September 19, 1998
The `Report on the legal status of women' published in March this year of which the coordinator was Ms Roxanne George is a useful document. Among other things it addresses concerns from a woman's standpoint relating to a number of laws including the constitution, the Married Persons Property Amendment Act 1990, the abortion legislation, the Domestic Violence Act, the Prevention of Discrimination Act and the Guyana Citizenship Act. The report was commissioned by the National Commission on Women as a requirement of the project "Status of Women in Guyana: Monitoring, Research and Policy" funded by the Canada Caricom Gender Equity Fund.
Starting with the constitution, the report notes that Article 29 which provides for equality for women is non-justiciable, that is its provisions cannot be enforced by law. That Article provides as follows:
" 29. (1) Women and men have equal rights and the same legal status in all spheres of political, economic and social life. All forms of discrimination against women on the basis of their sex are illegal.
(2) The exercise of women's rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to academic, vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration and promotion, and in social, political and cultural activity, by special labour and health protection measures for women, by providing conditions enabling mothers to work and by legal protection and material and moral support for mothers and children, including paid leave and other benefits for mothers and expectant mothers."
The report recommends that gender equality be made a fundamental right enforceable by law.
As regards the Married Persons Property Act (MPPA) the Chapter starts with a quotation from a United Nations Report in 1980:
"Women constitute half of the world's population, perform nearly two-thirds of its work hours, receive one tenth of the world's income and own less than one-hundredth of the world's property."
It notes that through the 1990 amendment to the MPPA improved the position for married women and common law spouses there are still gaps. Interviewing judges and practitioners on cases that have arisen since the amendment they say that both of them consider fair the distinction between a half share to a spouse who is working and a one third share to one who is not working. The legislation allows a judge to vary these awards if the facts so dictate. The judges considered working to include being employed outside the home, being self-employed in a trade like dress-making and working along with a spouse in a business. However, the report argues that this definition of working is unfair and that unwaged work should be considered including all forms of housework and caring for the family which have traditionally been women's work. An amendment to the Act is requested.
There are several other useful discussions on various laws in this report including the Equal Rights Act (ERA) and the Prevention of Discrimination Act (PDA) 1997 which, it says, addresses various lacunae in the ERA and deals with sexual harassment. The PDA provides for the elimination of discrimination in employment, training and recruitment and membership of professional bodies and the promotion of equal remuneration for men and women who perform work of equal value. At the end of the day, this report shows that considerable progress has already been made in redressing the balance for women though there is more to be done.