Women's Issues In Guyana


Women must have greater sway in decision-making

Posted in Education,Gender Equality by wiig on December 15, 2007
Tags: , , ,

By Oluatoyin Alleyne

Stabroek News – December 15, 2007

There is a relatively large number of women at the various levels of government, but their influence on decision-making is still limited, according to the findings of working groups of the Women’s Progressive Organ-isation (WPO) at their recently concluded congress.

However, women’s lack of influence in decision-making is their own fault, since one of the main reasons for this is that “women do not have adequate communication skills and lack confidence in making presentations. They do not always have access to information, facts and figures to argue their case,” the working groups found.

Because of this, General Secretary Indra Chandarpal said, the WPO, the women’s arm of the ruling PPP, has been going into communities and holding ‘bottom-house’ meetings.

She said it was important for women to find a balance between being a homemaker and a citizen and pointed to another reason identified by the delegates for women not making a major impact in decision-making – the lack of job opportunities and being at home limits the space in which the women are able to socialise and as a result, their sphere of influence is limited.

The participants recommended that the organisation deal with the above by conducting more training in leadership and communication skills, providing more opportunities for the exposure of women, as well as equipping them with basic tools to conduct research and make presentations.

Around 700 delegates attended the organisation’s 15th Triennial Congress at Bath Settlement, West Coast Berbice, on November 24 and 25, and made several recommendations that seek to empower Guyanese women to realise their potential to the fullest. The organisation has been in existence for the last 54 years and Chandarpal has been its general secretary since 1983.

This year, for the first time, she said, there were women representing all ten administrative regions. She said this was a good sign because it showed that the organisation has transcended all borders, all ethnic groups, professions and classes.

“It is really a great achievement,” Chandarpal said, adding that it meant the organisation could now safely say that after 54 years of existence it had succeeded in uniting women across Guyana.

In a recent interview with Stabroek News, Chandarpal said her organisation has been battling many ills including sexual violence and alcoholism. She said it had made some 20 recommendations to the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security’s consultative paper ‘Stamp it Out’.

She added that last year November the organisation launched a national campaign to eradicate violence against women and on this front set up committees, which include men, to deal with the issue. Chandarpal said the first meeting, held at Enmore, East Coast Demerara saw several men in attendance as well as representation from various religion organisations.

She said the organisation has impressed upon its members to involve men in their discussions on the issues that affect them, which not only include violence but also HIV among others.

Alcoholism

According to Chandarpal, over the past few years, the organisation has taken up the issue of alcoholism in earnest, tying it in with violence against women. “We are trying to see how we can get women to respond differently to the whole issue of alcoholism and violence against them.”

A new approach is discussing with women how they nurture their boy children. “You know the whole issue of how some women deal with what colour a boy should wear, the division of labour and when they are about to get married some mothers would tell their sons not to let the woman take their eyes to pass them,” Chandarpal, a former minister in the Ministry of Labour, noted.

She said these were all subliminal messages, which told men that they needed to control their wives and the way some of them did this was by physical violence.

Another related issue the organisation examined, is how men socialise. What it has found is that most time men socialise in rum shops. Society’s expectations that men should be supermen, she said, make them feel pressured. “When they cannot live up to the expectation they start to imbibe alcohol and drugs and in the long run are violent towards their women.”

The organisation also recognises that men are not the only ones who abuse alcohol; there are also women alcoholics, some of whom had begun by drinking with their spouses. In dealing with women who abuse alcohol, Chandarpal said, they first try to understand what it was that pushed the woman to turn to alcohol. Mostly they found, she said, that the women just wanted a temporary escape from their every-day worries. She said the WPO recognised its duty to educate women on the ill effects alcohol has on their health and family life and for this to happen women need to talk about the issue.

Chandarpal said that from next month she will be chairperson of the Parliamentary Social Sector Committee and she would use that forum to ensure that social problems, including alcoholism, are addressed at the committee level.

On a related issue, she said some women needed to realise that they sometimes took their men for granted, as most times there was a breakdown in communication. For this reason, she said, it is important that men be involved in all the discussions women have and as such, the organisation’s members are encouraged to take their spouses to meetings.

Advocacy

As an organization, Chandarpal said, the WPO needs to take on every issue and leave nothing out. She said it has already begun to work towards what it wants for women and for society as a whole in another three years. She said workshops or skills training for women should not only include how to teach them to cook, sew or clean a house regardless of what their position in society is. “In workshops we ask women to identify five issues they think are important and they want changed in their communities,” she said.

According to the general secretary, advocacy will encourage change for women and that is what the organisation is all about, “advocating change on behalf of women.”

It is also simultaneously working on preparing women to take up their roles in society. The organisation has trained women to take up roles in local government, as it makes no sense for them just to make up numbers or have their presence exploited in the name of ‘gender equality’. It is important for them to function well in the positions they are given and to really make an impact.

“We have trained them on how to ensure good governance and instructed them to be the eyes and ears of their communities. If a school or a road is being built in the area and it is not being done properly then they should let us know and we would take it up,” the general secretary stressed.

The organisation has 32 leaders elected every three years and their responsibilities include advocating leadership in their regions on the smallest to the largest issue. “We have a network of women providing assistance nationally,” she said, and this network includes, but is not limited to, members of the organisation.

The WPO has also developed a guidance paper for members in each region, which assists them in getting the right information and points them in the direction of getting the necessary assistance.

Environment

During the last congress, the working groups also focused on the environment, particularly garbage disposal, which is a major problem. They noted that much of the littering around the country, especially in the city, was caused by lack of knowledge and improper behaviour by those who litter. The group recommended that the WPO should organise a national campaign to eradicate littering and indiscriminate dumping of garbage. Also examined during the discussions were health problems caused by dust from lumber yards, rice mills, bauxite mining etc. “Not only are workers affected [but] nearby residents also suffer,” a paper prepared by the group stated. It was requested that the organisation make representation to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other authorities to enact and enforce laws to protect people from such health hazards.

Contamination of water was also an issue up for discussion, since it was noted that largely this is caused by the dumping of waste in trenches and canals as well as from gold-mining operations. “There is need to enforce laws and regulations for good mining practices, as well as the need to seek alternative water resources, such as wells, instead of using surface water,” the group said.

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