the passing of the Sexual Offences legislation earlier this year, little or nothing has been or will be done to protect the women of Guyana from the scourge of domestic violence.

As such, I believe it is time to start thinking outside the box for solutions to this issue. It is time to start a national conversation on how to stop the ongoing violence against women. We have been waiting for years for the government, law enforcement and judiciary to act in the best interest of women. How many of Guyana’s women have died in those years? And the violence continues unabated.

I am not suggesting that women begin to take justice into their own hands. I have read recently about times when the people have taken it upon themselves to impose vigilante justice on thieves and such. While I certainly understand the frustration that must bring people to this desperate position, these situations have a tendency to explode into something far worse. Then again, where is law enforcement at times like these?

This lack of lawful intervention was driven home for me when I received an email from a concerned Latchman Singh. Singh told me, “The use of drugs and alcohol pervades all of Guyana. But, the most drastic deterioration is happening in the rural areas where Law & Order is limited if not absent.”

Singh’s wisdom continued, “Also, the male population is dropping out of school more rapidly than female. Hence, for the males, there is only brute force and ignorance that prevails. Add drugs and liquor to the mix and you have a very potent recipe for disaster.” The seemingly unrelated fact of males dropping out of school turns out to be a vital detail in the struggle against violence against women. The continued education of the men of Guyana is imperative.

Singh has given us something to chew on and I agree whole-heartedly with this view, but Guyana’s patriarchal attitudes toward women encompass even the educated, as is obvious by the way the president of Guyana treated his former wife. Thought processes must change if we are to see cultural attitudes change.

One workable proposition I saw recently came by way of an editorial published in this newspaper on August 03, entitled, “We must sufficiently empower our women.” This article had some practical suggestions that I want to reiterate, because if the women of Guyana are serious about ending the reign of terror against their gender, this editorial goes a long way in providing valuable advice on how to accomplish that goal.

From the editorial, “Guyanese women cannot depend on actions taken by government and a handful of social organisations on their behalf. They need to get organised, develop their own alternative programs, and undertake to be the driving force behind these. This should seriously focus on what appropriate actions they can take by themselves – as mothers, wives and community activists – to break down detrimental cultural stereotypes that provoke all forms of abuse against females, and try to decrease labelling and marginalisation of victims.”

Here is more critical counsel from the editorial, “They [women] need to develop and undertake campaigns and information programs to explain the nature, extent, causes and consequences of violence against women, and exert social pressure to seek adequate assistance to the victims of abuse…Women also need to establish female support networks in their communities, so that victims would not have to face perpetrators of such abuse alone. The abuse of any female in a community diminishes every female in that community.”

These are some of the best ideas I have seen on how the women of Guyana can take action to free themselves – and their daughters – of the dangers that surround them due in large part to the pervasive archaic attitudes. I agree with the editorial, it is time that women take action for themselves.

There are some who believe that by speaking out for women’s rights in my column, I am somehow imposing “Western views” on the women (and men) of Guyana. I could not disagree more. Western thought does not own the market on human rights issues. Women’s issues are human issues.

The beatings and murders of Guyana’s women by Guyana’s men is a human dilemma wrapped in moral crisis. In fact, I would bet my bottom dollar that those men who cry foul at my columns that advocate for women’s rights are the very ones who go home and beat their wives.

To those who still, in 2010, maintain that this is a man’s world and that women who fight for their rights are usurpers of the power that belongs to men, I respond by emphatically insisting that this world is not a man’s world – it is a world in which we all, male and female, human and thousands of other organisms, share together. The sooner humans find a way to live together in harmony with each other and with the earth, the brighter our future.

I offer a big thank you to those who have emailed me with your concerns, thoughts and ideas on the topic of violence against women. Let’s keep this conversation going. Better yet, take action by implementing some of the ideas I shared from the aforementioned editorial. It is time for everyone, men and women, to find ways to keep women safe.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

History is written by the victors

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 01 September 2010)

There is ongoing talk of how this party or that party is rewriting Guyana’s history. I did not study Guyanese history in school, so what I learn is from what I research on my own. In doing this research, I am always careful to consider the source as I determine the degree of credibility I should assign to the information I digest.

This method is essential for dissecting any “historical fact” presented on any information about any group of people at any given point in history. In attempting to determine fact from fiction, it is best to gather information from several sources – and even then, one is not guaranteed to know every side of the issue on the topic.

I had a fascination with Joan of Arc about a decade ago and studied every piece of information I could get on her. Yet when I had exhausted my chosen study instruments, I knew I still did not have all the information. Even if I had lived during the time of Joan of Arc, even if I had stayed by her side throughout her short life, I would still not have all the information necessary to write a comprehensive history on her. I would still need to know the views of those with whom she came in contact and those whose lives she had an immediate impact.

As such, what is one to believe about Guyana’s history? The PPP has its version of history and the PNCR has its version. There are probably an infinite amount of versions from the people of the country that lie somewhere between the PPP’s version and the PNCR’s version. The good news is that in today’s world there are many ways for humans to share their own versions of history. The bad news is that all versions are influenced by the innate biases of those humans.

Political sustainment and advancement are strong incentives for governments to produce versions of history that portray their leaders as fair, just, compassionate and proactive. If a government is adept at producing versions of history that a majority of the population can swallow, it is likely that version will become the standing version – whether it is fact or fiction.

Which brings us to recent history in Guyana. I am quite interested in the fact that Guyana’s president, after years of being in office, chose to visit Buxton (presumably) on his way out of office. Some think this is because the President wants to run for a third term. I wonder if this is just a way for the ruling party to rewrite history. Whatever the reason, and trust me, though we may not know what it is, there is most certainly a reason – history is being tinkered with.

All of a sudden, the PPP is the party championing in a unified Guyana. Despite what may be known as the PPP’s history up to this point in time, skilful storytellers are still shaping that history and you can bet your bottom dollar that President Jagdeo’s benevolent visit to Buxton will be a part of that historical account.

Everything has changed in a matter of a few days. Out of absolutely nowhere, the President visits Buxton, and then Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon makes a statement like this: “The PPP/C Government is not going to accept the permanence of divides among the Guyanese people.” It’s not that I do not take the man at his word, it’s just that this is such a quick turnaround that my head has to stop spinning before I can get a grip on the statement.

Here is another recent statement from Luncheon, “To those who would want to rail against our efforts to demolish, remove, undermine these divides, we can say to them ‘they got a whole lot of railing to do’ because we can promise them that what is happening in the geographic Buxtons of today is being replicated across the length and breadth of this Guyana.” What an about face!

More importantly, how can one tell if the government is even serious? Put it to a test. The truth is that instead of getting upset about the PPP finding its heart (if it does indeed have one), the opposition leaders should be jumping at the chance to finally get the help they have been begging for to advance villages like Buxton.
It is just silly for the opposition leaders to throw a tantrum because the ruling party is finally doing exactly what they have asked it to do. If the government is serious, and not just playing political games, then good things can come from this. If it is not serious, the only way to know is to tell the PPP to put up or shut up.

If opposition leaders continue to make fools of themselves by acting belligerent and hostile to this new, generous-spirited PPP, it will end up looking like the bad guys in historical accounts. On the other hand, if the opposition leaders resolve to work with the government for the good of their constituents and the government doesn’t come through, another version of history will be recorded.

I am not being naïve about the many possible intentions of the ruling party. I’m just saying that if the offer of hope presents itself, do not get mad and run from it. Instead, test it.

The old adage says, “History is written by the victors.” If this is so, let Guyana be the victor. I do hope opposition leaders are not too proud to allow the PPP to be the one to “officially” initiate unity in Guyana. In my opinion, it does not matter how history documents the start of a unified Guyana. It only matters that a unified Guyana starts.