Women's advance at the closing of the 20th century

Guyana Chronicle
January 24, 2000

AS WITH other developments in the present civilisation, women's advance undoubtedly made the most dramatic strides in the 20th century. Compared with the previous century in which women were creatures with few rights and their voices shrill bleats largely ignored by men in authority, the 20th century granted women the right to vote, and by extension the privilege of participating in the civil processes of their countries. Medical science developed contraceptives and thereby freed women from lives of yearly child-bearing. This, in turn, liberated women to enter the world of work, not just on a temporary basis, but to pursue professional goals, build careers and seek upward mobility.

There have been more female Prime Ministers and Presidents leading governments in the latter half of this century than probably in all the other centuries put together. Women have circled the earth as astronauts, have lived in space stations, and commanded units in the military. They have entered the domains of engineering and medical science. Women have conducted research in the frozen wastes of the North and South Poles, climbed dangerous mountains and sailed alone around the world in boats buffeted by wind and waves. In the sphere of international conflict, three women leaders - Golda Meir of Israel, Indira Gandhi of India and Margaret Thatcher - courageously led their countries into wars when they felt that the integrity of their nations was threatened.

In the Caribbean, women have made tremendous strides in education, in the professions and in the arts. Just last July, Dr Joycelin Massiah, the Guyana-born citizen of Barbados was honoured with the Caribbean Community Triennial Award for Women. Dr Massiah, a leading advocate on education and the Regional Programme Adviser for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) told the august gathering at the presentation that she was accepting the award on behalf of women, including her mother and sisters, and also on behalf of the men of the Caribbean. With her acceptance of the Triennial Award, Dr Massiah joined a distinguished list of Caribbean women among whom are Ms Nesta Patrick of Trinidad and Tobago; Ms Lucille Mathurin Mair, the Jamaican academic and diplomat; and Guyanese Ms Magda Pollard, former Women's Desk Officer at the CARICOM Secretariat and now Chairman of the National Commission on Women. There were at least two female Governor Generals - Dame Hilda Bynoe of Grenada and the late Dame Nita Barrow of Barbados, two Prime Ministers - Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica and Mrs Janet Jagan of Guyana, and one President - Mrs Janet Jagan.

In the arts Guyana is blessed with the talents of Mrs Bernadette Persaud, Mrs Stephanie Correia, Ms Maylene Duncan, Ms Marjorie Broodhagen, Dr Doris Rogers, and a host of promising young women.

Yet, in spite of these obvious successes, there still remains a negative resistance to women's advance in the workplace. It is not so much the `glass ceiling' concept identified in the western industrialised countries, but more a situation in which some men actively resent the progress of women and join fraternal forces to frustrate these women. Benefits that are conferred routinely on a man at a certain level must be struggled for by a woman at the same level. Until such negative hurdles are overcome, women will continue to be second-class citizens in the world of work.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples