Thursday, February 09, 2012

My choice for Guyana’s Woman of the Year

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 31 December 2011)

I don’t know if you have noticed it, but Guyana’s women are waking up. 2011 was a year of awakening for women in the nation – and with good reason. It has finally become crystal clear that if women want better lives, they are going to have to make it happen themselves.

For example, despite all the election hype surrounding women’s issues and promises to put women into leadership positions, do you know that at this point there is less female representation in government now than in the last term? After the 2006 elections, approximately 32% of Guyana’s ministers were women; as opposed to 25% in President Ramotar’s new Cabinet.

As it stands now, with the AFC and APNU still to choose one more MP each, female participation in Parliament is as follows: the AFC went from having an impressive 40% female representation last term to a measly 14% in this term. The PNCR had a notable 45% of females in the last term, but APNU now has 32% this term despite a promise in its manifesto to bring in even more female representation than before. The PPP/C, which has always had the lowest female representation in Parliament, dropped even further from 31% last term to 28% this term.

These statistics show good reason why the women of Guyana have awakened. Women are once again positioned with their hands out hoping for patriarchal benevolence at which they will be expected to curtsey while they thank the men for their generosity in taking care of us frail women; since we obviously are still not in the position to take care of ourselves.

The problem is that these male leaders are not taking care of the nation’s women. Not at all. If anything, the situation for women is getting worse. In fact, politics is only one area where women have been shafted this year.

In sports, the entire female football team comprising promising athletes from all over the country was simply dropped from the 2011 Inter-Guiana Games by the Director of Sports with the lame excuse that “nothing was in place.” The Guyana Football Federation adamantly rejected this excuse and lamented that these young women’s chance to compete on an international stage was yanked away from them.

We already know from a 2010 interview with Marian Burnett that the Guyana government does not support its female athletes. This time it left an entire football team behind, prompting one female one letter writer to say, “Mr Kumar’s [Director of Sports] decision to pull out the females shows lack of direction and discrimination. The Ethics Committee should investigate him. Women sports are suffering in Guyana and when the government can deny 18 of its young females… Amerindians, Indians, Africans, Chinese, Portuguese and Dougla, (the Female U-17 National Team also had a European) a mixture of all the races, then what else will they do. This was and would have been the only true GUYANESE team to leave these shores.”

The frustration of this letter writer is palpable and shared by the rest of the nation’s women. This past year has seen other areas of discrimination against women as well. In the professional sphere, women are being blatantly bypassed despite their qualifications and experience.

In a December 21 letter in the Stabroek News, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) questioned the attempt to bypass Karen Livan, who has abundant qualifications and experience, as the Commissioner for Geology and Mines Commission so that a government crony with considerably less qualifications and experience could be placed in that position.

The GPSU letter ended thus, “At the forum where he read the statement, GPSU President Patrick Yarde said, ‘While preparing this press statement I wondered if it is a coincidence or a deliberate act which results in some women encountering such obstruction to be elevated to senior positions. Reflecting on these experiences Juliet Holder Allen – Former Chief Magistrate, Ingrid Griffith – Acting Controller of Customs, Genevieve Whyte-Nedd – Acting Chief Education Officer, and now Mrs Karen Livan it dawned on me that all these women are of black ancestry. At this stage I further say not.”

In the elections this year, there were qualified women running for the presidential seat, but every single one of them was strong-armed out. One of them, Valerie Garrido-Lowe was actually physically and verbally abused so that the ruling government could send her party into oblivion through its henchman, Manzoor Nadir.

Sheila Holder’s illness and subsequent death left absolutely no women (except TUF’s Marissa Nadir) vying for an executive position and no one to represent women and their interests in high places – as is obvious from the severe loss of female representation in the Cabinet and Parliament.

But do not count the women out yet. There is a fire starting to burn in Guyana’s women. This was quite evident when a group of women decided to go and pray outside the house of the rape-accused Police Commissioner knowing they would likely be arrested. It was also obvious in the fact that the victim of that alleged crime came forward knowing how her life would be scrutinized by all and sundry; even, unfortunately, by her fellow Guyanese Sisters.

The awakening has started. It has started all over the globe and now the Sisters of Guyana are awake as well. Women have had enough of being beaten, sexually harassed, raped, tortured, bypassed for jobs, objectified, belittled and demeaned. They have had enough of living in poverty and working doubly hard for less money and then going home and doing all the housework and child-rearing on their own.

My choice for Woman of the Year for 2011 is Guyana’s awakened woman, and there are so very many of them. Guyana’s awakened woman is remarkable. She is brave. She has had enough. And she is not waiting around for things to change anymore; she is ready to change things. This Woman of the Year has only started her journey, but she is ready for all that 2012 has got to throw at her.

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