Friday, June 10, 2011

Are Guyana’s political parties afraid of gender equality?

The map shows the South American countries who have signed on to the Protocol in some degree or another. Guyana and Suriname stand out as obvious exceptions to the rest of the continent.
(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 10 June 2011)

There are times when I just do not understand the logic (or rather illogic) behind the actions of those who lead the country. This time it is concerning a piece I read in Stabroek News on the Women and Gender Equality Commission (WGEC) and whether the four major parties in Guyana intend to sign the United Nations (UN) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

According to the June 8 article, the chairperson, Indranie Chandarpal said, “party officials spoke of, ‘wanting more time to study it’ despite the fact that the questions were sent in advance of the engagements.”

This reminds me of last September when a forum was held at the Office of the President with local religious leaders, a delegation of Faith-based leaders from the US and representatives of the government to discuss domestic violence and the role of the religious community.

Here is a quote from my column on that meeting, “The initial projected outcomes of [the] meeting were: to sign a joint communiqué by representatives of all religious groups, declaring a Zero Tolerance on Domestic Violence…Following the almost three-hour meeting, [PPP/C MP Pastor Kwame] Gilbert told Stabroek News…that the leaders did not sign on to the communiqué as had been hoped. It was agreed that they would go back to their constituencies first before signing the document.”

After that first meeting, some religious leaders did, in fact, sign the communiqué. However, their early hesitation was of great concern to me because there was nothing at all that needed contemplation in the suggestion put to them of declaring zero tolerance on domestic violence.

I posed this question on the topic, “Did the religious leaders have to go back and ask their congregations if it was right to declare zero tolerance on domestic violence? What was there to discuss?” I now have the same question about the fact that the four major political parties in Guyana have hesitated to sign a document declaring their stance on eliminating discrimination against women.

What is it that Guyana’s political parties need to “study” in regard to whether they should sign on to this UN Protocol to end discrimination against women? Once again, what is there to discuss?

If the political parties want to end discrimination against women, they sign on. If they do not want to end the discrimination against women, they can continue to do exactly what they are doing right now.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender, and obliges its parties to repeal discriminatory laws and guarantee equality in the fields of health, employment, and education. The Optional Protocol is a subsidiary agreement to the Convention. It does not establish any new rights, but rather allows the rights guaranteed in the Convention to be enforced.

Could it be that Guyana’s political parties do not want to be held to the standards of the Protocol or to be subjected to the examination of the Committee should a complaint be filed against the party?

It is very telling when one goes to the Wikipedia page for the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The map on the right hand side of the page shows those who have signed on to the Protocol in some degree or another. Yet Guyana (and Suriname) stands out as an obvious exception to the rest of the continent.

I can guarantee you this. As long we have to wait for the political parties of Guyana to decide they are against gender discrimination and are willing to be held accountable to the standards of true gender equality – the women of this country will continue to live in fear.

I do wish someone would answer my question. Why are the political parties not signing the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women? I am waiting for an answer…

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