Some of the awardees with Social Cohesion Minister Amna Ally at the International Women’s Day celebration on Tuesday at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre
International Women’s Day 2016
… President pledges to end “hereditary poverty”
As Guyana joins the world in celebrating International Women’s Day on Tuesday, some 54 Guyanese women were awarded for their stellar contribution to women’s empowerment in the country.
These women were selected from the 10 Administrative Regions of the country by the Social Protection Ministry. They were honoured during a commemorative ceremony held at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, Liliendaal, on Tuesday.
Addressing the female-dominated gathering, President David Granger said in order for women to be fully empowered, the cycle of hereditary poverty, among other cultural hurdles, needed to be broken.
Granger said the cycle of poverty was the greatest source of inequality. “This is so because poor mothers tend to produce poor children and poor children tend to produce poor children too,” he stated.
According to the President, in certain parts of the country that are poverty-stricken, the average age of grandmothers is 32, which means that more young women and teenagers are becoming mothers.
“What we see is a cycle of poverty that mothers who tend to get babies early in life – at 13 and 14 – they tend to set a pattern for their own daughters to get babies earlier in life… we have to break this vicious cycle of hereditary poverty. If there is inequality in society, the burden of poverty invariably, if not inevitably, will fall heavily on women,” he stated.
Against this backdrop, the Head of State pointed out a virtual cycle needed to be established whereby educated women, those with self-esteem and those who have developed themselves facilitate and provide the opportunities to empower others.
The President noted that in order to achieve this, there needed to be employment opportunities for young women and single mothers to earn for their families.
“We need to ensure that women can work for a living wage so that they can grow out of poverty. We need to ensure that there are jobs to help poor women to have sustainable incomes so that they have a better opportunity to exit from poverty,” Granger stressed.
He went on to outline that education was the gateway to employment, but noted that good employment could only be achieved if there was guaranteed equal access to education. According to the Head of State, there continues to be wide disparities in society particularly between the hinterland and the coastland with regard to the delivery of education.
To this end, President Granger pointed out that his “3Bs” (buses, bicycles and boats) initiative aimed at ensuring that transportation was provided so that every child could get to school safely and comfortably.
He added that “these disparities tend to exacerbate the problem of inequality … gender parity cannot be achieved in the absence of a more equal society”.
Moreover, the Head of State underscored that while Guyana has the necessary legislative framework to promote gender equality, it was necessary to enforce those regulations and conventions that the country has signed on to.
“The legal architecture cannot be faulted… We must, therefore, move from enactment of laws to enforcement of laws and change in attitude … The legislative architecture for gender equality is intact, what is not intact is the attitudinal and behavioural architecture,” the President said.
On this note, Granger urged that there be conversations on how the patriarchal cultural norm could be eliminated in Guyanese society, stating that “so many things are embedded in our culture, in our minds that legislation cannot change… It is something that we need to confront”.
Nevertheless, the Head of State is optimistic that Guyana can achieve the goal set out in this year’s theme for International Women’s Day – “Planet 50:50 by 2030 – Step it up for Gender Equality”.
In her remarks, Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence said that while Guyana had made significant inroads, with more women assuming leadership roles, undertaking entrepreneurial endeavours and featuring in decision-making positions, there were still many more challenges out there such as male chauvinism, discriminatory practices, sexual violence, abuse, human rights violations, denial of opportunities to work and be educated, non-recognition of labour in the home, and disrespect by men.
According to the Minister, in order to achieve gender equality and end discrimination and violence, there needs to be equal participation and opportunities in all spheres of life.
“Our respective Governments must pledge to make sound investments in gender parity through concrete and measurable strategies, activities and programmes that will dismantle some of the fundamental barriers that threaten our achievement of gender equality. We must commit to a future where women are equal, where individuals’ rights are not violated because of their sexual persuasions and orientations, where remuneration is fairly structured and access to resources is free of gender bias,” she stated.
Meanwhile, Guyana Times caught up with some of the excited awardees who registered some of the concerns and the vision they have for women’s empowerment in their respective regions.
Marilyn Thomas from Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) wants to see more skills-oriented initiatives to develop uneducated young women in her Region. “We have a lot of young uneducated women in the Region, so we need some programmes in Linden for them to be involved in activities (sewing, craft-making, cooking classes, etc) that will assist them,” she stated.
Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) Vice Chairman Nandranie Coonjah expressed the desire for equal rights for women in her Region. “I would like to see every woman in my Region, regardless of their status, have equal rights. They must be able to stand alongside their male folk and not be discriminated anywhere,” she remarked.
Fifteen-year-old youth leader Shoneta Tyrell from Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) wants more to be done to educate and empower women in her Region, especially since many of them face sexual harassment and are victims of human trafficking.
“You see a lot of young women being trafficked there and I feel for them; that’s why I resolved to not be like that and so this award is an empowerment symbol for me… I will use to help empower and educate other young girls in my community, I will show them that being an educated young woman means a lot,” she declared.