I trust I’m not guilty, today, of editorial laziness, content-wise. Because I know I’ll be guilty of using Elizabeth Anne (Lis) Harper’s Prime Ministerial candidacy as a kind of reminiscence relevant to female Guyanese who dared to enter the robust world of both routine and electoral politics over the years. Wow, what a long sentence that, but once again, I wish to interest our young journalists. Especially the ladies today. (Do some features on real female political pioneers.)
The Olive Gopaul first-encounter with Mrs Harper was a placid introductory Girl-Talk conversation between two lovely ladies of achievement. The younger douglah beauty gushed at her guest but it was not the looked-forward to professional interview of a surprise candidate who can, must and will attract intense scrutiny. The chat was useful in terms of Elisabeth Harper the family-woman, but the real exposure (of expectation) is bound to come.
So let me afford those young folks interested a peek into the past – of Guyanese Women In politics and government.
In History, Society – and Politics
I’ll restrain myself even as I’m tempted to share with you accounts of Women of Worth and action from our historic slave revolts.
It was during the Republic Anniversary observances two years ago that Distinguished Lecturer Professor Verene Shepherd regaled us with the exploits of brave and defiant women slaves who gave unflinching support to the rebel/insurgents who propelled the Rebellions of Berbice and Demerara. Names mentioned included Susanna, Amba, Gracy, Rosey, Una and Effa.
Professor Shepherd would also remind her audience of Caribbean and Guyanese women who ventured into formal and electoral politics as early as the thirties when protesting Crown Colony excesses. Another few names of pioneers noted included Emma Napier, Phyllis Alfrey (Dominica Labour Party Founder), Elsie Burrowes (DLP Barbados) Vilna Cox (St Vincent) Eugenia Charles – all to be later followed in politics, parliament and government by pioneer Janet Jagan, Portia Simpson, Mia Mottley, Portia Simpson-Miller, etcetera.
Which brings me to some of our own Guyanese political activists who carved out names for themselves and niches for the status enshrined in local political and parliamentary representative formulae these days.
Transition: Social Service, Political Activism
Colonial Guiana, of course, nurtured its expected social classes, wherein European and coloured ladies had post-Emancipation/colonial women as servants and lower-level assistants. The Established Churches and education then produced a middle-class of teachers, nurses, accountants, other female professionals – mostly African-descended ladies. But Service Clubs, Mothers Unions, Choirs, Church and Carnegie Home Economics could not prevent some “educated”, qualified ladies from joining their male counter-parts in the anti-colonial, Independence struggles, advocacy and political movements, whether through trade unionism or militant ethnic-specific organisations. Who were some of these ladies?
Women gained the right to become legislators in 1945. The name, work and stature of Janet Jagan – the powerful dynamic partner (some said “boss”) to Cheddi, cannot be erased from our political history. Like Barack Obama, she functioned in Chicago, Illinois, USA, and seemed to have embraced the communist ideology. She was no mere blue-eyed American wife. She was an activist politician throughout Guyana – an organizer, thinker, trade unionist. From Deputy Speaker of the Legislature to Minister, Janet Jagan was an inspiration to young professional ladies and a politician her opponents loved to hate
She was joined by Jessie Burnham and Jane Phillips-Gay to become the first female legislators in 1953. Then came an interim government imposed upon the colony when the first PPP was booted out. Gertie Collins and Esther Dey were nominated to be part of that “administration”. In 1961 there was actually a Senate, a type of Second House, comprised of eight members with Christina Ramjattan and Anne Jardim as members. I seem to remember another imposing lady Elinor Da Silva of the United Force who loved her cigarettes.
Former Clerk of the Assembly Frank Narain tells of other ladies who were Parliamentarians. Just a few names (to research): Winifred Gaskin, Sylvia Talbot, Regina Philomena “Fireball” Sahoye, Shirley Field-Ridley, Cecilene Baird, Agnes Bend-Kirton, Urmia Johnson, Jean Maitland-Singh, Faith Harding, Joyce Gill and today’s incumbents – – if even now on leave. Of course the above is merely indicative. Please research to come up with a more complete list.
The truth is that over the past twenty years Guyana has led the Region in terms of having ladies in positions of power. From President to Chief Justice to Ministers the women were there by right and required representation-formula. How they have acquitted themselves is a separate matter. To me, Frankly Speaking, they’ve done as well as any male in any comparative position.
The `Political Ladies’ today
As Sunday’s International Women’s Day approaches, Guyanese women are still in high authority in all services trades and professions. They suffer the most among the poor too! I often wonder about those in politics. Why that choice? Why not? Some stand on their own. Discipline have them standing with their Parties. Others are pretty faces to adorn the Party’s “allure”. A few are quite powerful. Gail Teixeira, to me, has succeeded Janet Jagan as the Czarina of what’s left of the Old PPP. I’ll be noble and say nothing of the other ladies of the last Parliament. I do wish to see young ladies turn to politics in increasing numbers however. Why? Because they can assist in wise decisions that affect their fellow-females as they struggle to “hold up half of the sky”. A reflective Women’s Day Sunday.
A Government Cartel?
Why am I exploring such an outrageous concept: a government as a “cartel”? Well it’s really a view introduced by a veteran journalist-friend of mine. He was explaining how some governments actually are “structured” and even “behave” as lawless cartels do. Now not all cartel-conglomerates are bad.
If you define “cartel” as “a combination of independent business enterprises, designed to limit competition; syndicates or monopolies”, you may sometimes actually employ a flight of fancy to compare certain governments to cartels. Their ministries are like businesses getting independent budgets; they’re supposed to invest to serve, but…
Governments often have embassies strategically placed so that their nations’ business can be profitably “marketed”. (Like cartels?). Some governments are fond of “cornering” markets, craving all for themselves – from land to spectrum. Ministers in some governmental dictatorships do behave like Mafia bosses sometimes. Africa, Asia, Latin America??
Consider my friend’s comparison when you make time. What do you think?
*1) I know a new Government will take on the necessary Macro-Projects for development. But I wish that they hold the Local Government Elections soon then help to bring back the capital Georgetown. For example “re-scope” Stabroek Square and use that abandoned Co-op Bank Building. New laws to be enacted to relocate street people. Look outside the Bourda “Cemetery”, the Main Street Avenue Benches.
Use the Old Race Course behind the 1763 Monument to locate both the Central Fire Station and a modern playground.
(2) From the USA last December, A.A. Fenty in this column had “wondered” about a Granger-Nagamootoo Combination. Ho-ho! They actually once went to school together!
Til next week!