Women's Issues In Guyana

Women still pressing for recognition of unwaged work

Posted in Education,Gender Equality,Legislation by wiig on March 8, 2008
Tags: , , ,

By Iana Seales of Stabroek News – March 8, 2008

The low-key kind of appreciation that women are shown for their contributions to the society is likely what many will get today on International Women’s Day.

Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir recently told Stabroek News that while unwaged work deserved more than the usual recognition it earns in the home, the day that that will happen is not today.

After more than a decade since the Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing in 1995, when a platform for action was set up, issues of inequality remain current. Unpaid work, however, is not seen as much of an issue in Guyana, even today.

But homemaker Valencia Baddeir rates unwaged work as the single most important work in the country because it holds everything together. She believes that if women who do caring unwaged work pull their services, the economy would be in serious trouble.

As a woman who made a decision to leave the labour force and manage things at home because it seemed the smart thing to do, Baddeir said someone needs to publicly thank her and she does not mean her next of kin. She said government, perhaps through the Minister of Labour or the Minister of Human Services and Social Security, needs to come out and say publicly that without caring contributions such as hers, everything that could go wrong in the country will.

From all indications, Baddeir has to wait some more for this.

Nadir told Stabroek News in an interview last month that a day of national recognition of the value of unwaged work is likely in the foreseeable future, but could not say how soon this would happen.

Nadir noted that unwaged work is important and an integral part of national production. He said it is a necessary type of labour that should be awarded the recognition it deserves.

According to the minister, the question of measuring unwaged work is one of importance since it draws attention to the role the work plays in the economy. He said the economy is able to run smoothly because of this contribution.

“The argument about the value of this kind of work is a valid one because someone has to do it.

Truth is, if we all had no choice but to put in the hours required in addition to the waged work we do, we may never get things done either way,” Nadir said.

He said government can consider a payout to persons who do unwaged work but questioned where the money would come from. He said it is possible by taxing the workforce but noted that the strain would ultimately affect the home managers performing unwaged work.

Nadir said he is aware of the countless women, men and children who are doing unwaged work everyday.

He said they deserve more than the usual appreciation that is shown in the homes. However he noted that if they can continue and press forward the day will come when the society, particularly elected officials will come out and speak to the importance of their contributions. That day is not today, he said, but it is coming.

More than a woman’s issue

Women’s and social activist, Andaiye who has fought for unwaged work to be measured, valued and recognised as important work said such work is the foundation of the economy, adding that without it, there is no economy.

She said unwaged work is not solely a woman’s issue; it is an economic issue given that it connects directly to the economy. However, she noted that Caribbean leaders have over the years chosen to reduce it to a woman’s issue.

Andaiye said women are not the only ones doing unwaged, caring work, adding that men and children do it also. According to her, Trinidad and Tobago made the first step towards recognising the value of such work by deciding to measure it but no other country in the region has taken that step.

And it is not because of inaction on the part of social activists, she said, but rather a case of elected officials choosing to ignore it. Speaking with Stabroek News last month Andaiye pointed to the Beijing Platform for Action, which she said, speaks to the true value of unwaged work. She said there has to be a true measure for what it takes for a society to function and there is no better place to begin with than with women in the home.

Women, she opined, work the hardest in the country — many work more than 15 hours a day, some as much as 21 hours. The activist who is aligned to Red Thread and the International Women Count Network (ICWN), pointed to indigenous women as the group whose work is more intense since they do the same kind of work with far less tools and in many cases without the basics such as electricity.

“We will all pay a heavy cost for not paying attention to unwaged work,” Andaiye said, adding that what is needed is a fundamental alteration of the priorities that are set by leaders regionally and internationally.

She said that globally, the investment that goes into artillery should be diverted into human survival.

She made a clarification on the issue of women and unwaged work saying that there are hardly any women working solely as homemakers. Andaiye said everyone is “catching their hand” outside the home since surviving has become difficult. She said Guyanese women no longer shop, they ‘hunt’, until they find items they can afford to purchase.

Show some respect

The word housewife never quite registered in Baddeir’s mind so after a mild heart attack forced her to make a decision about going back to work or staying home full-time, she chose home and identifies herself as a ‘homemaker’. In the three years that she has changed careers, Baddeir said, society’s attitude towards her also changed.

“People who use to treat me with respect, look down on me when I say I am at home managing things as if I spend my time idling.

That is what bothers me and it is not going to change until those we put into office send the message they need to send about women who stay at home,” Baddeir stated.

Though she has been worshipped inside the home for the hours she puts in and the dedication that she shows, Baddeir felt society’s scorn over and over again. She said it is as if everyone has a problem with a woman who stays at home. Everyone except the women at Red Thread, who she said have been extremely good to her. She said Red Thread keeps her focused when it comes to why she is at home.

Baddeir has two young girls and out of concern for their education and that of her nieces and nephews, who live with her, she has decided to stick around and see that when they get home an elder is there. Her sister, who also shares the home, works and brings in the income.

Baddeir is tutor, mentor, study buddy, mother, aunt, cook, seamstress, physical trainer, in-house doctor, gardener, domestic and a host of other things, which she has no problem doing. She manages the income that comes in as far as budgeting goes and runs a pretty tight ship when it comes to the children.

Her appreciation, she said, is when the children come home everyday and say how much they love what she is doing. She said a report card with percentages in the nineties, which she gets often, is what keeps her going. That and the endless presents the children shower her with.

There are days when she is pampered and made not to do any work but those are rare. Baddeir pointed out that there are many women who do exactly what she does but their work goes unappreciated yet they continue to do it.

She said those women deserve far more recognition than she does.

Her day begins at 4.30 am and ends around 9.30 pm. She pointed out that no one can pay her for the time and effort she puts in but they can at least recognise how important it is and show some respect.

Recently Baddeir ventured outside the home and took a small business course. Though intimidated at first by the many “office-like people” she encountered in the group, she stuck with it and came out on top of the course.

She said a few insulted her initially because she was at home but all that quickly changed.

Baddeir said in many instances, there is not much difference between being at home and being in an office, except that the latter guarantees a salary.


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