Women's Issues In Guyana

Women tackle tough issues

Posted in Gender Equality,Politics by wiig on February 25, 2007
Tags: , , ,

NationNews.com (Barbados) – February 25, 2007

TIME WAS WHEN women on the campaign trail were an aberration.

They attracted more attention for their physical appearance than their thoughts on the issues.

This is no longer the case.

With women having led or in the drivers’ seat as heads of government in Britain, Germany, Chile, Dominica, Jamaica, Guyana, Canada, and Liberia; and with five women in the Barbados Cabinet, the novelty of women assuming high position while getting into the rough and tumble of the political trenches has worn itself out.

That may help explain why after 50 years the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) is running four female candidates for the first time and why Opposition Leader David Thompson has vowed to place a woman in a DLP cabinet, also for the first time if the party wins the election.

When the role of women in politics in Barbados was raised during a SUNDAY SUN discussion in New York with the four female “Dems” – Undine Whittaker, a veteran trade unionist who is contesting the St Michael South East seat; Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, a family physician in the St George South campaign; Irene Sandiford-Garner, bidding for the St Andrew constituency; and Patricia Inniss, contender in the St Michael North East riding, rejected the notion of women being limited to the “soft issues” in government.

Whittaker argued that caring and a lot of the social issues that it appears women take to heart are at the core of the country.

“They are really at the crux of a party and of a country. So while people may wish to define those issues as being ‘soft’, and by extension, give the impression that women are soft, those are the hard issues,” she said.

Sandiford-Garner, until recently a NATION newspaper columnist, seemingly blamed the media for helping to foist that perception of the softness of women, by giving it “a lot of mileage”.

At the same time, she said some Caribbean female politicians “seem not to recognise that they can play with the boys without being one of the boys”.

Inniss, a researcher and part-time lecturer at Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, insisted: “We four ladies have a mandate to bring those hard issues in a household context.

“We have a mandate to ensure that Barbadian women understand what a foreign exchange reserve is, understand that there has been heavy borrowing on the $1.1 billion (debt) that we already have.”

She was adamant that they would highlight the “public sector debt”, another one of those so-called hard issues.

But Byer-Suckoo had a different perspective: “When I go canvassing every day, males and females alike say their concern is not the public sector debt.

“Their concern is their standard of living, their ability to feed their families . . . to make their bill payments at the end of the month. Yes, they know there are such things as public sector debts and foreign exchange reserves on so on. But when I go, nobody, no one, speaks to me about that. And that’s not because I am a woman.”

Byer-Suckoo noted what she saw as declining health care standards and the “appalling situation” at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as key issues.

When the discussion turned to legislative priorities, the women placed integrity in office, particularly for parliamentarians and cabinet ministers at or near the top of their list.

Sandiford-Garner was insistent that there should be full disclosure of assets of those holding public office.

“Integrity legislation is sorely needed in our country,” added Whittaker.

But the trade unionist was quick to add that sexual harassment must also be dealt with; and so too, must employee rights: through a bill which would seek to deal with unfair dismissal and the rights of the worker as well as the rights of the employer.

Byer-Suckoo agreed noting integrity legislation has to be top priority; and issues concerning the workers also are definite priorities.

To that list, Inniss added occupational health and safety and protection for vendors.

Minimum wage legislation was another issue the women singled out as being crucial.

Asked about their vision for Barbados in the first and second decades of the 21st century, Sandiford-Garner’s vision was for a much better managed country, that emphasises creativity, improved education and a higher standard of living.

Inniss pointed to the need for patriotic service to reduce poverty.

Whittaker envisions an education system that would allow for greater creativity in schools, and empower young people.

Byer-Suckoo stressed peace of mind built on a decent standard of living and a move away from violence.

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