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History This Week

In the last article the accession of Guyanese women to decision-making positions in the hierarchy of political parties, as Members of Parliament and ministers of Government since political independence was examined. The figures reveal that the numbers of women in all of the above mentioned areas have fluctuated over the period and are not in keeping with Guyana's international, regional and national commitments.

Among the reasons which have constrained more Guyanese women, like women worldwide, from achieving or even aspiring to positions of power and decision-making are the continued dichotomy of women's role: perceived as being in the private arena and men's in the public, lingering vestiges of patriarchy and cultural and religions attitudes. These are compounded by the negative impacts of globalization and structural adjustments on women, the double burden of work exacerbated by lack of relevant training, lack of funds for financing electoral campaigns and lack of support from other women.

In this article women in the local government system, the trade unions, the public service, and on public boards and commissions will be discussed.

Another source from which Members of Parliament are drawn is the local government system.

In 1980, when the regional system was introduced none of the ten regional chairmen was a woman. In 1985, 2 of eight were women; 1992-93, one of 10 was a woman. Since 1998 none of the 10 chairpersons of the Regional Democratic Council have been women. In respect of the Neighourhood Councils in 1998, 3 of 65 chairpersons were women; 1999-2000, 2 of 65; and 2001/2002 4 of 65 were women.

Before 1980, there were two women mayors of the municipality of Georgetown.

After the introduction of the regional system and the increase in municipalities two of five mayors have been women; 1985, 1 of 5; 1992-1998, 1 of 6. Since then

no woman has held the position of Mayor anywhere. There is a clear gender imbalance at all levels of the decision-making process.

Women also have a minor presence in the higher echelons of the Trade Union movement.

Olga Byrne served as President of the Guyana Teachers Union from 1961 to 1963 and 1968 to 1970 while Jean Persico was President from 1980 to 1986. In 1967, frustrated by the continued discrimination in the movement, a group of women Trade Unionists passed a resolution requesting that women be selected in equal numbers as men to attend Education Seminars and that the Women's Advisory Committee (WAC) be represented on the committee of the Critchlow Labour College.

Indeed the WAC, whose first leader was Ms. Vivienne Surrey was not given status as one of the standing committees of the TUC until 1969.

Three decades after that famous resolution a survey was conducted among 18 Trade Unions which showed that there were more men than women in seven of the Trade Unions, while women outnumbered men in 9 of the unions.

However, only 27% of them had women as presidents and in one union no woman had ever served in its hierarchy even though it was then almost fifty years old.

55% of them had women General-Secretaries, while 22% had a woman treasurer. Today women make up the majority in 16 trade unions.

One of these is the Public Service Union. No doubt because of its strength in the public sector which still dominates over 60% of the economy, its leadership continues to be dominated by men. However, a woman has been acting General Secretary for several years, but the appointment smacks more of tokenism than a serious attempt to include representative numbers of women in the union's hierarchy. It is ironic that the GTU with its 66% female membership briefly had a woman as president who has been replaced by a man. On the other hand, the change in certain sections of the work force, like that of the Post Office, from being predominantly men to predominantly women has led to two successive terms for women, as president of the GPTW union. Perhaps part of the reason for the insignificant penetration by women into the hierarchy of the Trade Union movement is that our potential women Trade Union leaders and women members are sending mixed messages. In the aforementioned survey, many of the factors listed at the beginning of this article were cited including the active hostility of men for women who competed for key positions in Trade Unions, and women themselves being less supportive of their female counterparts who competed for positions of leadership. There was also the inference that Guyanese women seem content to sit back and allow men to provide leadership for the Trade Union Movement. The Guyana Teachers Union is certainly going through a period of extreme militancy with constant confrontations with government. Did the 66% female membership of that union recently revert to a man as president because they believe or have been led to believe that only a man can lead them in this period of crisis?

The trends and figures from our public service predict how slim are the chances of many Guyanese women achieving high decision-making positions in government through a career in the civil service. At independence, the discriminatory practices with women not being permitted to enter the service as clerks but only as secretarial staff and women having to leave the service when they married were abolished.

However, thirty years after independence the trends indicated (1996-2000) that men outnumbered women 3:1 in the highest two salary bands. They also outnumbered women in the lowest salary bands.

But in the two highest bands where managers have decision-making power and are better remunerated the trend continues to move away from women i.e. from 1:3 in favour of men in 1996 to 1:5 in 2000. However, women are gaining parity with men in the lowest band. The most important civil servant in any ministry is the Permanent Secretary followed by the Deputy Permanent Secretary.

In Guyana's 2000 CEDAW report it is stated that in 1998/1999, 3 of 11 Permanent Secretaries were women, in 2000, 4 of 15 were women and 2001 to the present 4 of 18 are women. In the case of Deputy Permanent Secretaries between 1998-2000 2 of 14 were women and from 2001 to the present, 3 of 18 are women. Hence, despite the "feminization" of the civil service women might never reach the goal of 50%, much more dominate its highest levels of decision-making.

The composition of Committees and Commissions demonstrate both the continuing trend of male dominance in decision-making positions and female penetration of the hierarchy. The National Awards Committee was set up about the mid 1970's to make recommendations to government as to potential beneficiaries of national awards.

In 2002, only one of the seven members was a woman. At that time both the lone female member and the male secretary to the committee lamented the fact that so few women nominated women for national awards.

Guyanese women are therefore not even utilizing the limited opportunities to showcase influential Guyanese women and so promote them as potential decision-makers.

The Police and Teaching Service Commissions are constitutional bodies set up for hiring, promoting, disciplining, terminating and retiring persons in those professions.

In the Public and Teaching Service female employees are in the majority. Women also make up a significant minority in the police. Since 1998, there has been no woman on either the police or public service commission. Encouragingly, since 1998 the National Commission on the Rights of the Child has had up to 75% female membership. However, it must be remembered that while the decision makers in respect of activities and initiatives might be women, the all important financial resources needed to implement the initiatives rest firmly in the hands of men in the Ministry of Finance who tend to put on the back burner such initiatives unless they are donor sponsored and driven. The Teaching Service Commission since 1998 has had from 40% to 50% female membership but its president is invariably a man.

It is hoped that despite this the women can bring a proper gender perspective to bear on its deliberations. In keeping with its pledge while in opposition to reform the 1980 People's Constitution that it felt had been imposed by an illegitimate government, a Constitution Reform Com-mission (CRC) of 20 persons was set up by the present administration after its second victory at the polls in 1997. It included different stakeholders in the society, the four major political parties PPP/C (5 persons) the PNC (3 persons), The United Force and Working People's Alliance one person each.

Despite the pledges made by both major parties about ending discrimination against women, neither party saw fit to name a woman as a representative.

The only two women originally in the CRC were the representatives of the indigenous population and women's organizations. The two were later joined by one other from the ruling PPP/C after a male member withdrew. The Oversight Committee tasked with converting the submissions into constitutional amendments had no woman.

The conclusion to be drawn is that clearly there seems to be a lack of will on the part of the male-dominated decision-making hierarchy to implement changes which would increase women's numbers in the halls of power, and decision-making which may seriously threaten the bastions of male dominance.

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