Kaieteur News – December 22, 2005
In this country females have outperformed males in every stratum of education for at least a generation, but women continue to be a clear minority in the higher echelons of public and political life in Guyana, and they are grossly under-represented in top workplace positions.
The lack of female participation in positions of real power is so obvious that most people are painfully aware of it. A study by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women done in a 1994 newspaper showed that female representation in Parliament peaked at 22 per cent in 1985. In other top decision-making positions in Government, female representation reached a high point of 33.3 per cent in 1993.
The study found that women’s participation in middle and lower-level management positions hovered around 25 per cent in 1993. However women did not play significant roles in decision-making, except in the low-paying service sector and the teaching profession. And, although women were active in the trade unions in both the private and the public sector, they held few high positions in management and the executive branches.
That study was done over a decade ago, but it is as plain as day that if it had been done yesterday it would have found little improvement in women’s access to positions of influence and real power in Guyana. Undoubtedly the mindsets of people and the society have shifted, and working women are now generally accepted as capable, hardworking and committed professionals and individuals. But many professional women find that, in addition to fulfilling the responsibilities of their positions, they have to juggle the demands of family and work.
Consequently most women in leadership positions in the workplace feel two types of pressure simultaneously: the pressure to perform well and prove their capabilities on the job, as well as the pressure of coping up with the expectations of the family at home. Several Guyanese women have been able to balance home and work successfully, but many more wilt under the pressure and find themselves locked in a perpetual cycle of sacrifice, foregoing necessary career moves for the sake of their families.
In Guyana home-making and child-rearing activities are traditionally considered female responsibilities. Unfortunately the optimal time for women to marry and raise families — their late teens to their late thirties — coincides with the optimal time for them to pursue higher education and career development. Many women embark on promising careers only to have them derailed by marriage and motherhood. In this regard, the lack of child-care facilities in Guyana is one of the biggest negative factors affecting women’s upward mobility in the labour force.
The onus is on women themselves to improve their gender-equality status and do so proactively. The few Guyanese women who are already in leadership roles, or are on the threshold of getting there, have to rise to the challenge and build bridges for other women. They have to use their roles as mothers and exercise their influence in communities to move society as a whole away from well-entrenched gender-centric roles, where men are considered the leader and provider and women submissive and subservient to the wishes of their families.
This is a time for revolutionary thinking and action by women to transform what beginnings have been made into dramatic changes leading to true gender equality in Guyana. Accomplished women must seek to become role models for other females to emulate; women in authority must create a women’s network to provide connections, information and influence; women of means must move to acquire venture capital and use it to become entrepreneurs and exercise financial clout; all professional and financially secure women should use their influence to help other women uplift themselves.
In short, women must shake off the shackles of dependency on men and seek to elevate themselves mainly by their own efforts, or else they will be doomed to chronic under-representation in decision-making positions with all the attendant negative consequences.