By Svetlana Marshall
WITH less than four days away from the highly-anticipated General and Regional Elections, First Lady Sandra Granger on Thursday made a strong case for the return of the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition, as she pointed to the significant strides made in safeguarding the rights of women and girls.
Addressing a multitude of supporters at the Parade Ground on Thursday during the APNU+AFC Women’s Rally, the First Lady, in the presence of her husband, President David Granger, and other senior functionaries in the ‘Coalition’, said that prior to 2015, women in Guyana were dismissed by the then PPP Government, even as they endured varying levels of domestic violence and suppression.
“You remember the cussing out? You remember how they threatened to slap us and strip our sister? You remember the lies and deceit?” the First Lady asked, as the thousands of women responded with a loud “Yes!” The person to whom she was referring was Dr. Bheri Ramsaran, who, while serving as Minister of Public Health under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration, verbally abused activist, Sherlina Nageer. He had threatened to slap her less than one month away from the May 2015 elections.
Mrs. Granger also criticised the PPP/C Administration’s “No-Child Left Behind” initiative. For her, such an initiative was a recipe for disaster in the education sector. The Automatic Promotion Policy, popularly called the “No child left behind” programme was promoted under the leadership of former Minister of Education Shaik Baksh, in a bid to correct what was said to be the adverse effects as a result of Grade Repetition initiative. However, the policy was rejected by the masses, educators in particular, who felt that if a child is not performing in a class, he or she must not be automatically allowed to move on to the next grade. Educators had explained that the policy created gaps, whereby a child is unable to successfully achieve the basics from an earlier grade, and is thus unable to build upon what it is he or she is supposed to know.
Mrs. Granger said that unlike the PPP/C Administration, the APNU+AFC Coalition respects women and children, and understands their needs. The First Lady said that with her husband at the helm of the government, women, men and children have been lifted out of poverty, a trend he intends to continue upon his re-election to office.
Mrs. Granger noted also that significant strides were made in the health sector in less than five years, even as she recalled the days when mothers had little or no choice but to ‘double-up’ on a single bed in the Maternity Ward of the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC).
“We have more water ambulances; we have people who are now able to go to their regional hospitals and get their tests done… We have improvements in our Mental Health Services, and over 90 per cent vaccination coverage, so that we no longer fear our children contracting polio, tetanus and tuberculosis,” she pointed out.
That aside, the First Lady challenged supporters to compare the steps taken by the past and current administration to foster gender equality. She said the record would show that the Granger Administration has put systems in place to foster gender equality. Reference was also made to the increase in Old Age Pension (OAP).
The Old Age Pension was increased on February 1. Additionally, in November 2019, the minimum basic salary in the public service climbed to $70,000 from $64,200. And between July 1, 2015 and January 1, 2019, the government increased the minimum wage by more than 76 per cent. The salaries and allowances of teachers and nurses have also been increased, she posited.
The APNU+AFC Government, the First Lady pointed out, too, has increased public assistance to vulnerable women and children. These women, she posited, have also been exposed to a range of entrepreneurial programmes, in a bid to increase their economic independence.
In the area of Education, Mrs. Granger said major emphasis has been placed on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and even robotics. The First Lady also noted that improvements have been seen in the areas of Public Infrastructure, Housing, Information Communication Technology (ICT), Public Services, Entrepreneurship and Youth.