‘What can you do for me?’

The courtship drama that plays out every five years in Guyana is in full swing. This is the time when politicians—much like how suitors seeking the favours of women promise the sun, moon and stars—outline plans to earn votes that range from the sublime to the downright impossible. It is well known too that a lot of this is window dressing as the entrenched voting along racial lines is still alive and well in Guyana, though there are always efforts to change this.

In an ideal situation, people should vote for the party that puts forward the best policies and programmes to develop the country. Every individual, every group has a cause or issue that is near and dear to his/her/its heart and should be motivated to cast his/her vote or lend his/her/its support for the party which best addresses this in its manifesto. In addition, citizens should follow through and hold that party’s feet to the fire if it deviates from the path it vowed to take without the express consent of its constituents.

In an article published in this week’s Sunday Stabroek, Joycelyn Bacchus, Joy Marcus, Halima Khan, Susan Collymore and Andaiye, all members of Red Thread and its network, Grassroots Women Across Race (GWAR), addressed the burning issue of the exploitation of domestic workers. Red Thread and GWAR have for years consistently lobbied for notice to be taken of this group of largely invisible workers many of whom work under horrific conditions. Many other women doing waged work – security guards, shop girls and store clerks – generally get short shrift from employers although a legislated (but grossly inconsiderate) minimum wage for them is in place.

The unfairness women face daily in the home, at work, through acts of violence perpetrated against them and lack of or poor protection offered by the security and justice systems is not now and has not in the past been a major election issue. When it is considered that women voters make up the larger part of the constituents politicians are trying to attract, this is more than passing strange. Or it would be in any other country. The only reason this situation is perpetuated here is because of the peculiarity of the Guyanese voter.

It is not inconceivable though, that Guyanese women can be motivated to be the change this country needs. Female voters ought to be asking those politicking up and down the country: ‘what can you do for me?’ and then voting based on the sincerity of the answer they receive, rather than for the person who looks more like them and this applies to gender as well.

Following the release of the UN’s ‘2011 – 2012 Women’s Progress Report – In Pursuit of Justice’, Newsweek magazine published a list of the best and worst places in the world to be a woman. Dissecting this list, feminist writer Naomi Wolf noted that in fact, it is not news. She pointed to the fact that development specialists and human rights groups have been calling attention to these inequities for years. Indeed, the report, ‘The State of the World’s Women’ published annually by the United Nations Population Fund has been highlighting these unchanging issues for years from different angles.

Wolf puts it in perspective when she writes: “When poor countries choose to oppress their own women, they are to some extent choosing their own continued poverty. Female oppression is a moral issue; but it also must be seen as a choice that countries make for short-term ‘cultural’ comfort, at the expense of long-term economic and social progress.

“It is not politically correct to attribute any share of very poor countries’ suffering to their own decisions. But it is condescending to refuse to hold many of them partly responsible for their own plight. Obviously, the legacy of colonialism – widespread hunger, illiteracy, lack of property or legal recourse, and vulnerability to state violence – is a major factor in their current poverty. But how can we blame that legacy while turning a blind eye to a kind of colonialism against women in these same countries’ private homes and public institutions?”

Wherever women have the democratic right to elect who governs them and their children, they ought to manifestly express it in a manner that says they are choosing to refuse to be part of their continued oppression. Are Guyanese women ready to step up to the plate?

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