Investment in women yields significant returns
- Dr Gandi
Stabroek News
April 30, 2002

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Numerous studies throughout the world have demonstrated that investments in women yield significant returns in the form of higher efficiency, greater savings and faster growth, Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) Representative in Guyana, Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, has said.

Dr Gandi was speaking at the sixteenth biennial conference of the Caribbean Women's Association (CARIWA) held in Guyana last week over a two-day period during which members from 15 other countries along with their Guyanese counterparts discussed several issues affecting women in today's world.

The conference got going last Thursday at City Hall and there were several presentations from women, including Minister of Culture, Youth & Sports, Gail Teixeira, and the. The conference concluded on Friday with a workshop at the Main Street Plaza Hotel under the theme `Exploring Trade Liberalisation & Its Impact on Women.'

During her presentation on women's health issues, Dr Gandi said that based on such evidence, it has been affirmed that investing in women ensures the equality and sustainability of economic growth. According to her, tapping women's undervalued traditional care roles thus has become an expedient approach in today's aid programmes and a cornerstone of structural adjustments policies.

Focusing on the impact of structural adjustment on health and women, Dr Theodore-Gandi said that whatever the short and long term repercussions of the economic crises and its adjustment policies, there seems to be general agreement that the negative impact of the cuts in health services and food subsidies fell mostly on the poor -- more particularly women who are said to be disproportionately represented among this sector.

She observed too that structural adjustment and transition affect men primarily in their role as producers, but they affect women in a variety of ways, as mothers, as household managers, as community workers, and as producers of goods and services.

Hence, she noted, the impact was heavier on women not only because of their greater need for health services, but also because they bore traditional responsibilities associated with the care of others - children, the sick, the elderly and the physically and mentally disabled.

She said that policies of structural adjustment were profoundly gender-based in as much as they are grounded in the implicit and upon occasion explicit presumption of the unlimited elasticity of women's time and labour, both in the household and in the work place.

She said when governments cut care services for the sick, disabled, the elderly and children, the poor who cannot afford private services have to depend on the care provided by women in their own households. Since these services are not remunerated, governments can reduce costs at the expense of women's unpaid labour in their households. In fact, she said, some adjustment recommendations to government have suggested quite explicitly that since much of society's health care takes place within the household, governments could save money by cutting health services.

According to Dr Gandi, concern for the health and nutrition of their families, particularly their children, was the principal factor that mobilized women to leave their domestic isolation and enter the labour force during the 1980s. Therefore, this so-called lost decade may rightly be viewed as the decade that resulted in women's organisation and empowerment. When regarded in this light, health concerns might be looked upon as the lighting rod beyond solving specific health problems to energize human development for women themselves, their families and societies at large.

She said that her organisation will continue to work with the member governments in the Americas to advocate for gender analysis in the planning of programmes, to ensure that services are equitable and responsive to the differential needs of men and women.

The status of women and their health experience will not change unless everyone understands the determinants of health and focus not only on disease outcome, but address the causes through working in partnership with other agencies in the public and private sector and the non-governmental organisations at the individual, community and agency level to make a difference.

The CARIWA was established in 1970 and is the first regional organisation in the Caribbean. The organisation comprises affiliates of national organisations in Caribbean countries and it works closely with the CARICOM Secretariat and women's bureaux within the Caribbean.

The organisation was established as a non-profit, non-governmental regional organisation designed to unify the women of the region in pursuit of common objectives.