WOMEN form the majority of consumers in the world and in every country they are the ones who, either directly or indirectly, make the purchases from the shops or who provide the services of distribution. They are as important to the economic progress and well-being of society as men.
If their rights and aspirations are not protected and given unfettered expression, a violation of Human Rights would have been committed and society as a whole suffers. Last Wednesday, 8th March, International Women’s Day was commemorated world-wide and the Guyana Consumers Association was involved in activities marking the Day.
Several local commentators have treated International Women’s Day as if its raison d’etre was a laudato on the achievements of certain women. UN Secretary General Antonio Gutterres’ message captures the meaning of the Day and gives a graphic picture of the harsh reality of the conditions of women and what action must be taken to bring justice and equilibrium to their plight.
Mr Gutterres begins his message with the telling words: “Women’s rights are Human rights. But in these troubled times, as our world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed. Empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential.”
In Guyana, as in other countries, there have been historic imbalances in power relations between men and women and whenever there are economic difficulties or social tensions, these imbalances and discrimination tend to be strengthened and emphasized.
Women’s rights over their own bodies are questioned and undermined and this has led to sexual harassment at workplaces and elsewhere. Many males assume that they could easily intimidate women and do this as an automatic reaction.
The issue of domestic violence is related to the male attitudes mentioned above and has little relationship to the explanations of it usually given such as poor economic conditions and unemployment. These various explanations, in most cases, tend to be apologies.
The immediate solution to such violence is straightforward – men found guilty of perpetrating such violence should be severely punished. And secondly, if women are rescued, some kind of employment should be found for them so that they could sustain themselves.
Gender inequalities invariably lead to a distorted economy. If as many women as men were employed, the economy would experience greater growth. Such women’s employment must go beyond homemakers and domestic service and must include fuller participation in the mainstream labour force.
Finally, it is necessary that women be made to hold real leadership positions in economic life as well as in Government. Having numbers of women as members of Company Boards or as Ministers of Government is really meaningless except such women could wield real authority and power.
In Guyana, real power still almost always resides with men.
Male chauvinism is an almost atavistic feeling among men who generally do not understand how such feeling directs their actions. So although a man may be advocating women’s empowerment with sincerity, his actions often turn out to be the reverse. Men who believe in women’s empowerment therefore always have to guard against feelings of male chauvinism.
Except for extremists and terrorists whose ideologies are built around the subjugation and oppression of women, all mainstream 21st century opinion accept that greater empowerment of women would lead to greater economic growth and the expansion and strengthening of Human Rights in society.
A few of the ways in which this laudable aspiration could be achieved are: Biblical references to women as for example Eve or Delilah who always seem to have a streak of evil and weakness must be explained in keeping with the higher moral teachings of the Judaic religions. In the Hindu Tradition, the problem is not as acute as most of the important manifestations of the Godhead such as Lakshmi or Saraswati are in the female form.
The Education System at both the Primary and Secondary levels and the Teacher’s Training College need to have modules in their curricula where the empowerment of women is dealt with. And finally, more specific mention needs to be made in the Law of Women’s rights.
Before we conclude this offering, we would like to mention that some educationists have been pointing out that there are more girls at school than boys and in many of the professions female representation is greater than male and there is serious fear of a male backlash.
Though these facts are true, it would be a very long time before women’s empowerment is achieved and adjustments will take place during this process.