Revamping of administration new challenge for city hall

City Council Round Up with Cecil Griffith
Stabroek News
March 12, 2001

The establishment of the Guyana Women's Leadership Institute, a documentation centre, a policy document and a five-year national action plan have been listed as successes of the PPP/Civic government in improving the fortunes of women.

At a press briefing hosted on Thursday by the PPP/Civic on the occasion of International Women's Day to highlight `Women's Development under the PPP/C Administration, Minister of Human Services and Social Security Indra Chandarpal said that the party in government achieved all the things that it said it would in its elections manifesto.

However, Chandarpal spent most of the time speaking about future plans as "the mechanisms have been put in place and the environment created" for further development.

Among the plans are the establishment of ten community counselling centres in the ten administrative regions to deal with issues of violence against women, the establishment of a mediation centre to deal with suicides, a focus on the single-parent headed household, to work with non-governmental organisations involved in the business of handicraft to find markets for their work, and the establishment of a women's parliamentary association involving women parliamentarians past and present.

Plans are also in train to publish the names of men who do not look after their children to embarrass them publicly. There will also be a campaign to get women not to go after men who are not prepared to look after their children, the minister revealed adding that women are to be equally blamed for unwanted pregnancies. There is also a plan to host a talk show for women.

Recalling the state of affairs when she took office, Chandarpal said that she found the Women's Affairs Bureau (WAB), understaffed, a state paper on women dating back to 1973 and a series of draft laws pertaining to amendments to a numbers of acts dealing with women's issues. The conclusion, she said, was that there was no policy on women and so the party decided on a policy paper.

The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security began to work with non-governmental organisations through consultations. Out of these consultations the Guyana Women's Leadership Institute (GWLI) was born and a five-year action plan.

Speaking about the GWLI, Chandarpal said that government realised that training women in non-traditional areas was essential to women's development as there were many women who were never oriented to obtain a skill or profession. Some 400 women were trained in the first year and based on an evaluation of the first year Chandarpal said that there is need to take the programme to the regions.

This year's programme has been redesigned with new subjects and to cater for two semesters instead of three as was done last year. The whole programme, she said has been reconfigured. Among new plans for the GWLI is a programme to teach the basic tenets of journalism and photography and the establishment of a dark room; and the establishment of a plant nursery.

Government she said plans to focus on the single-parent headed households. Discussions, she said have begun and there is a funding agency willing to finance the programme. She did not name the agency because discussions have not been concluded.

Government, she said is still grappling with the problem of domestic violence in the society as legislation is not the end-all. However, she said that government has provided financial support to Help and Shelter and the Legal Aid clinic as well as to the Genesis home for battered women. Genesis also got assistance from the Social Impact Amelioration Project and Futures Fund.

Chandarpal said the problem of domestic violence is one where people "see beating of women and children and parents as all right". That culture, she said, must be changed through education and awareness programmes. This process began last year on March 8 with the establishment of a national steering committee that is working towards the eradication of family violence. The United Nations Development Programme and the Government of Guyana will be funding this scheme.

Along with the GWLI, was the establishment of a women's documentation centre. She recalled that in 1994 she could not find information on women in Guyana and had to seek the assistance of Cabinet to give support to her researchers when gathering information from the various government ministries.

Since the PPP/Civic government took office, she said that "we have broken many records beginning with the naming of Desiree Bernard as the country's first Chief Justice, Mrs Janet Jagan as the first female Prime Minister and female President, the Accountant General's office being manned by a woman, and the first woman acting as Head of Presidential Secretariat.

Asked what government has done in the area of employment Chandarpal said that there were two initiatives "that were not necessarily government driven, that is, IPED (the Institute of Private Enterprise Development) and the Bank of Nova Scotia" where they obtained loans and got themselves involved in small businesses. In addition she said that a number of women benefited from WAB's revolving fund.

Asked what government has done to empower Amerindian women in the hinterland and riverain areas and to bring them into the decision-making process, Chandarpal said that she likes "to see Amerindians as Guyanese and I don't like to separate them. They all should be involved in the mainstream of life irrespective of whether they live at the tip of Guyana. I don't want to separate our people as they must all consider themselves as one."

However, she added that what government has done at the macro level was to build schools and take services such as water and health to the communities. At present, she said that "a lot of Amerindian women are coming out. More Amerindian people are leaving their villages and coming out."