Gender equality should be inalienable right
-Red Thread submits

Stabroek News
May 26, 1999

The Red Thread organisation has recommended that gender equity and gender equality be made an inalienable right in the revised Guyana Constitution.

According to the memorandum it submitted to the Constitutional Reform Commission: "In order to secure and enable the practice of gender equity the Bill of Rights should proclaim that women comprise not less than one third of the composition of all governmental bodies, including the Parliament and the Cabinet and any other decision-making forum, as well as all other boards and commissions, including those of the private sector and all governing bodies of civil society groups."

Also among the memorandum's recommendations are changes to the electoral system to return to a constituency system and a bicameral legislature which includes a civil society forum at the highest level of governmental decision making. The strengthening of the functions of the National Commission on Women and the establishment of a gender equality commission, a commission on racial justice and equality and a people's commission on sustainable human development were also recommended in the submission.

"Gender equity and gender equality must be made an inalienable right as well as a guiding principle in the new Constitution. Recognising that women as a group comprise more than half of the total population of Guyana this right should inform all other fundamental rights since it is the basis for the full and equal development of all citizens of Guyana.

"Discrimination against the female sex is unacceptable and should be outlawed since it discriminates against women across all races, classes, creeds, cultures, conditions and positions in the society." Therefore, Red Thread says it is recommending "that this principle be one of the first principles in the bill of rights of the new Constitution, and that infringement of this principle be answerable in a court of law."

Also, Red Thread says that the "bill of rights must secure and protect the rights of the child, women's rights and gender equality, the rights of the Amerindian peoples of Guyana, the rights of the disabled, the rights of the elderly, the rights of the homeless."

It must also enshrine religious and cultural rights, the memorandum says. The memorandum also recommends that all legislation specific to women's rights be upgraded and strengthened as "necessary to become fundamental rights and should be included in the bill of rights." The legislation includes the Domestic Violence Act, the Equal Rights Act, the Property Rights Act, and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.

"This bill of rights must become a document owned and incorporated into the very lives of the people of Guyana."

It recommends that the bill of rights "must be crafted in such a fashion so as to be easily understood, absorbed, and referred to (quoted) by all levels of the citizenry."

Red Thread recommends that the bill of rights be written in language that is understandable to children in school, and that it becomes essential reading for the school population. It also recommends that the dissemination of the bill of rights should be statutory and that its distribution should be broad-based with special measures enshrined therein that, by law, each citizen is entitled to a copy. Further, that from the year 2000 with each birth certificate issued a copy of the bill of rights should be mandatory. Under the bill of rights, the memorandum says, child abuse will be unilaterally outlawed, including the administering of corporal punishment in schools and in the home.

The memorandum argues too that the Commission on Children should serve as a statutory body. The commission, it recommends, should comprise civil society representatives and will be required to "monitor compliance with the rights of the child as set out in the bill of rights as well as inform and guide Cabinet decisions related to same."

The gender equality commission which Red Thread wants established, the memorandum says, will have the responsibility for setting up an expert or advisory group for monitoring the gender implications of trade liberalisation and globalisation policies, including the rulings and protocols governing the regime of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as it pertains to Guyana.

"The feminisation of poverty, disenfranchisement of women of labour laws protection and other social benefits, as well the risk of infringement of intellectual property fights through WTO permitted patents of medicinal and food technologies developed by women (especially Amerindian women) are some of the current threats to what should be women's inalienable rights under the new Guyana Constitution."

The memorandum says too that the status and composition of the National Commission on Women should be reviewed and strengthened. "It should serve as a key civil society body with statutory rights including representation at the Parliamentary level."

The Red Thread memorandum observes that a new Constitution which has gender equality as an inalienable right must make provision for facilitating the legislative framework for ensuring that gender friendly services such as child care and day care and related systems be strengthened, improved and made an operational prerequisite for all public and private sector agencies and industries.

The right to land in the bill of rights, the memorandum says, will be the right of every citizen. It recommends that "from the year 2000 each child will be entitled to a statutory plot of land. A land certificate transporting same will be issued along with birth certificate and bill of rights."

With regard to its recommendation for reforming the electoral system, the memorandum explains that the changes it is proposing are to secure representational equity in Parliament, within government and within political and party mechanisms for ensuring such."

It said that a constituency system as opposed to the single party list system should therefore be adopted as a key measure in the electoral reform process. This constituency system should break with that of the old party partisanship and should be inclusive.

It should facilitate the inclusion of independent candidates and candidates representing the interests of specific sectors and/or interest groups and specifically including those traditionally marginalised from key decision-making fora such as women, youth, indigenous people, the elderly, people with disabilities and persons living with life-threatening illnesses.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples