Saturday, November 26, 2011

Is sexual harassment really a big deal?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 19 November 2011) 

When I was in the Seventh Grade (about 12 or 13 years old), two male classmates came up to me and grabbed my breasts. The entire class was standing in the hall in a line as we waited for our teacher to instruct us to move into the classroom. However, immediately after this incident occurred, I walked out of the line, right past my teacher who was demanding I get back in line and went straight to the principal’s office where I told those in the office what had happened.

The boys were suspended for two weeks and no guy at school ever dared to try something like that with me again.

The subject of sexual harassment has been all over the news in the US as one of the Republican presidential candidates is facing allegations of sexually harassing several women. In my opinion, sexual harassment disqualifies a person for leadership as it creates the picture of a leader with significant deficits in terms of temperament, judgment and, potentially, veracity.

This issue on sexual harassment sparked a conversation on Facebook recently between some Guyanese friends when one gentleman asked, “What is sexual harassment? …you been told ‘you having a thick-delightful butt, you looking sexy, great lips, mellow breast, you have the height of my wife.’ Does this amount to sexual harassment?”

The immediate reaction from a female was simply, “Yes.” There was a lengthy discussion on the topic that of course touched on the attire of the woman and whether she is seeking attention.
Allow me to interject here that a woman’s attire is not a solicitation for sexual harassment.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Our very lives are at stake

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 12 November 2011)

“You know this is not really a matter of women’s liberation, it is really a matter of survival.” This is what a friend said to me this week on Facebook. She was responding to this statistic I had posted on my page:

“Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn ten percent of the income and own one percent of the property.” (UNICEF, ‘Gender Equality – The Big Picture’, 2007)

When my friend said those words, “it is really a matter of survival,” it pierced my heart and I realised that she was absolutely right. Some may think her words an overstatement, but I had just returned from a domestic violence awareness weekend in Orlando with Sukree Boodram where I shared some other vital statistics that prove my friend is right; it is really a matter of survival.

Here are some of those statistics:
  • More girls have been killed in the last 50 years, just because they were girls, than the number of males who were killed in all the wars of the 20th century. (Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

You could save your daughter’s life

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 05 November 2011)

When I found out that my eldest daughter was diagnosed with the human papillomavirus (HPV), I was more than a bit distressed. Cancer runs in my family and, in fact, my mother died of a different form of cancer at the young age of 48. Therefore, it was a frightening thing to discover my 24-year-old daughter had a virus that is known to cause cervical cancer.

According to an October 14 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Cervical cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the Americas, where an estimated 80,574 new cases and 36,058 deaths were reported in 2008, with 85% of this burden occurring in Latin America and the Caribbean. Two oncogenic human papillomavirus types (16 and 18) cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers and a substantial proportion of other HPV-related cancers.”

Concerning Guyana, a report by the Remote Area Medical [RAM] Guyana Cervical Cancer Project said, “According to the Pan American Health Organisation, in 2002 the incidence of cervical cancer in Guyana was 47.3 per 100,000, and the mortality rate 22.2 per 100,000. By contrast, the incidence and mortality in the US were 7 and 2.3 per 100,000 respectively.”

The good news is that in 2009 a vaccine was made available to prevent disease caused by the oncogenic subtypes 16 and 18, said to be responsible for approximately 70% of all cervical cancers worldwide. Two years on, it still boggles my mind that humans have created a vaccine against cancer.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Beating women into political submission

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 29 October 2011) 

Within the last three weeks, there have been reports of women being assaulted, both verbally and physically, while participating in politics. These events are of particular relevance as just last month 28 female politicians from various nations signed a declaration that their countries would ensure the safe participation of politics for women.

The Joint Declaration On Advancing Women’s Political Participation said in part, “We call upon all states, including those emerging from conflict or undergoing political transitions, to eliminate all discriminatory barriers faced by women, particularly marginalized women, and we encourage all states to take proactive measures to address the factors preventing women from participating in politics such as violence, poverty, lack of access to quality education and health care, the double burden of paid and unpaid work, and to actively promote women’s political participation including through affirmative measures, as appropriate.”

It is no small thing for a woman to find a way to contribute politically. There are so many obstacles to overcome just in everyday life alone that the idea of adding political participation can be simply overwhelming.

Additionally, in a poll conducted in Guyana in 2003 of 446 women, “A significant portion held the view that ‘politics is too dirty and ugly.’” The last couple of weeks have proven these women to be right in their assessment. Why is it that women must fight so hard to exercise a right that is already constitutionally theirs?