(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 30 July 2011)
I must admit that I asked the following question of Guyana’s presidential candidates simply because the nation’s last ‘First Lady’ attempted to play a significant role in helping the people of Guyana, but her work was frowned on by the President. In asking this question, it was my desire to bring this issue to the forefront with the hope that the next First Lady can actually help the people of Guyana in her own way if she so desires.
Can we expect to see your wife participating more in your campaign as elections are now drawing near? What role will she play as First Lady?
APNU Candidate David Granger
[Granger hands me a copy of an interview his wife did with the Guyana Times] That’s her role. Those are her words. I wasn’t present. She accompanied me on my visit to North America in late May and June. We went to four states, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York – and Washington [DC], as well, and she was with me. When I went to the Barima/Waini region she was with me.
We’ve been married a long time and I depend on her for support. So she is part of my team. Very much a part of my team.
(Writer’s note: On July 22, Sandra Granger [David Granger’s wife] was on Mark Benschop’s radio show, “Straight Up.”)
PPP/C Candidate Donald Ramotar
I think you have to ask her. [Laughing]
I don’t know. That is the most difficult question [laughing]. My wife is a strong woman on her own. She is not a very public woman.
All her life she has been working. When I met her she was a nurse. She has been a hard-working nurse and spent many, many years as a nurse. She has been a midwife. So she always had her own income and her own independence in some ways.
She worked as a manager, too. First in an accounts department and then eventually moved to be a manager of a welfare organisation. So I think she would probably have her own views on many of these things. Whatever her views are, however she sees her role, I will support her. I don’t know if I can impose anything on her. [Laughing again]
Yes, I would support whatever she wants to do in that role.
AFC Candidate Khemraj Ramjattan
(This answer has been edited for space)
You know, she indicated as much in a Guyana Times interview, a wonderful little interview. She called me up and said, “Here, these people want me to answer some questions.” I said, “On what?” She said, “On politics and on being a first lady candidate.” So I said, “Be yourself.”
She is very nervous about answering questions and she feels she might mess up and she might do my candidacy a harm, and this and that. But I must say that she did well. I want her to play a bigger role in my campaign. I want her to be at my side when I’m giving major addresses. And she has indicated she will do that. She has done that at all our national conventions. When I am addressing, she is there. If I call her up, she will be there.
She wants to help more in indicating what are the issues that she has in mind, like education and security, she mentioned, and jobs for young kids when they graduate from university. She has [said] it all in that Guyana Times interview.
Domestic violence is a big thing because she has seen it now that she works in my office. She works in my office and she helps to take statements now and again. She has learned how bad it is. She came from a real nice, stable cane cutting family. She saw the violence in the cane cutting areas…and she told me it is pretty bad. But you know, she didn’t know it was this nasty.
But coming back to your question, she must be by my side. I would want her to be a little more aggressive in the sense of wanting to go out to other political platforms and probably answer questions and so on. But I know she is going to be very, very nervous and she might not want to be like Mrs Obama.
I am going to say right off the bat that Donald Ramotar’s answer was fabulous. Why? Because there was an obvious respect for his wife in many ways: he did not want to presume to answer the question for her, he esteemed her financial independence, he thought it comical to think he could impose his views on what she would do as First Lady and he said he would support whatever she decides to do in that role. What more could anyone ask from a husband when asked this type of question?
Sadly, the role of the First Lady is not actually an official role in Guyana, as it is in many other countries. The First Lady of Guyana has not been given the freedom to work for the people and there is no First Lady Office through which finances can be channelled for any programmes she would want to start. In short, the first lady of Guyana is expected to just shut up and look pretty. And when she does not…well, we have all seen what happens when she does not do as she is told.
In fact, unless her husband chooses to be generous, she does not even have an allowance for clothes and other essentials like travel on behalf of the nation. Further, after years of hard work and sacrifice, there is no formal pension provided for these women who served their country.
The obvious lack of respect afforded to this esteemed position (esteemed in other countries) is yet one more avenue by which we can determine the dire situation of women in Guyana. If even those who serve the country are not respected, how can the rest expect any better?
Ratings: Granger – 1; Ramotar – 3; Ramjattan – 2