AS IS the case with most places around the world, Guyana has had a long history when it comes to women’s rights and protection.
Despite the tremendous roles in shaping the country we have been playing, both before and throughout our 50 years as an independent nation, we are often relegated to the back burner, as our roles are only considered in their relationship to certain great men.
Just take a look at Patricia Rodney and former President Janet Jagan: Phenomenal women by themselves, but they are mostly known as the wives of Walter Rodney and Cheddi Jagan.
There seems to be an almost systemic lack of representation and awareness of women, in not only our history books, but in our school curriculum and oral history.
Have you ever heard of Cecile Nobrega? If you answered “yes” to that question, then you are part of a minority.
Cecile was a Guyanese-born teacher and playwright, who spearheaded a 15-year campaign for England to have its first black public monument.
We have women such as Justice Desiree Bernard, the first woman to become Chief Justice in Guyana, and also the first woman to serve on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), but, chances are that her name is not one that is well known.
One may ask why we even need to be aware, not realising how the lack of female representations and their importance in society feeds the belief that the role of women in the country’s development was negligible, and as such are not as important as men’s.
A SORE ISSUE
This has always been a sore spot for me. Studying Caribbean History and only coming across the names of women who were instrumental to our being colonised and the names of the brave men and rebels often had me wondering whether women cannot be brave too.
Today is International Women’s Day, and for some reason, this year the day seems even more important to me. I guess it is because I have become more aware of the subtle, and not so subtle challenges us women still continue to face in the 21st Century.
We still live in a society where men still have too much say over who a woman is; who she can be; and what she can do.
We are still being burdened with unpaid domestic labour, violence against our bodies, and lack of access to reproductive health care.
Often, we look towards those in power to help champion our causes, but the sooner we realise that the powerful are not necessarily there to help us, the sooner we can begin movement, building and championing our own causes.
There are many ways we can do this; as long as our voices are heard and our actions follow through are the important things.
I have never been a fan of marches; I look at them and I wonder what exactly a march or rally is really supposed to fix. I am still not entirely bought over by the concept of marches, despite organising one, but I know that they are often good avenues to give a stronger voice to those who aren’t being listened to, and to show the people’s concerns regarding certain issues.
‘MARCH FOR GIRLS’
This Saturday, March 11, at 13:00hrs, the Student Society Against Human Rights Violations (SAHRV), of which I am a co-founder, will be hosting its first march called, “A March for Girls”, in observance of International Women’s Day to bring attention to how far we have come, and how far we still need to go.
We were inspired by the #lifeinleggings movement that was started in Barbados by Ronelle King, and the movement has bravely brought the issue of street harassment of women into the spotlight, and demonstrated that there is an audience for fighting back, given the spread of the hash tag from Barbados to other nations throughout CARICOM.
The march takes place in eight CARICOM countries, and SAHRV is the organiser for the local leg of the march. The march begins at Stabroek Market Square, and ends at the Square of the Revolution (Cuffy.) It is intended to bring attention to the scourge of sexual abuse and violence against women and children, but will also serve as a platform for survivors to share their stories, and tell us what it is we can collectively do to adequately dent the number of persons being abused each year.
The march will also serve as a platform for other issues, such as LGBT rights; legalisation of sex work; free, safe and easily accessible Reproductive Healthcare for all; and comprehensive sex education in schools, as these are all inter-connected issues that contribute to the culture of violence we have here.
We encourage all Guyanese women and allies in the struggle for equality to attend the march, and bring your ideas for building a sustained movement for Women’s Rights.
While our individual voices are needed in the movement, there is power in collective dissent.