Remarks By the Mrs Sita Nagamootoo Wife of the Prime Minister & First Vice President Of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL) Women’s Forum Theme | Women Empowerment GNNL Compound, Georgetown
Georgetown, Guyana, Saturday, December 9, 2017- Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day, and I welcomed this forum as opportune to deal with a basic human rights issue, which is the full empowerment of women.
Empowerment is the possession of authority and power to do something, within the context of one’s right and position. By being empowered one becomes stronger and confident.
Without being empowered, one feels a sense of powerlessness. This is not a comfortable feeling, nor an acceptable status especially when experienced by or imposed on women.
Unfortunately, through the centuries, women have been suppressed, and denied a role in decision-making in their own homes as well as in their communities.
Over the centuries, women suffered from backward practices, traditions and even unjust laws, but they never surrendered. I must say “we” instead of “they” because all of us are sisters in this struggle! We struggled as best as we could for our rights, and for empowerment.
Studies have shown that there are still countries which have gender-based legal restrictions on women’s employment. In some other countries women at the workplaces are insecure, unprotected and poorly paid; and are exploited both as workers and as women.
The fight for empowerment forms part of the movement for emancipation. It forms part of the fight for freedom from domestic slavery, from practices that locked women out from chosen occupation, from laws that barred women from voting and even from making decisions about our own body.
That fight started in the homes where women and girls have been imprisoned under the rule of male domination. It is there that we insisted on gender equality, and told our men that we were and continue to be, their equals.
In a way best understood by all, gender equality offers us an opportunity of sharing the responsibilities, the tasks, even the burdens, of our male counter-parts. We not only help to make decisions regarding our home and our children, but we are able to be economic partners in family planning, co-workers and co-managers in workplace organisations and a powerful social force in community development.
Empowerment means that women should become decision-makers and not the objects of decisions imposed on us.
Empowerment has been facilitated in modern societies when we chose to throw down the broom and to pick up books, to take up our rightful places side by side with men, at educational institutions and vocational centres.
Literacy and education therefore are instruments of empowerment. Education has empowered women to market themselves, and to compete effectively for jobs or placement in any economic unit.
Sisters, we have come a far way in the last century, more particularly since the revolution in the 60s and mid-70s for women liberation. My husband and I were so influenced by those struggles, that, we named our eldest daughter after Angela Davis, the outstanding American civil rights activist and symbol of universal sisterhood, after she was freed from imprisonment.
Today, we have shattered the glass ceiling in Guyana in many areas of women empowerment. We take pride that our women are occupying high posts such as the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Chief Justice, Chief Magistrate, Director of Public Prosecutions, Registrars of the Supreme Court and the Deeds Registry.
We also take pride over our women holding several portfolios as Ministers of Government and as Members of Parliament. There are other areas in education and medicine where are women are dominant as lecturers and teachers; doctors and nurses. We are holding key positions in the media as journalists, reporters and broadcasters, aren’t we?
We have here a good example of women empowerment and career mobility in Mrs Geeta Chandan – an attorney-at-law and former Magistrate – who is now Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (Chronicle).
So, the sky is the limit to what we can become, and dream of becoming, rather than being seen only as housewives and child-bearers.
However, because of the immense opportunity for wielding power, influence and control, the political arena remains a focal point of the struggle for greater empowerment of women. In India, I am informed, 33% of the seats in Parliament is reserved for women. When this is realized it would become a great fillip for women, as India is the world’s largest democracy.
Personally, I have been motivated by many examples from various parts of the world where women not only empowered themselves by their commitment, dedication and sacrifices but became models for succeeding generations. You too must choose your models, your mentors and guiding lights.
I refer to women such as Mother Teresa, who achieved Sainthood for her humanitarian work amongst the poor and powerless; to Florence Nightingale, who made nursing into such a structured and noble profession, to a girl, Malala Yousafzai, who survived death to emerge as symbol of education, as a means of women empowerment in societies where religious taboos prevent girls from attending school.
As she said in an interview:
“The important thing to note is that it is not important whether Malala was shot or not — Malala is not asking for personal favors or support. She is asking support for girls’ education and women’s rights. So don’t support Malala, support her campaign for girls’ education and women’s rights.”
I am sure there are several other names that come to your mind even as I speak of women who have challenged existing norms of society and have taken a proactive role in changing traditions and rewriting history. Surely, women empowerment is a reality; isn’t it?
We must learn from their examples and press on for eradication of social practices that affect gender equality and for improved laws to be enacted for the safety and protection of women.
But this must not be an effort to serve the upper or middle classes alone. We must promote empowerment among women at the grassroots, in rural, interior and riverain areas. Every effort through the state, the private sector, non-government organisations, and international donors and through self-empowerment should be used to assure women employment and training opportunities. Facilities should be provided in all parts of Guyana to help our women maintain good physical and emotional health, and benefit from cultural and sports activities.
I believe that an integrated, all-round education and social exposure are necessary for women to manage the powers that are thrust upon them. This brings me to the urgent need for women to be active on social media. This is a huge arena today for the promotion of women’s causes and to change public perception of and even reverse negative stereotyping of women.
To the women in the media, I say that you have a challenging task of helping to counter the negative perceptions. What is there in the court trial of accused murderers, bandits and rapists that is more appealing than the lives of working women? These women have positive stories to tell and to share. I think that a better focus ought to be on the creative minds and the productive hands.
The photos of women in the fields and at work places as they try to empower themselves, are worth a million photos of the rogues on trial or on their way to jail. Too much coverage, I believe, goes to those who use their minds to plan and their hands to do, criminal acts.
I am very hopeful for our women over their place and role in our society. We are encouraged that our country today has leaders who are family oriented, and who themselves embrace gender equality and actually promote women’s empowerment.
With such support, women ought to push for greater role in investment, in business. Our Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, I am sure, would be pleased to encourage women in e-business, and in the application of new communication technology for trade. For this, women must strive for equal access to ownership of productive assets and resources.
I am encouraged when I read about the activities of our women in gold mining, and I hope that their success as entrepreneurs in what had been considered a man’s world, would gear them for a bigger role when Guyana starts production of oil and gas.
Our leaders have said that Guyana will not be dependent on oil and gas but in the context of a Green Economy, greater emphasis would be placed on agriculture. If women and men have the equal access to land and markets, I am sure that we could develop more women’s farms. And who is better endowed to provide food for our children and for exports than our women, who are also mothers?
So, my friends, women empowerment through gender equality is not an illusive goal. We must not only talk about this, but should make every day an occasion to celebrate some gains made by our women.