Much more still to be done to give substance to gender equity
By Yvonne Stephenson
March 12, 2004
INTERNATIONAL Women's Day was observed variously and included a time for assessing women's political and social situation.
Today, a cursory glance at the situation of women in Guyana reveals that they comprise a little more than half of our population but constitute only about a quarter of the work force. The latter figure, however, is quite misleading, as it does not take into consideration the work performed by women which has been termed as "unwaged work". This continues to be a critical issue as women largely makes up the informal and unpaid labor force.
It is known that an estimated one third (1/3) of our households are headed by women. In some sections in the arena of education, it is noted that more than three-quarter (3/4) of the graduates from Cyril Potter College of Education are women and that two thirds or the graduates from the University of Guyana over a three-year period are women. Two-fifths of university lecturers are women, while nearly three quarters of school heads are women.
A glance at a few other areas have revealed that one third of our parliamentarians are women, one fifth of our Ministries as well as our Permanent Secretaries are women, and one third in Local Government are women. If we consider a few positions of prominence it is noted that a little less than half of our judges, and similarly our magistrates are women.
In more general terms notable strides have been made towards achieving equality as well as a number of rights for women through the formulation of policies, legislation and programs dating back to the 1970's. These included making married women eligible for recruitment and permanent pension able positions in the public service, the reform of the Labour Law with regard to women's night work in factories and industries, the establishment of parity in wages between men and women in skilled and unskilled work and women's right to a life of free of violence.
In the past women's rights were treated separately from general human rights, but a major pronouncement by the United Nations declared that women's rights are human rights.
In Guyana over the years rights were bolstered by a number of significant policies, which were grounded in the 1976 State Paper on Equality of Women, the 1980 Constitution that has now been revised, and by the Equal Rights Act of 1990.
Broad policies were also formulated for the guidance of public and private sectors. Steps are now being pursued to integrate women's concerns into the wider spectrum of Guyana's economic and social development program and to introduce gender mainstreaming in economic planning.
In this progression, mention much be made of the existence of a national policy document on women, the Women's Affairs Bureau which was established in 1981, the Inter-Ministry Committee comprising senior women personnel from each Ministry and the recently constituted Women and Gender Equality Commission. The ultimate objective of these entities is to give effect to women's equality.
But the promotion of equality and women's rights was also spurred on by a number of women's NGO's such as the Women's Arms of Political Parties, Red Thread and .........all of which are linked by an informal network.
But in spite, of the existing infrastructure - and supporting legislation and policies, much more has to be done in terms of the practical application of these programs and policies, in order to be more fully reflected in the daily lives of Guyanese women.