GUYANA today joins the rest of the world in observing the United Nations (UN) International Women’s Day being held under the theme “The Time is Now: Rural and Urban activists transforming women’s lives,” is a call for sustained support of those who lead the struggle for women’s full empowerment.
Rightfully, some will argue that every day is ‘women’s day’, given the multiple roles women play in the development of family and society. Secretary-General (SG) of the United Nations Antonio Guterres,
in his message this year observed that we are at a pivotal moment for women’s rights, noting that the historical and structural inequalities that have allowed oppression and discrimination to flourish are being exposed like never before. He said from Latin America to Europe to Asia, on social media, on film sets, on the factory floor and in the streets, women are calling for lasting change and zero tolerance for sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination of all kinds.
Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world, the UN SG said. He said too that activism and advocacy of generations of women have borne fruit. “There are more girls in school than ever before; more women are doing paid work and in senior roles in the private sector, academia, politics and in international organisations, including the United Nations. Gender equality is enshrined in countless laws, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage have been outlawed in many countries. But serious obstacles remain if we are to address the historic power imbalances that underpin discrimination and exploitation.”
Ours has been a history, or ‘her-story’, of gender inequality. This is in large part informed by the unscientific belief of a woman’s capability, or her ‘knowing her place,’ and where remnants of a patriarchal society remain. This is not to say that efforts have not been made, with measurable success over the years, to topple these beliefs. What this historical fact is saying is that there remains work to be done, not only in toppling more barriers, but in ensuring that those that have been toppled remain toppled.
Where laws guaranteeing women’s rights as seen in the Women and Gender Equality Commission and List of Representatives, these are floor standards set, which ought not to be practised in the breach. Equality requires strengthening and deepening of these foundations, the creation and implementation of policies and programmes that will secure women’s rights in every sphere of desired participation.
Where sexual harassment and abuse continue to be present in the workplaces, homes, and on the streets, stamping these out must also allow for anonymous reports to be made and investigated, and for perpetrators to be dealt with condignly. No woman must be made to feel that the transgressing of her right to choose her partner/mate is a precondition to securing and maintaining employment or certain positions. This nation faces a critical situation of single-parent, working, female-headed households.
It matters not how such circumstances are created, but what can be done at a social level to ensure that the care of unattended children should be pursued. The story of a female security guard returning home to a house destroyed by fire and children lost in the fire is heart-rending. The time has come when childcare (day and night) and child-friendly work environments should become national and corporate priorities. Whereas some societies have legally stipulated ages when children can be left alone or in the care of another, our small, communal society may, in addition to looking at the feasibility of such a law, conduct national conversations on the importance of the extended family structure in addressing childcare and safety issues.
Guyana, as a member of the UN, has an obligation to work to ensure that there is sustained support of those who lead the struggle for women’s full empowerment. More importantly, women are encouraged to ensure that this is achieved through their involvement in shaping the nation’s social, economic, political and cultural development.