Women’s work in the home, community and nation Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
March 4, 2002

Related Links: Articles on Women
Letters Menu Archival Menu

THE LAST decades of the 20th century witnessed some of the greatest achievements in science, medicine and technology, and although their contributions have been sound, and invaluable, and integral to the process of human development, women remain woefully under-represented in the citadels of power and governance. Women are numbered among the vast army of farm workers, whose backbreaking tasks ensure the sowing and reaping of crops and the processing and packaging of agricultural produce to nourish, not only their immediate families, but also to feed populations in other countries. The sum total of the goods and services they produce annually is hardly acknowledged in their nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and as agents of development they remain the least regarded in the councils of economic planners.

Some the most menial tasks that offer the lowest wages are performed daily by women, many of whom are mothers of infants and young children as well as being heads of households. The patient caring of the sick, the handicapped, and the helpless elderly falls most naturally to women, and as working mothers they are twice as likely as men to stay home and attend to an ailing child. Many working women know the meaning of the term “the second shift” because that is what they have to execute after a day’s work out of the home. Workingwomen are daily honing their organisational skills to balance the effective running of their households and the efficient crafting of jobs as segments of long-term career development. It is an act that demands innovative thinking, an intuitive understanding of their families’ physical and emotional needs and the wherewithal to meet those needs without diminishing their own self-worth or doing violence to their planned upward mobility.

If the modern woman thinks these demands are far too many for her to meet, she just has to cast her mind back to the lives of drudgery women lead as recently as 50 years ago. For instance, the quality of life poor working-class Guyanese women lead half a century ago is bonded slavery when compared to modern-day experience. The most that young girls from poor families could hope for was a basic primary education and then an early marriage, hopefully to a man with a good income. The women who were forced to earn wages for their families in those pre-Independence days did not have a wide range of options. The most available openings were for cooks, domestic servants or maids, to wash and iron the garments and linen of middle-class families on a job basis, being a seamstress or preparing cakes, tarts and coconut buns for ‘cake shops’ in the city. The poorer folk could not afford electric irons or ovens fuelled by cooking gas or electricity. A lot of the cooking then was done with coalpots, pressing of garments was carried out with ‘flat’ irons heated on a coalpot filled with pieces of burning charcoal. Illumination was by lamps and there were no refrigerators to store meats and other food items. Back then, housework and family care involved burdensome chores that often lasted from dawn until dusk.

To further complicate matters, women had little knowledge and less access to contraceptives so the average married woman was likely to find herself producing a baby almost every year until her natural childbearing life came to an end.

Thankfully, in these modern times, women can exercise greater control over their reproductive lives and so are able to ‘space’ the children by choice. Even if socioeconomic circumstances prevented them from completing their education, they can later choose to develop themselves by extending their learning at any of a number of academic of vocational institutions.

Whether they spend long hours each day nurturing infants and cleaning house, farming in the ‘backdam’, vending in the markets or sitting in corporate boardrooms planning strategies for optimising market shares for their companies, women are making invaluable contributions to the present civilisation.