By Ravin Singh
In a country which is yet to decriminalise same sex relations, the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender community has faced numerous social issues, which need sustainable solutions, Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence has said. The view was expressed by the Minister at a Women’s Empowerment cocktail reception held last week to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) 2016. The event was hosted by the British High Commission in collaboration with Red Thread, Guyanese Women Roundtable (GWR), Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).
Over the last few years, the push for gender equality has intensified with numerous grassroot organisations pushing for women empowerment.
And relative to Guyana, the Minister noted that gender inequality continues to rear its “ugly head” in different forms. She referenced the fact that women are often discriminated against in terms of accessing employment and equal remuneration, while groups such as the LGBT community are stigmatised and ostracised, because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The rights of these persons, according to her, are denied in working environments and their ability to access educational pursuits.
“In this era of global progress, we can’t afford to remain caught in the traps of traditional mind-sets, shunning and deeming LGBT persons as outcasts in our society. We have to wake up to the realisation that these are human beings whose human, political and social rights are being violated,” Minister Lawrence said.
Admittedly, she opined that Guyana has failed as a society, to take the necessary steps to make the shift towards acceptance of these individuals. And although there is a shortcoming in respecting the rights of these persons, she posited that it is critical for sustainable solutions to be found to address this.
And while the onus is not only on the Government to ensure that a culture of tolerance is fostered, the minister noted that all Guyanese must commit to changing the perception of these individuals.
Simultaneously, the Government will continue in its strides to promote acceptance of these individuals since one cannot pretend that this group is non-existent.
“In our workplaces, in our institutions, we have to embrace these individuals and use their potential and skills for the benefit of economic, social and political progress. We must accord them the same process of inclusion, recognition and upward mobility, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” the Minister told the attendees.
And this can be achieved by spreading awareness in the working environments, she said, adding that “we have to rally for a change in attitude.”
The message of tolerance too, and the removal of gender bias is needed for transforming thoughts and words into positive actions, the minister noted. To this end, she committed on behalf of the Government, to prioritising gender equality and women’s empowerment, and supporting all organisations that are involved in the struggle for gender parity.
And while the Government will support groups pushing for gender parity, (ag) British High Commissioner Ron Rimmer issued a call to action for accelerating this process, which he said the United Kingdom is fully committed to supporting.
Further, he urged the gathering to ensure that the rights of females of all ages are realised. “Each of us can assist within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender equality; pledge to take concrete steps to help achieve gender equality more quickly; take action to collectively help women advance equal to their numbers and realise the limitless potential they can offer,” he said.
And according to him, this can be done by helping women and girls achieve their ambitions, calling for gender-balanced leadership, respecting and valuing difference, developing more inclusive and flexible cultures and rooting out workplace bias.
Featured as a guest speaker at the event was Attorney-at-Law Patricia Bacchus who chronicled her experience as a young woman working in the male-dominated corporate sphere and the many occurrences of gender bias she was faced with. Many of these, she said, were manifested through curious glances, unwarranted comments about her appearance and belittling her intelligence.
“Oddly, the preconceptions on gender roles were also manifested by women – many of whom would ask me when I would take a break or slow things down to find a good husband and make some babies,” she revealed.
And while she was equipped mentally to ignore these remarks, Bacchus noted that the times are changing and she believes that the opportunity must be taken to correct these episodes of gender bias.
She offered too that some of the specific initiatives she thought Guyana should focus on as a country working towards gender equality include ensuring equal opportunity employment policies in both the private and public sectors; adhering to policies regarding equal pay for equal work; revisiting the industry opportunities for women, and ensure access to opportunities outside of the conventional realms of teaching, nursing, security services, garment assembly and domestic work; and written policies by both private and public sector employers, regarding equal opportunity and non-discrimination.