Another milestone on the road to progress Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
March 8, 2002

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AT THIS dawning of the third millennium, the female half of the human species finds itself enmeshed in the same web of socioeconomic contradictions that confounds the rest of the human race. Depending on one’s geographic location and social and economic position, one could either be enjoying the benefits of a fulfilled existence or the miseries of grinding poverty, famine, flood, wars or displacement. For instance, the normal life of the average educated woman in Europe would be only a hoped-for dream for those young women striving to preserve the lives of their families in war-torn Afghanistan, or in the strife-ridden townships of Palestine. Even in those middling-poor countries, which are deemed to be relatively stable, women find themselves the victims of discrimination, as well as physical and sexual violence. The harsh effects of economic reforms of the 1990s had barely subsided when the inexorable march of globalisation trampled most of the opportunities the little people had for lifting themselves out of the worst manifestations of poverty.

And yet, the overall condition of women has improved tremendously when compared with what obtained half a century ago. Women today are better educated and have greater opportunities for acquiring knowledge and skills. For instance, in those eastern countries where women and children are traditionally employed in “sweat shops” to produce American and European garments, shoes and other consumer items, the indentured conditions of their working lives have been somewhat improved as a result of the lobbying by non-governmental organisations in the west. The work is still strenuous because supervisors routinely apply numerous pressures in order to expedite production to meet quotas, but now workers are better paid, are allowed a few weeks annual vacation with pay. There are improved and safer working conditions and some groups of employees are even permitted to join trade unions.

Far more women today are trained to work in fields, which as recently as two and a half decades ago were totally male-dominated. Women have become space engineers, physicists and astronauts; they are medical specialists and scientists and they have long demonstrated their expertise at trades such as welding, masonry, electricity and refrigeration. In the upper echelons of human activity, women have been respected jurists, cabinet ministers as well as Prime Ministers and Presidents. And although women on the whole are woefully under-represented in civic bodies, in national parliaments and in the major citadels of international organisations, their participation in these councils is steadily rising as a result of new parity laws being implemented by many countries.

For a nation with such a small population, Guyana’s womenfolk have achieved an excellent record in breaking the gender barrier. Former President Mrs Janet Jagan has made history in this land first with her unparalleled pioneer role in the anti-colonial struggle from the 1940s to the 1960s, and later, when she was appointed Prime Minister of Guyana after her husband, President Cheddi Jagan died five years ago. Since then she has occupied the position as Head of State following the 1997 general elections. She later opted out of the Presidency and passed the mantle of Head of State to Mr Bharrat Jagdeo. Another remarkable woman of this country is Chancellor Ms Desiree Bernard, who, in the early 1980s, was appointed a judge in the High Court. Several years later, she was appointed Chief Justice, and became one of only a very few women to attain this exalted position in the Caribbean. Ms Bernard, who is also Chancellor of the Anglican body, has for years, held an executive position on the international Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).