The pattern of a preponderance of girls among the hi-flyers at the National Grade Six Assessment along with the Caribbean Examination Council’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) as well as the 3,000-odd annual graduates of the University of Guyana is a possible indication of the balance of the sexes in Guyana. But it’s more than that; it is also a sign that gender equity – at least as far as education is concerned—has turned the corner.
The time has long passed for the other areas to keep pace, including giving the job to the best candidate and applying the same risk factors to entrepreneurs across the board among others. The girls and young women who are celebrated when they excel at their examinations need to see the same sort of recognition when they or their peers apply for jobs or for loans to start their own businesses.
The inequity that still exists in the areas mentioned above has resulted in women-headed households being among the majority under the poverty line. Over the years there have been projects and schemes to counteract this with one of the most recent locally being the Women of Worth project through which female entrepreneurs have special access to loans.
The debate on whether women can have it all has been going for perhaps more than a decade. On one side is the idea that women who are mothers or wives would give less than their male counterparts in the job arena. On the other is the idea that some women are imbued with such superhuman qualities that they can give their all and then some in every area without missing a beat and can do so cheerfully till the end of time. The latter argument enters the sphere because women are forced to compete with men at work as well as meet every need of their families every single day of their lives or risk being labelled as deficient in one arena or the other. And this is where the inequality persists.
Gender equality is not about women wanting to be ‘the same as men’ as per the long perpetuated myth that continues to need to be debunked. It is about parity – about women and men having the same rights and opportunities whether these are economic, political, social or cultural. As an example, if two men happen to share a house or apartment each does his own chores or they are shared. However when it’s a woman and a man, ‘gender roles’ immediately kick in and the woman is expected to do all of the housework. If the man does his share or even a minuscule amount of his share he is lauded for ‘helping her’ and ‘being good’. Sadly, this is propagated by women also; it is learned behaviour.
The ‘woman must do the housework’ myth is especially unfortunate when the woman also works outside the home and the incomes are pooled to run the home. But even when the woman exclusively runs the household, her labour, which is intensified, is largely unpaid and unappreciated.
In addition, particularly where there are children involved the woman incurs a huge time deficit. Information shared online recently revealed that even in patriarchal households, the mother is most often the be all and end all of the child/children’s existence. Likely an extension of the initial nurturing and bonding that occurs before and just after birth, 99% of children approach their mothers when they are hungry, cold, hot, tired, ill, or just need answers.
The result is that their mothers lose leisure time and sleep time; the women least affected are those who are in such good financial stead that they can afford to hire domestic help, or pay for babysitting. Time poverty has a huge impact on women’s lives that is often unnoticed until it transitions into poor health, including stress-related illnesses and depression.
This is not to say that women don’t enjoy taking care of their children and their homes, but that the ‘superwoman’ title though always well-deserved when given has its drawbacks.