The pioneering work of the Guyana Women's League
By Eileen Cox
October 27, 2002
Wait a minute! Have you ever stopped to think of the social changes brought about in Guyana by women volunteers? No? Well, it is time to begin to think about the work that women have done so that we could all have a higher standard of living.
The Guyana Women's League of Social Services celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1991. It operated those 50 years with no elaborate constitution. The typed rules could barely fill one letter-sized sheet of paper. Today, if you are to be registered as a friendly society, you are required to include pages and pages of rules that really inhibit effective operation.
But those were different times, different behavioural patterns. Volunteers worked in harmony. Their objective was social improvement, not personal gain.
The Guyana Women's League of Social Services attracted women of outstanding character. Let me name a few - Mrs. J.B. Singh, Mrs H.B. Fraser. Mrs E. Robinson. (Ethlynde).
The League ended its vibrant career many years ago. Today the task of closing off finally falls to Ethlynde. She is now in her nineties and must dispose of the remaining funds with the assistance of the two remaining members.
Ethlynde has given me a list of twelve outstanding projects achieved by the League. Top of the list - women's institutes. If you are old enough you will remember how effective the Federation of women's Institutes was in mobilizing women in the rural areas and what great esteem the Federation won for itself.
The League effectively lobbied for women to join the Police Force, to serve as jurors and to be enrolled as Town Councillors. Today, we accept women in these positions as normal, and fail to realize that there had to be a struggle for acceptance of women as equal citizens.
The League was instrumental in launching CASWIG, a Caribbean Association of women. The Guyana Branch of CASWIG engineered the formation of the Guyana Consumers Association.
With the introduction of Meals on Wheels, the League brought a great measure of relief to persons confined to their homes. Meals were delivered at little cost. The Red Cross now continues this service.
The Responsible Parent-hood Association was the brainchild of the League. Another achievement was the Hinterland Educational Project for Young Amerindian Girls. This project seems to have fallen by the wayside as little is known of it.
There was a donation of two water tanks to the St Ann's Orphanage and a benab to the Ptolemy Reid Home for Handicapped Children.
The Dorothy Bailey Day Care Centre is another notable achievement. There are thousands who will attest to the service it has rendered to society.
To round it off, the Adoption Law was conceived by the League and introduced into the legislature by one of the Presidents of the League, Miss Gertie Woods.
These achievements by the League will help us to understand how important the work of volunteers can be a society. These were unpaid workers seeking self-realisation through service. The League received no subvention from the Government. The non-working wives raised funds by means of Fairs, Tea Parties, Bazaars, Bring and Buy Sales.
As reported in last Sunday's column, there is today little urge to serve society in some fields. Churches, other religious bodies, trade unions, credit unions, women's organizations still attract volunteers. Men tend to join Lodges, Rotary Clubs, fraternity groups where the benefits are visible.
Mrs Robinson can also claim credit for her contribution to the establishment of the Selman Fraser Nursery School. Teachers at the School were paid by this Association from 1940 to 1972 when the school was taken over by the Government. From this Association, too, Mrs Robinson must retire. Where are the young persons to introduce the changes that we still need in Guyana?