A view of the feminine principle
March 9, 2000
LIKE the rest of humankind, woman's condition on the eve of the third millennium is fraught with the paradox of radiant advances and vexing bugbears, the solutions for which are as elusive as desert mirages. Even the most dour feminist must concede that women's emancipation, which became political at the dawn of the 20th century with the clamour for higher education and the right to vote, has experienced accelerated progress in the last few decades. Women have not only achieved the miraculous feat of earning outside the home confines, but equipped with the power of choice in childbearing, the so-called `fairer sex' has been excelling at professions and trades that would have shocked their grandmothers 100 years ago.
Women in the latter decades of this century have become army officers; they have donned cleated safety boots and worked on power lines; women have entered NASA and orbited the earth, and have even lived on the MIR space station, and female students of nuclear physics are found on the campuses of top universities in Europe and North America. In the early 1980s, women right here in Guyana shoved aside their trays of sugarcake and tamarind balls and bore the taunts of men on construction sites to learn major artisan skills such as masonry, painting and steel-bending in order to earn a living wage for the upkeep of their children and themselves.
In the field of statecraft and leadership, there has been a revolution of sorts for the feminine principle. The Golda Meirs, the Indira Gandhis, the Sirimavo Bandaranaikes, and the Margaret Thatchers of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s have metamorphosed into an impressive bevy of women heads of state, Prime Ministers and opposition party leaders in the 1990s. There are the two leading ladies of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, who is now the Prime Minister and her arch rival Begum Kaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition. There is the President of Sri Lanka, Ms Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who unfortunately lost an eye in a recent bomb attack; Mireya Moscosa, who is the President of Panama; Adrienne Clarkson is the Hong Kong-born Governor-General of Canada; Michele Alliot-Marie, the first woman to head a political party in Gaulist-led France; Benazir Bhutto, who has been elected twice as Prime Minister of Pakistan; Mrs Janet Jagan, who has been both Prime Minister and President of Guyana; Dame Eugenia Charles, former Prime Minister of Dominica; Ms Billie Miller, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Barbados; and Ms Tarja Holonen, a 56-year-old single mom, who was recently elected President of Finland.
However brilliant the successes women have achieved in this post-modern era, these seem to fade somewhat against the harsh reality of the existence of millions of other women, who, through accidents of caste, colour and poverty are condemned to lives of unrelenting deprivation, often compounded by brutal tribal wars and internecine strife. The displacement suffered by people as a result of wars and conflicts not only robs families of the opportunity of a reasonably human existence, but it numbs the intellect and thwarts the development of the finer, civilising talents. The violence meted out to women even in industrialised societies not only takes away their civil rights, but diminishes their dignity as human beings.
Our civilisation will only advance positively when all men and women learn to subordinate their most negative impulses and reach out to one another with greater understanding and tolerance.