Revisiting woman's place

Guyana Chronicle
June 14, 1999

ALTHOUGH the working woman has been a fact of life since the end of the Second World War, some behaviour theorists still persist in treating the career woman as a negative phenomenon that is responsible for much of what is wrong with society today.

Whenever, the home is termed dysfunctional, blame for this condition is almost immediately thrown at the feet of the working mother. The argument goes, that if the mother is there when children come home from school, the children are less likely to become rebellious or delinquent. Instead, they will be given the kind of nurturing that would make them well-rounded individuals, who in time, will make worthy contributions to the society.

However, there are two very powerful forces which persuade women to work and develop careers outside the home. One is the need to sustain a decent level of existence which could only happen if the income of the main breadwinner, the husband and head of the home, is supplemented by the income of the wife. The other reason has to do with women's education and training and the concomitant need for self-fulfilment.

What is the point of a woman acquiring an education or professional qualification, if at the end of her studies, she is unable to put her professional skills to use?

Then there is a third and more critical force that drives women to earn income - that is to support their children and themselves. These are mostly single parents who head households and who have to supply everything necessary for sustaining their own lives as well as the lives of their children. These women do not have the luxury of choice. They have to work and this they do while trying to make the best baby-sitting arrangements they could.

In the context of Guyana's history, lower-class women have always worked to supplement the meagre earnings of their spouses. Women have done part-time domestic work, they have `taken in' washing, they have done cleaning of offices and government buildings, they have made cakes on a daily basis to supply cake-shops, they have cultivated kitchen gardens and sold the produce, they have worked in the cane fields and the rice fields and in the backdams cultivating fruit and vegetable farms.

In the 1950s, grandmothers breaking bricks on the road corners were common sights. And one elderly Afro-Guyanese woman told a local researcher in the 1980s, that as a child of ten, she was sent by her mother to help pull punts along the canal on the East Bank for a bit (eight cents) a day. For years she suffered with pains in her head as a result of that activity.

Today, with the progress made in education, not all women are compelled to perform difficult physical tasks just to earn a decent income. Women are visible in many aspects of medicine and health care delivery, they are active in the fields of education, law, business, in science and technology, in information technology, in banking and commerce, in the publishing industry, and in the realms of diplomacy and politics.

The wonder of today's modern woman is that she manages very skilfully to combine career and motherhood and is encouraged to develop most of her talents through the myriad opportunities offered by society.

In the United States, where two decades ago, one wag had written a book titled, "A Woman's Place is in the House - and the Senate", more women are gravitating to the citadels of power and are making their voices heard in law-making circles.

As our civilisation moves closer to the new millennium, more people, hopefully, will accept the fact that the working woman is an asset to development and that mechanisms must evolve to help women fulfil their basic functions as mothers while making meaningful contributions to nation-building.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples