MINISTER of Human Services and Social Security, Ms. Priya Manickchand yesterday mounted a portrait of one of Buxton’s daughters, Mrs. Winifred Ivy Gaskin, in the street that bears her name in the East Coast Demerara village.
It was done in the context of International Women’s Day which was celebrated internationally last March 8.
At the ceremony, Manickchand spoke highly of Gaskin, who served Guyana as an educator, journalist, women’s activist and politician.
Describing Gaskin as “a good-looking daughter of Buxton”, the minister said: “We could never, really, say thank you in a page to someone like this. This is a lady who started her life in a place where women were just things. We were just beings, we were good enough to look after the home, procreate and conceive babies and grow them up.”
Agreeing that those activities remain important, Manickchand recalled that, in Gaskin’s time, that was all women were good for.
But the minister declared: “Women are capable of being all that men can be. When women attain equality, then everyone benefits.”
About Gaskin and other such women, Manickchand said they left society with things to celebrate today and added: “We must work to protect the gains we have made as a country and ensure that they are never stolen from us.”
She challenged those present, including Chairman of Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica), Mr. Clement Corlette; Member of Parliament (MP), Ms. Cheryl Sampson and others, as well as Buxton residents, to ensure that they make each day count, so that they could leave a legacy of which their country and children can be proud.
“I ask that you use your influence in the home to educate your children about the women who came before us and how necessary it is for children to play their part,” Manickchand appealed.
Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at University of Guyana (UG), Mrs. Barbra Thomas-Holder said Gaskin was born a ‘Buxtonian’ on May 10, 1916 and proved herself to be a remarkable woman of substance.
She said Gaskin’s academic, public service and political careers featured prominently among Guyanese, with exceptional contributions to the development of women and the country and her first job was with the postal service, where controversy arose not only because of the colour of her skin but also because she was a woman.
“This discriminatory reaction probably propelled her (Gaskin) to dedicate her life towards the cause of women,” Thomas-Holder speculated.
She related that Gaskin joined the British Guyana Women’s League of Social Services to ensure that organisations focused on their development in traditional and non-traditional areas and also worked along with political stalwarts like Janet Jagan, Forbes Burnham and Jessica Huntley.
Thomas-Holder said Gaskin was a founder member of the Women’s Political and Economic Organisation in 1946 and worked, tirelessly, to improve conditions for Guyanese women.
She said, on June 30, 1946, Gaskin penned a letter in the Daily Chronicle newspaper, exhorting women not to be satisfied with their lot but to advocate for social and political changes.
Thomas-Holder said Gaskin was a member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) when it was formed in 1953 but left Guyana, soon after, on a scholarship and worked with the London Times. In 1957, she became a founder member of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and was the first woman to be elected as the Party Chairman, which motivated the other female members to seek higher offices.
The narrator said that in 1964, she was appointed Minister of Education, Youth, Race Relations and Community Development, in the PNC/ United Force coalition Government.
The narrative said Gaskin was the first black woman cabinet minister in the history of Guyana, its first High Commissioner to the Commonwealth Caribbean, resident in Jamaica in 1968. She was awarded the Order of Distinction of Jamaica for her distinguished services.
Thomas-Holder said, when she died in 1977, Gaskin was Head of the Foreign Affairs and Economic Desk at the PNC Headquarters, Congress Place, Sophia, in Georgetown.
Information Resources Manager at the Human Services Ministry, Ms. Yvonne Stephenson said history has not been kind to women and most of their deeds have not been documented.
Alluding to the origin of International Women’s Day, she said it had its beginning in the activities of a group of ordinary women who worked in a garment factory in New York but protested their long hours of work, poor working conditions, unfair wages and were even chased off the streets and beaten, at times.
“They lit a flame because this movement went on to other States and it, soon, spread to women across the world over,” Stephenson related.
She said, locally, this year makes at least 40 years since International Women’s Day has been celebrated.