My trip from Guyana to Bangladesh provided ample examples of the strides that have been/are being made by women in the field of employment with particular reference to breaking the so-called ‘invisible ceiling’ in occupations typically dominated by men, if not the exclusive domain of the male species. For example:
* The Caribbean Airlines flight from Trinidad to New York was piloted by a woman pilot whose co-pilot and first officer were also women; indeed the entire crew except for one man was all women. Even for a regular world traveller such as I am, this particular ‘female-dominated’ phenomenon was a first. What was also very striking was the ‘warm touch’ and confident ‘professionalism’ displayed by the female Captain of the crew cum pilot of the plane. The announcements from the ‘cockpit’ (oof …what was the guy who invented this term thinking about when he coined it?),.. shall we say from the ‘pilot’s cabin’ in deference to the need to neutralise these chauvinistic terms?…provided by Captain Audrey Ann Cheung were clear, confident and reassuring as were the mannerisms of the rest of the crew. The latter was particularly obvious when a passenger became very ill during flight; the way they handled the entire episode was exemplary and was equally matched by yet another example of positive women-power as I describe next:
* The announcement was made that a passenger needed medical first-aid over and above what was already being provided by the crew, so if there was a doctor on board he or she should identify him/herself. I knew that there was a male doctor on board who joined the flight in Guyana but he for whatever reason did not identify himself. I was indeed dumbfounded by this act of insensitivity. However, a woman doctor who joined the flight in Trinidad came forward and very professionally attended to the passenger/patient. I happened to see all that was going on and it was not long before we breathed a sigh of relief that the patient was stabilised. The female doctor continued to administer to the patient with sheer love and sensitivity and before the flight came to an end she (the patient) was smiling and overtly giving thanks to the doctor and the crew. I was moved to the point where I could not restrain myself from hugging the doctor for her selfless and professional attention (I really was harbouring fears that we might have had to do a forced landing in one of the islands in the Caribbean or in Florida).
* In NY I had to deal with a woman at the UN headquarters regarding my diplomatic passport and in Washington I had to deal with a man in relation to my need for a visa for Bangladesh. The differences in the professionalism, pragmatism and personal attention received from the two sexes were significant enough for me to wonder if the male species are not now ‘endangered’ by themselves, by their arrogance, their insensitivities and who knows what else?
* And now for the pièce de résistance: When I arrived in Bangladesh, I was picked up at the airport in Dhaka by a female driver employed by UNICEF and driving one of those large white vehicles with the UN logo emblazoned on it. Despite her donning the typical shalwar kameez that women in these parts of the world customarily wear, her approach to her job, as conveyed by her body language, her greeting, her picking up my luggage despite my natural discomfort with having a woman doing so for me and therefore my obvious ‘protestation,’ she performed as well as any man would have… and I was all the more impressed to experience this in a society that is generally considered ‘male chauvinistic.’ Indeed throughout the drive between the airport and my hotel I wondered how the two women drivers I was involved in recruiting in Islamabad, Pakistan a couple years ago were faring. I also wondered why my fellow Guyanese appeared so ‘reluctant’ if not downright opposed when I raised the subject of our trying to attract more women for traditionally male dominated but difficult-to-recruit roles.
* Given the realities on the ground in Guyana, I believe it is a subject that we need to keep on the front burner!
E B John