Thursday, February 09, 2012

Calling all men!

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 14 January 2012)

Lately, I have been reading about men around the world who are taking some dramatic steps to fight for women’s rights. This led me to wonder where we can find those men in Guyana. Unfortunately, Guyana is short on men who would raise a finger, much less a conversation, to improve the plight of the nation’s women.

I don’t want to short change those men who do care about women and do act on their beliefs that women are indeed equal. Personally, I know a handful at least. However, for the most part, Guyana’s men are usually too busy throwing around urban myths about how there are ten women to every man in the country to somehow justify their unjustifiable disrespect for women.

Meanwhile, men in other countries have already started to advocate for women’s rights (mind you, I use the word “already” loosely as it has taken thousands of years to get to this point). Some of these men are in very unexpected countries, for example, Afghanistan. Yes, I said Afghanistan.

In a Reuters report from December 23 entitled, “Afghan men: crucial advocates for women’s rights,” male advocate Fedous Samim said, “Part of the problem in Afghanistan is that most women think like men. I don’t have a sister, but I’m sure if I did, and she tried to go outside the house, my mother would be asking where she was going, what she was doing, why she was going out.”

According to the article, Samim’s goal is to be able to effect change so that women can attend Afghan markets without getting sexually harassed. Lofty goal – and I bet there are plenty of women in Guyana who would appreciate it if some men advocated on their behalf for the same goal.

Veteran civil rights campaigner Lal Gul is another male advocate for women who is working for change through his Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation. The Reuters article said Gul helped build up the number of female lawyers available to defend gender-specific cases; about a quarter of the 1,200 defence lawyers on the independent bar register are now women.

“Through our defence lawyers, we are registering the cases of women, providing legal aid to them, and protecting their rights, especially in human rights abuse cases like rape cases, forced marriage, divorce, domestic violence,” Gul said.

The same day I read the Reuters article I also read another one about a wildly popular Senegalese wrestler named Omar Sakho, known as ‘Balla Gaye 2’, who galvanized participants at West Africa’s recent regional launch of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

According to a December 23 article on, “Making a surprise guest appearance at the Place du Souvenir in Dakar, he stirred a crowd already shouting with excitement. His message: ‘We do not need violence. Each man has a mother. I say no to violence against women!’ To underscore the point, Balle Gaye and his entourage wore T-shirts emblazoned with the motto ‘Balla Gaye dit Non a la Violence faite aux femmes et aux filles’ (Balla Gaye says NO to violence against women and girls).”

This past week, James Bond, of the Youth Coalition for Transformation (YCT) – APNU’s unofficial youth arm – in advocating for Deborah Backer to be House Speaker, told Demerara Waves that Backer was “YCT’s ‘preferred candidate’ because she is a woman, competent and dynamic who should be propelled to ‘break the ceiling in a male-dominated society.’”

These are nice sentiments and I have reason to believe Bond is sincere. The problem is that this nice sentiment was just too little and too late. The boys club is once again in charge in Guyana’s government after effectively pushing out most of the women from the political scene. Instead of male advocates for female equality and participation, we are seeing the exact opposite in Guyana. So although Bond and the YCT may be sincere, they are also too late.

This was noted by former PNC presidential candidate, Faith Harding, on her Facebook page this past Thursday (the very day the House Speaker was to be elected). She said, “I am loving it this morning. Some people just woke up and expressed the thought that women are important to national decision making through a key national position. They woke up a bit late as the bird gone with the worm. Just saying…”

How can it be that even Afghanistan, a country known for its suppression of women, has males advocating for women, yet Guyana does not? Let’s face it: what James Bond said this week about supporting Backer because she was a woman is a major deviation from the norm in politics or any other arena in Guyana. The boys club rules and the boys club plays by its own rules – no girls allowed.

I am not encouraging some sort of paternalist acknowledgement that women need to be taken care of; I can take care of myself, thank you very much. Though some women like it, I also reject notions of chivalry – I can open my own door. In fact, this appeal for male advocates for gender equality has nothing whatsoever to do with those antiquated notions and everything to do with recognising that unless women are an equal part of the decision-making process in the country (and the world), the human race will never see true progress.

When the human race as a whole can embrace each other as fellow humans and reject notions of supremacy based on gender, race, geography, political or financial status, gender persuasion and any number of other differences that exist to make our diverse world a beautiful tapestry – that is when we will know that we have become advanced beings.

Until then, it only takes one person at a time to challenge the absurd traditions that have held us back for far too long. The women of Guyana have been challenging these absurdities–and now it is time for men to do the same. If the men of Afghanistan can find a way to be enlightened and see the need to advocate for women, what is stopping the men of this country from doing the same?

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