Women's Issues In Guyana


Not too much to ask

Posted in Activism,Gender Equality by wiig on March 15, 2008
Tags: , , ,

Stabroek News – March 15, 2008

Superwoman is alive and well, overworked, underpaid and mostly unappreciated and she should not expect her circumstances to change. That is basically what emerged from a series of interviews done on women and unwaged work and published in a report in this newspaper on International Women’s Day, last Saturday under the headline ‘Women still pressing for recognition of unwaged work’. The key words, of course, being ‘still pressing’ as this has been ongoing for more than a decade, maybe even two decades.

Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir was interviewed for the report and his response was uncharacteristically unpolitician-like. He admitted that unwaged work “deserved more than the usual recognition it earns in the home,” but said that was not about to happen any time soon. He urged the persons doing unpaid work to continue pressing for recognition stating that the day will come “when the society, particularly elected officials will come out and speak to the importance of their contributions”.

The article focused mainly on one woman, no doubt representative of many, who had made the choice some years ago to stop working outside the home and now works full-time in the home earning nothing but the gratitude of her family. She opined that if all the women like her were to go on strike it would do serious damage to the economy. Minister Nadir concurred without even hearing her comments – he said the economy was able to run smoothly because of the contributions of unpaid homemakers. So at least one elected official has already spoken publicly of the importance of the work homemakers do.

Social activist Andaiye also made the link advocating yet again for unwaged work to be measured, valued and recognised because it is “the foundation of the economy”. And she was the one who spoke albeit indirectly of the superwomen in Guyana.

Stating that women worked the hardest in the country, some more than 15 hours a day, others as much as 21 hours a day, she noted that there were very few women working solely as homemakers, since everyone was “catching their hand” outside the home as survival had become difficult. What she failed to add was that many of these superwomen, most of them single parents, were also “catching their tail” trying to make ends meet. Many work eight or 12 more hours a day for meagre wages and then work another six or eight hours at home for nothing.

During his interview with this newspaper, Minister Nadir said, “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.” He is so wrong. Thousands of Guyanese women do it every single day and have been doing it for years. And on the days when they don’t have to go to their paid jobs, they do double shifts at home. At holiday time, particularly at Christmas, they do triple. And to add to it they are all now expected to become financial wizards, as Guyanese children used to sing, “to try to make a dollar out of 15 cents”.

Mr Nadir also said that while government could consider paying persons who do unwaged work, the money could only possibly come from taxing the workforce, which would put further strain on unwaged workers. Surely, though, publicly measuring, valuing and recognising unwaged work, which he readily admits is vital, is not too much to ask.

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