Women must be politically empowered - Janet Jagan

By Vishnu Bisram
Guyana Chronicle
May 12, 2000

Trinidad: Former Guyana President, Mrs. Janet Jagan, told a large gathering in south Trinidad that women should become more politically empowered and that more women will face the polls next year when general elections are held in Guyana.

Mrs. Jagan, widow of the late President Cheddi Jagan, the founder of independent Guyana, was elected President of Guyana in December 1997 and stepped down because of ill health last July. Prior to that, she served as Prime Minister from March 1997 to December 1997 and has been a member of parliament for nearly 50 years.

Mrs. Jagan was the feature speaker at a symposium hosted by the Voice of Women organisation at the ASJA Girls College, Muslim school, last Sunday.

She was invited to speak on the topic: `Political Empowerment of Caribbean Women in the 21st Century'.

Mrs. Jagan pointed out that not too many women walk the corridors of power and she advised women to assert themselves whether it may be in the home or work place or community. She said that women have great strength and decision-making power.

"They must organise themselves and regulate their lives to make a difference in society," she said.

She contended that women need to get more involved in the decision-making process of their nation's political parties and alluded to her 20-year stint as General Secretary of the PPP. She said she received great support from the late President Jagan in political empowerment of women in Guyana.

She told the gathering, which consisted of males and females, that the PPP took a decision that when the party prepared its list of candidates for the regional and general elections, at least one third would be women.

"So, the percentage of women who go into the parliament and local authorities will be greater than before." she pointed out.

Mrs. Jagan said that the 13 women who serve in Guyana's parliament constitute a higher percentage when compared to the composition of legislatures in Europe and North America. But she said that although women have made great strides towards empowerment, more can be done.

"Women have a bright future ahead of them," she predicted.

She said that in order for women to excel within the political arena, "they have to develop the skin of a rhinoceros and their choice of mate is also important". She explained that her late husband shared her view and contributed greatly to her own political development.

She said that great strides had been made for women's empowerment in the Caribbean but that much more needs to be done. Education, she pointed out, "is critical to the political empowerment of women" and she urged women "to

utilise the educational system to the fullest".

She also noted that women are responsible for retaining the democratic features of their country.

"Some want to remove democracy to get what they want. We have to fight for democracy," she stressed.

Faced with growing political instability in her homeland and a challenge to the democratic foundations of the state by opposition elements, Mrs. Jagan urged listeners "to fight for the maintenance of democracy in their respective homelands and to be advocates for peace".

Jagan said that the call for early elections in St. Vincent is a bad sign. "It is unfortunate that it happened in this way, but I am glad they found a solution to end the strike".

When asked by reporters whether she disagreed with the call of early elections, not constitutionally due until 2003 in Guyana because of violence, Jagan said: "It is hard for me to say what is correct. We want peace in the Caribbean".

But she did note that early election is a bad sign for the Caribbean community. She said: "It is a pity that violence should create such a situation. Violence is not the way out. Dialogue is the way out".

Janet Jagan described her experience in Guyana's politics as "riddled with blows", referring to her struggle to empower Guyanese and the attacks she has suffered from opposition figure in Guyana's politics.