The following is a statement issued by the Women’s Progressive Organisation (WPO) on its 70th anniversary:
SEVENTY years ago on May 27, 1953, the Women’s Progressive Organisation (WPO) was formed, catering to the socio-economic and political needs of women, while Guyana was still under colonial rule.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was successful in its struggle for Universal Adult Suffrage, whereby Guyanese were allowed to vote for the government of their choice on April 27, 1953, irrespective of their education or economic status.
According to veteran trade unionist and one of the four founding members of the PPP, Ashton Chase, in his publication titled “133 Days towards Freedom in Guyana: “This day will remain evergreen in the memory of many of us. On this day, several thousands of Guianese quietly, but resolutely, struck a fierce blow at the forces of imperialism.
“In a clear and decisive manner, the people expressed confidence in the People’s Progressive Party. They elected us, because of the militant stand which our party has taken on matters affecting the working class. Our party was strong and its unity unshakeable. We had brought together for the first time politically, the two major racial groups in this country, the people of Indian and African origins. Above all, we presented a dynamic programme.”
Another important factor is that in August 1944, Mrs Janet Jagan had taken up issues of women in a letter to the Daily Argosy in which she called on women to come forward and participate in the affairs of the country, which led to the formation of the Women’s Political and Economic Organisation in 1946, the precursor of the WPO.
It was no surprise that three women were elected to the Legislative Council in 1953 when the PPP won 18 out of 24 seats. Even more significant was that one of the three women, Mrs Janet Jagan, was elected Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Council, the first woman in the world to hold such a position at that time.
One month after that decisive electoral victory in 1953, the WPO was formed on May 27 by Jessica Huntley, Jane Philips Gay, Janet Jagan and Ms Auckland.
Its mission statement was: “The WPO stands for a better educated woman who can bring up her children in surroundings of security; it stands for the raising of our living standards and it stands for peace and friendship among the peoples of the world and for the ultimate liberation of our women from colonialism and poverty.”
The journey of the WPO has been fraught with many challenges, in which our leaders had to endure imprisonment, their civil liberties taken away, they faced persecution and harassment but that did not deter them from the mission they undertook.
Some 70 years ago, three women were elected to the Legislative Council and 70 years later, 38 per cent of women are members of the National Assembly of Guyana. We have come a far way and we remain hopeful that the commitment taken in the Sustainable Development Goal #7 will be attained by 2030, when 50/50 will become a reality.
In this regard, the WPO wishes to acknowledge our leaders, both present and past, from the two major parties who have recognised the necessity of involving women as partners in the development trajectory of our country. More so, the 2001 revised constitution included one third of women on the list of candidates of any party contesting elections in Guyana.
We wish to thank our past and present leaders and membership of the WPO for their sterling contributions and volunteerism in undertaking tasks without expecting rewards.
As we observe the 70th anniversary of the WPO, we do so against a backdrop of Guyana having once been described as one of the most highly indebted and poorest countries in the region, now at the cusp of unprecedented growth and development with the finding of oil and gas.
The hopes and aspirations of our young and dynamic nationalist leaders in the past were not in vain. Our nation will rise even higher, where all Guyanese will be able to say with pride that we are “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”
The “One Guyana” vision as coined by our President, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, will become a reality and as Guyanese, we must all work harder to make this a reality. There is enough space to accommodate the tapestry of colours.
Let us accelerate the journey of peace, progress and prosperity for all the people of our beautiful motherland. May WPO continue to grow and provide leadership to the next generation of girls and women who aspires to reach the sky.”