By Rehana Ahamad
GUYANA’S First Lady, Mrs. Arya Ali, is seemingly unafraid to challenge the status quo in pursuit of legislative changes aimed at further improving the lives of women and girls throughout the country. Albeit bold, Mrs. Ali is embarking on a mission to make sanitary napkins free in Guyana. “Even if it is just for free distribution in schools, by way of vending machines or so,” she posited. During her first newspaper interview, the First Lady joined millions of women all across the world in questioning the rationale behind the free distribution of condoms, as opposed to tampons and sanitary napkins. “Sex is a choice; your menstrual cycle is not,” she emphasised.
In outlining her Office’s 2021 plans, Mrs. Ali said that her team is currently seeking legal advice on the way forward with the initiative. “It is something we are brainstorming, and something that I really feel should happen; I’m hoping that it would…I want the Government to see the need for it,” she said.
Such an ambitious endeavor highlights a diversion from the norm that surrounds the First Lady’s office dealing with softer social issues. However, should Mrs. Ali have her way and be successful in convincing the policymakers of the need for free pads, Guyana could possibly become the second country in the world to eliminate “period poverty”.
Last year, Scotland became the first to provide free sanitary products to women and girls in the country. For centuries, “period poverty” has forced women in all parts of the world to use a series of unhygienic substitutes for tampons and pads, stemming from rags and old cloths, to even socks.
Nonetheless, as a short-term remedy to the challenges faced by women and girls in Guyana’s rural communities, First Lady Ali will be hosting fundraisers to finance her ‘Hinterland Menstrual Hygiene Initiative’ which seeks to supply women and girls in hinterland communities with much-needed sanitary napkins and other period supplies. The first fundraiser is expected to be hosted in March. “I want it to be a sustainable initiative, so we are going to make it annual; I am hoping to do three events per year,” Mrs. Ali noted.
Even though she has been in office for just a few months, First Lady Ali has a number of other significant projects running concurrently, including the ‘Adopt an Orphanage’ initiative, an ‘InclusAbility’ programme, and the National Beautification Project.
ADOPT AN ORPHANAGE
According to Mrs. Ali, the ‘Adopt an Orphanage’ initiative has already gained momentum, with a number of businesses already signalling their intention to provide funding for orphanages throughout Guyana.
“I am currently asking businesses to adopt an orphanage for at least six months to a year. We are not asking these businesses for meals, because many times you go to the orphanages and they are overbooked…what we are asking businesses to do is cover the overhead expenses for these orphanages,” Mrs. Ali explained.
She said that these expenses would cover utility and security payments, as well as maintenance of a miscellaneous fund which would serve as a cushion for emergencies experienced by these benevolent agencies. “Let’s just say, for instance, one child gets ill; this fund would cover the doctor’s consultation fees, medication, etc.,” Ali posited.
The First Lady also provided an update on her programme called InclusAbility – a term specifically coined to promote the comprehensive inclusion of Persons With Disabilities (PWD), beginning with their integration into the local labour force. “We want to provide that space for persons with disabilities to feel included and be independent…to be able to go to their nine-to-five jobs and go home and be able to contribute to their households,” Mrs. Ali told the Guyana Chronicle.
InclusAbility, as crafted by the Office of the First Lady, intends to provide hassle-free linkages between companies with vacancies and suitably qualified persons with disabilities. “We already have a registry of persons; we have their capabilities and their disabilities,” Mrs. Ali noted.
She expressed satisfaction with regard to the high levels of qualifications possessed by persons contained in the registry, as well as the admirable commitment exhibited by corporate Guyana thus far. “We are currently working on them signing the MoUs, (Memorandum of Understanding), commencing as early as next week.”
NATIONAL BEAUTIFICATION PROJECT
With a passion for showcasing Guyana’s beauty to the world, First Lady Ali is pushing ahead with the components of her National Beautification Project which has already resulted in a notable facelift of the Kitty Seawall – one of Guyana’s most distinct attractions. But, this is just the tip of that iceberg, as the most iconic aspect of the project would entail the establishment of ‘Green Spaces’ within each administrative region, commencing with the community of Tuschen, East Bank Essequibo. “I want that to be our pilot project; like a model community,” the First Lady indicated. She explained that this project would see the crafting of an eco-friendly community park which will provide ample spaces for recreation among all age groups, while promoting conservation, and maintaining a scenic environment that captures all the distinct characteristics of Guyana’s architecture – urban and rural.
Once the Tuschen aspect of the project concludes, the neighbourhood will also boast of a multipurpose building which provides spaces for a tutoring corner, and cultural activities among other things.
“I want to also make sure that our elderly are catered for…that they have a space to host their activities and keep interactive; we want them to feel appreciated for all that they have done,” Mrs. Ali said. In addition to the Seawall and Tuschen Housing Scheme, works are also ongoing at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, and West Ruimveldt community. The project will also see the introduction of a five-year national tree (and mangrove) planting exercise targeting available public spaces countrywide.
Additionally, First Lady Ali is also partnering with the Ministry of Public Service as well as a few non-profit organisations to provide training for 15 vulnerable women. The training would be done at the iconic Carnegie School of Home Economics. “We should be starting with that very soon,” she posited.
The young Arya Ali aspires to utilise her office and title as First Lady to stimulate positive development and positive changes throughout Guyana, especially within vulnerable communities. She is hopeful that the benefits of her projects would begin to manifest before the end of the year.