Widespread sexual abuse among women in timber industry
- study finds

By Sharon Lall
Guyana Chronicle
March 28, 2000

THERE is widespread sexual abuse among female employees in the timber industry, a study has found.

Consultants also found that despite union representation, persons still work in fear of being dismissed or victimised.

These and other findings are in a document consultants from the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD) have submitted to the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC).

The study was prepared for the British Department for International Development (Caribbean) and Natural Resources International (NRI).

It identified major social issues yet to be dealt with in Guyana's forestry sector.

These relate to the living and working conditions in situations characteristic of large timber concessions, Amerindian communities, other hinterland and rural communities and at the individual and organisational level.

The CARICAD report found that there is "widespread incidents of sexual abuse, demands of sexual favours, harassment or subtle pressures to comply".

Many female employees live in fear that resistance or protest can lead to dismissal or victimisation, the report said.

The traditional manual operating systems both in the sawmills and logging operations tend to provide more opportunities for men than women.

"Female residents at concessions are in a minority and tend to be pressured into relations that result in bearing children for different male partners," the study revealed.

It said that at a relatively early age women begin their child bearing responsibilities.

It was fairly common to observe what appeared to be "teenage" parents with two or three children.

"A common complaint was the extensive manner in which women were subjected to sexual advances and harassment from employers, as well as co-workers," the consultants noted.

"The relative isolation of the large scale concession places an employee almost at the complete `mercy' and `goodwill' of the employer," it added.

Among companies with State Forest Permit (SFPs), it is not "normal to have formal employment agreements".

A wood cutter, for example, has no claim for injury benefits, is without social security provisions and can be dismissed summarily.

The CARICAD study found that the late payment of wages tends to be a regular occurrence and a "mendicant/dependent helplessness" is fostered, resulting in continuing indebtedness to the timber company's ration store, which provides food and other supplies on credit against wages.

A high turn over in the workforce also occurs from employees' inability to live on low wages, leading to a negative impact on productivity.

CARICAD consultants found that in many instances safety equipment - helmet, ear protection, goggles or gloves - were not in use.

Considerable awareness was expressed of the need for education, training and compliance with the 1997 Health and Safety regulations that have been enacted.

Heavily littered surroundings and unsanitary disposal of waste, both liquid and solid, are also widespread.

The CARICAD study found that in the majority of villages where there are timber operations, supply of potable water is not available.

However, it said large timber concessions have provided reliable supplies of water and electricity as well as district hospitals or medical clinics.

The public health situation when inadequately addressed, has contributed to high incidences of diahorrea, colds, coughs, dengue fever and the spreading of malaria.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) has been reported by para-medics and management representatives of large scale operations, as matters of deep concern.

The results of the CARICAD study indicated that while the Forestry Commission could and should function in a catalytic role and can by dynamic intervention facilitate social developments within the forestry sector, the other groups comprising the Ministry of Local Government through its regional representative, the Ministry of Human Services, labour unions, regional and international organisations such as UNICEF, DFID, IICA, Tropenbos and other agencies operating within Amerindian and hinterland communities, all have an integral role to play.

It is envisaged, therefore, that the contribution of the Guyana Forestry Commission will be as a facilitator and coordinator of an ongoing programme of activities, which aim to optimise social benefits to, and addresses the social needs of, all stakeholders in the forestry sector, the study recommended.

It said "good corporate citizenship" on the part of concessionaires, a focus on proper contractual arrangements, avoidance and eradication of corrupt practices, overcoming "clandestine operations" and exploitation, are to be promoted.

The CARICAD study said the electronic media, radio and television, will need to be utilised in a systematic campaign mode for public dissemination of messages of specific themes.