MINISTRY OF SOCIAL PROTECTION SYMPOSIUM IN
CELEBRATION OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2017
“WOMEN IN THE CHANGING WORLD OF WORK: PLANET 50-50 BY 2030 –
BE BOLD FOR CHANGE – EQUALITY FOR WOMEN, PROGRESS FOR ALL.”
Georgetown, March 8, 2017
Members of the Head Table;
His Excellency the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana;
Honourable Ministers of Government;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I bid you Good morning and a Happy International Women’s Day.
I would like first of all thank the Honourable Amna Ally for her kind invitation to speak to you briefly on the topic of “Women and Development” at this Symposium which is being convened under the theme, “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030 – BE BOLD FOR CHANGE – Equality for Women, Progress for All.”
I have to admit that the term “Women and Development” took me back to my relative youth in the 1970s when the issue of Women and Development, or WAND as it was known then, was prevalent as it actively articulated the inclusion of women’s issues in development. Women fought for equal protection under the law and trained for and secured employment in non-traditional fields. They assumed an active role in the development of our country.
We have come a long way since then, but we are still far from the mountain top, here in Guyana.
No one can deny that some advances have been made. Women have for a long time, moved well beyond the traditional roles of daughter, wife and mother, cooking, cleaning, caring for the children, farming and so on. They have not abandoned those roles and today, women are visible in almost every sector of society. They play a vital role in the social, economic and political development of our country.
Women have also happily turned their skills to the world of work, where they function as executives, managers, administrative assistants, secretaries in offices; teachers and education administrators; doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical technicians; programmers, software engineers and troubleshooters in information and communication technology; as pilots, navigators and engineers in the aviation industry; as seamstresses and fashion and costume designers; as officers and enlisted women in our disciplined services. In the tourism and hospitality industry, they can be found in the traditional hotel and restaurant and in the ecotourism sectors. There is no holding us back.
The universal theme of this International Women’s Day, “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030,” recognises that we women make up a half of the world’s population. We make up a half of the global labour force. We represent 70 per cent of the global consumption demand…so we must be seen and our voices must be heard. The theme therefore calls for equal participation in the work place by 2030 and is coherent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goals 4, 5, 7, 10 and 16.
Women and girls comprise over 50 per cent of the population of Guyana. So we are, in a sense, ideally placed to demand equality.
The key to parity is education.
Our women and girl children must be given equal access to education at all levels in order to enter the work force and meaningfully participate in national development.
This means that a social net must be established so that the eldest girl child in a single parent household does not have to drop out of school to look after her siblings while her mother goes to work.
It means that teenage mothers can continue their schooling while they are pregnant and return to school after delivery to continue their education, without fear of stigma and discrimination. Our teachers and school administrators will need to suspend moral judgment and be trained to deal with these children in a sensitive way.
It means that technical and vocational education and training must be open to teenage mothers, and that they are provided with the support which they often desperately need to develop parenting and life skills and training to enter the world of work. In addition, sexual and reproductive health and rights must be taught in a sensitive way from early childhood.
The data prove that the higher the level of education of the mother, the less likely is the child to develop life- threatening diseases in early childhood. They also prove that economically empowered women lead economically empowered families.
Our women and girl children must know that they are protected by law from physical and psychological abuse. Our entire population, men and women, boys and girls, rural and urban, from the coastland and the hinterland must be made aware that gender-based violence will not be tolerated or trivialized. It is a criminal offence. It is no joke to be on the receiving end of such abuse.
Our women and girls who are trafficked for sex work or labour must know that the perpetrators will be brought to justice and that they will not only be forced to pay compensation to the victims, but will also be jailed for their crime. The victims must also know that they will receive the support they need to overcome their physical and psychological trauma.
The second part of the theme of this Symposium, “BE BOLD FOR CHANGE – Equality for Women, Progress for All” sums it up.
Be Bold. Women must continue to speak up for their rights. Statistics indicate that globally, only half of the women of working age are employed. Even so, they earn only about three-quarters as much as men, even when they have the same level of education and are in the same occupation. So we must demand equal pay for equal work.
We must continue to remain informed, active and engaged in the decision-making process so that decisions taken or projects implemented at the neighbourhood, regional or national levels reflect and protect our interests.
Women must not continue to accept the parameters established within which they should operate. Only last month, at the Service celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Women’s Army Corps of the Guyana Defence Force, I has cause to remark that while the GDF had created history in the Anglophone Caribbean by promoting a woman to the rank of Colonel, the glass ceiling remained very much in place since women officers were not selected for senior command and staff courses overseas or senior specialist training. This limited their field for ambition and prevented them from aspiring to the highest levels of command in our army.
Throughout history, women have proven that they can adapt and develop skills to suit their needs and their environment. Our history shows that our female ancestors – enslaved and indentured – confronted the challenge of living in a hostile environment and overcame adversity to help build the society we know today. We have proven that we are not squeamish when it comes to making the tough decisions and jumping into action.
Equal opportunity for women; equal access to education, health care and employment; equal protection under the law all redound to the benefit of our country.
A wise administration recognises that equality for women leads to the growth and development of the entire country.
It is through equality for us, who comprise 50.2 per cent of the population, that we can move towards gender parity so that our country will achieve the sustainable growth and development that it desires and it deserves.