(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 18 June 2011)
This past week I interviewed Guyana’s three major presidential candidates, PNCR Candidate David Granger, AFC Candidate Khemraj Ramjattan and PPPC Candidate Donald Ramotar. I ask them each twelve questions on women’s issues. In the next few weeks, I will be sharing those questions and the candidates’ answers in this column.
I will also be giving my response to those answers and rating the answers: a rating of 1 is the lowest rating, a rating of 2 is the middle rating and a rating of 3 will signify the best possible answer in my opinion.
At the end of the twelve questions and the candidates’ answers, the presidential candidate with the highest rating is the one who, in my opinion, should receive the votes of the women. I wish to remind the reader that I do not support any political party and base my reputation as a columnist on my objectivity.
What do you feel are the three most important issues to the women of Guyana, and why?
APNU Candidate David Granger
The first issue, I believe, is that of economic or financial security. I think they want to be secure. And because of that I feel they are now more than ever interested in their own education and employment, because education and employment would give them a platform for independence. I think that is really paramount to them – they want to be independent.
The second issue I think that faces women, at least women of working age, would be human safety. Safety from attack. Safety from physical violence.
And the third issue, I think they would like to see their children grow up and live fulfilling lives. I think most women want children and they want to see their children have a good life.
Those three values are the values that our campaign propagated from the start. Education, economic independence and people want to be safe. Our motto is “A good life for all Guyanese.” So those are the three values I think are paramount in women’s minds. Of course, I’m not a woman so I’m just putting myself in their place, but I think those are the three issues.
AFC Candidate Khemraj Ramjattan
I think it is the economy, security and education. Economy is so important for everybody. Once they can have that capacity to be independent through finances of their own, they can become far more esteemed in the eyes of so many around them. And that is why the economics must be solved in relation to our women so that they can seek that independence.
Education is so vitally important, too, because I feel that if there are opportunities for them to educate themselves, they will win that independence through economics.
And, of course, security. Security, again, is another vital ingredient to the complete woman. Because when I say security, I mean in the larger perspective. Not only security against bandits coming in, but security from the cultural perspective - that she is respected. Women in Guyana, I find - because of the male chauvinists that dominate business, labour, industry all around, they dominate - and because of that [women] are made less of a human being. Because of that predominance that comes from males all around, that makes [women] very insecure and they can’t blossom their personalities out. They can’t in this kind of a culture. And so, I feel we have to create that framework for a better security for our women so that they can bloom and blossom in this country.
It comes also with fathers nurturing them to be respected, our churches, all of that is what I incorporate into my security concerns for women because too often you find sometimes the family treats them as another cast down the gradient. It is not a good thing at all. So I feel security at all levels is also an ingredient there that can have to help [women] lead fulfilling lives in this country.
PPP/C Candidate Donald Ramotar
The first one we have to deal with is domestic violence. I think that’s important because many women have suffered at the hands of abusive partners or abusive families. The laws have been put into place already to deal with it, but I am sure we have to do a lot of training with our security forces to cope with this issue and to make it an intolerable thing in society. No one will tolerate it then and no one will take the position that it is a family affair and they should be involved.
Anyone who sees a woman being brutalised by her partner, her father, a relative or what have you, should intervene in those instances. And as I said, our security forces generally need to be trained to cope with this.
Secondly, in the work place a lot of women are sometimes exploited, particularly in some of the stores and shops where they work. We also need to ensure that there is equal pay for equal work within society and to ensure good conditions to work in. Many women work in industries and workplaces where they are not unionised. A lot of women, domestic workers and so, are not unionised, but maybe in the areas where they are not unionised, the Ministry of Labour could play a bigger role to show that women that work are protected properly and they are not underpaid.
The third issue, something that women have been clamouring for and there has been a major improvement in it, is more representation in the various public and political institutions within the society. That is happening. We already have a law where our [political parties] lists have to have one third women. It is possible to have more.
Like at the level of local government I think we can find more women to be involved because they might be more involved in community life. We have seen generally that there are a great amount of women now in politics, in parliament and other institutions, but we need to ensure that we maintain that and even improve upon it.
I asked this question of the candidates first because I wanted to get a feel for whether they really understood the issues that the women of Guyana face on a daily basis. I feel Ramjattan’s response on security truly got the heart of that topic and proved that he does “get it.” Also, I give high marks to Ramotar for citing domestic violence as his top issue, though the other two candidates touched on the overall topic of security, Ramotar went straight to the heart of a vital issue that must be addressed.
However, although Ramotar’s citation of workplace exploitation and female representation in leadership roles are both important issues to women, I feel Granger and Ramjattan got it right by citing education and economic security as being of higher importance.
As such, here are my ratings for this week: Granger = 2; Ramjattan = 3; Ramotar = 2