Politics and gender

A president chooses his own cabinet, or at least he should. Ideally, the persons who make up the cabinet should be selected on the basis of their knowledge, skills, experience and judgement in the area where they are being placed. In the ideal situation, too, the president, while still a presidential candidate, picks the persons he thinks could best carry forward his vision for the country.

An astute candidate, would, while still in election mode, have his picks vetted, as in these times knowledge and skill in a cabinet member are just as important as character and being above reproach, unless of course you happen to live in Guyana. In this part of the world, the perception is that some cabinet appointments are made to repay favours done by party loyalists and others who may have been instrumental during the president’s campaign. Unfortunately, when this happens, suitability and qualifications go out the window.

With the conclusion of elections and his swearing in, President Donald Ramotar moved to the business of setting up his cabinet, after which his party, the PPP/C, released its list of parliamentarians. A look at Mr Ramotar’s cabinet would suggest that he is an advocate of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. He has kept the same five women who were in the previous cabinet – Mrs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, Ms Priya Manickchand, Mrs Pauline Sukhai, Dr Jennifer Westford, and Miss Jennifer Webster. Three of them—Mrs Rodrigues-Birkett, Mrs Sukhai and Dr Westford—have retained their old posts. But then the equation goes awry. Ms Webster, a professional accountant, was shuffled from the junior ministerial position she held at the Ministry of Finance and placed at the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, while Ms Manickchand was shifted to head the Education Ministry.

Ms Webster’s qualifications and experience indicate that she should be at the Finance Ministry. Surely her faux pas with the price of the OLPF computers in Parliament is not responsible for this shift?

It goes without saying that a ministry as sensitive as the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security requires a minister who is what the French call empathique. As someone who is on the ball where figures are concerned, Ms Webster is, as yet, an unknown quantity in this area. Ms Manickchand, on the other hand, despite some missteps, has the kind of empathetic personality required. She demonstrated heart and had her hand on the pulse where women and children’s issues were concerned. It is hoped that she will take this same approach to her new portfolio. Heaven knows the Education Ministry is broke.

In Parliament, the five women ministers and four other women—Mrs Bibi Shadick, Mrs Indranie Chandarpal, Dr Vindhya Persaud and Ms Gail Teixeira—make up the female quota of nine of the PPP/C’s 32 seats. One more woman would have taken the PPP/C within reach of the recommended 1/3 female representation. However, despite his previous proclamation, as his cabinet selection reveals, President Ramotar seems not too enamoured of change. His response to columnist Stella Ramsaroop, on the question of gender equity in leadership, during an interview earlier this year, bears repeating: “I have grown up in a political party in this country that actually started the fight for women’s equality. We have done a lot of advocating for equality for women. So that is part of my own make up – as a PPP member, as a PPP leader – I developed it within the party. So, surely I will try to ensure that we have the various balances that exist within our society.
“Yes, I would like to promote women in various institutions. Right now, it is also getting easier because if you look at our institutions, particularly the University of Guyana, you will see a lot more women graduating than men. Clearly I would like to see people in positions where they can make a contribution and they are not discriminated against, on the basis of sex. I would like to see – as far as that is possible – that it should be in our society as a whole, particularly in public institutions.”
So how does this translate to five women in a cabinet of 20 and nine women MPs out of 32? If women are not being discriminated against because of gender, are they being discriminated against because of their politics?

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