Helping women to revalue themselves Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 21, 2002

A CALL for women to revalue themselves and their many skills was a most positive development in the quest women are making for equality in the socioeconomic sphere.

The occasion was the graduation ceremony of a number of Region Ten women, who had successfully undergone a period of training in non-traditional skills such as refrigeration, electrical work, motor mechanics, welding and carpentry. The course was a collaborative effort between the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE) and the Inter-American Development Bank.

And the appeal for the graduates to reassess their place in the world was made by political and women’s activist Andaiye. While congratulating the successful women on their achievements, Andaiye urged them to face their future with confidence, to assert their correct place in the employment market and to use the overall course experience to develop a new consciousness about their personal self-worth.

“You now have a right to demand your rights. Use your new-found skills to revalue yourselves and your work,” she told them in her very insightful presentation.

Pointing out that women exercise multi-dimensional skills in the home daily without realising the value of their work, Andaiye recalled a meeting she had several years ago with a young mother. She (Andaiye) had gone to a house to gather material for a survey. She was met by a young woman, who was nursing a baby, while holding another infant on her hip. In the interior of the dwelling, Andaiye said, she could see a pot on the stove and a tub of laundry. However, when she asked the young mother what work she did, the woman replied, “I don’t do nothing!”

Little did the young mother realise that she was executing one of the most important jobs in the world. That was the fundamental role of bearing and rearing the next generation.

We, too, would like to congratulate these women on their success. Some of them acquired their skills at tremendous personal cost and sacrifice. One such was the woman, who attended classes by day and worked as a security guard by night. But then, it was never easy for women to acquire trades long-dominated by the male of the species. Most of the women pioneers in traditional male professions have moving stories to tell about how they managed to cope with ritualised anti-female discrimination.

In fact, women’s presence in the world of work has been discussed and documented throughout the 20th century. During the Second World War, women in Great Britain and the United States of America were encouraged to come out of the house and work in the factories because all the able-bodied men had gone to the battlefields. But when the peace came in 1945, the authorities wanted the women to leave the factories and return to housekeeping because the jobs now had to be given to the ex-soldiers and de-mobilised airmen.

Women and work became a major topic of research and discussion after the 1975 United Nations World Conference of Women in Mexico. In the following years, feminist researchers and other writers were exploring the contribution of women to national GDPs and the world economy. It was then that the terms of “invisible women” and “unpaid women’s work” acquired popular currency.

The United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) were seriously measuring and documenting women’s work from the humble and least-regarded farming women of the Third World to the professional women, whose voices are heard and heeded in the corporate world of the leading industrialised countries.

In the words of the brilliant Ms Krishna Ahooja-Patel, who edited the special ILO news-bulletin “Women At Work” for the 1980 World Conference of Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, women are always working, but they are not always employed.

In many areas of the world, when women are employed, they are generally given the most menial and low-paying jobs. Even when women are qualified they usually earn 20 to 40 per cent less than men for the same jobs.

Thanks to another training course to equip female participants with non-traditional income-earning skills, another batch of women will soon enter the Guyanese workforce as equal partners to their male counterparts.