The government should not sponsor pageants perpetuating sexist stereotypes
Stabroek News
October 3, 2001

Dear Editor,

In July of this year, Guyana submitted its report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The response of the committee (contained in /C/2001/II/CRP.3/Add.7 ) contains several congratulatory points and points of concern and recommendations.

Paragraph 26 : The committe is concerned that stereotypical attitudes and behavioural patterns due to cultural beliefs about the role of women and men in the family and in society persist.

Paragraph 27: The committee urges the government to implement awareness-raising campaigns to change stereotypical and discriminatory attitudes concerning the roles of women and girls, including specific programmes targeting boys and men.

Paragraph 31 urges the government to provide detailed information on the status of Amerindian women since the committee was concerned about the situation of rural women and Amerindian women and the lack of information thereon.

In today's Stabroek News, there are reports on the results of two 'cultural pageants' in which women were put to compete against each other subject to criteria of age limits and 'not ever having a child.' Pageants in which only women contest are based on the premise that women should be decorated and prettified according to standards which usually men determine. One of the pageants, the Amerindian Heritage Pageant was sponsored by the government. If the government-sponsored pageant was not perpetuating sexist stereotypes, then the pageant would have involved women and men, of all ages perhaps, and regardless of whether they had children or not.

It is sad too that the ability to wear an evening gown is one of the aspiring achievements which the government wanted to showcase for the contestants.

I wonder if the government would put the 'Amerindian Heritage Pageant open to girls of a certain age and who have not ever been pregnant' as one of its initiatives to improve the status of Amerindian women in the next CEDAW report.

You reported that the women in the pageant were asked what they would do if they were the Minister responsible for Amerindian Affairs. The responses indicated the concerns - exploitation of Amerindian girls in bars and sex work, the limited access to education, the land title issues and equal treatment.

It is a shame that the government did not use the opportunity of Amerindian Heritage Month to launch initiatives which would have addressed some of these issues. There is still time though, before the next CEDAW report is due and hopefully the government would heed the calls before they organise the next pageant.

Yours faithfully,

Vidyaratha Kissoon