Can housewives be trained to fill the gaps created by the brian drain?
Stabroek News
February 25, 2002

Dear Editor,

A few decades ago, women folk in Guyana were raised to be wives and mothers, and held down a sometimes eighteen-hour a day job as homemakers. If anyone, particularly men folk, thinks managing a home is not a full time job, then try it for a couple of years, and explain later why you changed your opinion. Change, the only thing that is constant, saw the growing socioeconomic demands of the seventies in developing and developed countries pulling women out of their homes and turning them into professionals and technically skilled employees. Jobs in the labour market that were traditionally dominated by men, are now being shared by women, and women are proving they possess certain qualities only women seem to be blessed with that are extremely beneficial to their quality of work. But while ordinary women in Guyana have risen to the challenge as both professionals and technically skilled employees, or even ventured into the political arena and received notable recognition in the media, it is the ordinary women who continue to manage their homes on a full time basis by utilizing extraordinary methods to cope, who need to be singled out as Guyana's unsung heroines.

After reading your "Brain Drain" [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] editorial (Thurs., Feb. 21), and quickly exhausted a short process of elimination to determine what could be done to stop this hemorrhaging, it dawned on me that our ordinary women folk in Guyana may be the key that unlocks the latent potential our country's labour market will need to move forward. Who knows whether their commitment to home management, resiliency, creativity, and tenacity, has prepared them for a time like this? While the professionals and technically skilled, or even the politically aligned, may be able to easily travel abroad and or find employment overseas, leaving a vacuum in Guyana, the vast number of women who are full time homemakers could become the beneficiaries of a well developed programme tailored to suit their capabilities and the country's expectations. A programme that not only identifies skill needs, but provides incentives for voluntary participation, and guarantees part or full time employment, along with other incentives and benefits, to the participants. I would rather see Guyana spend money on our people than spend it on hiring foreigners who may not feel that same level of patriotism or loyalty to country as our people, and who can always move on whenever they want to. Given the economic hardship that first hit Guyana in the late seventies, it is amazing to look back and see how our ordinary women folk performed and continue to perform, because Guyana still has not come out of its slump. These truly are remarkable women.

How did they do it, standing in lines under the hot sun, waiting to see if they could buy whatever scarce food items were being sold, then race home to cook a meal just in time for the children or spouse on lunch break? Or having to 'stretch the food' to make it last for the day? Times may have changed, but how to what extent? I can go on and on talking about clothes washing with what passed for 'Zex soap', cooking with what passed for cooking oil, using rice flour instead of wheat flour, recycling just about everything, including paper and plastic bags when shopping. Then came the potable water and electricity problems, compounded by transportation hassles, as passengers boarded through windows and bypassed doors. How many women (and children) were left stranded because they could not get in that way? I would be remiss, though, if I did not mention in passing, those Guyanese women who migrated north many years ago, working long hours as home and health care attendants, as part of their extended hustle to help send a 'small piece' back home, then sponsoring their families.

Some of these women experienced some humiliating stories, especially at the hands of relatives, but also by employers, not fit for reading; but they made it abroad, just like they made it in Guyana. Unfortunately, some of them are heartbroken because either their husbands do not like to work and or drink too much, or are otherwise 'engaged'. Some have sons who are on drugs, in gangs, or in prison. Some have daughters who are just living it up. But these women who sacrificed so much for family cannot go unmentioned. If in Guyana, where the crises are greater, there is no monument as a tribute to the role of our ordinary women folk in Guyana, especially over the past twenty-five years, there is one in my heart. And this monument can only gain greater significance if our ordinary women folk turn out to be the key that unlocks the potential for a better and brighter future in Guyana. Yours faithfully, Emile Mervin