Preaching to the choir

Earlier this week, at the opening of the 20th biennial convention of the National Congress of Women (NCW), the women’s arm of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), the party’s leader and President of Guyana David Granger called for “concerted action to eliminate violence against women”.  He said that unless this was done “we will never remove the scourge of inequality”.

One has to assume that President Granger meant well when he made this speech. Violence against women in Guyana is exactly what he stopped short of calling it – an epidemic. But he was preaching to the choir. The NCW has long been involved in such actions against domestic violence, which he acknowledged when he mentioned stalwarts like Winifred Gaskin, Shirley Field-Ridley, Jane Phillips-Gay. Although, it is entirely possible that President Granger was sending a subtle message to some current women members of the PNCR who, to put it mildly, have let women down. That aside, one would be hard pressed to find a women’s organisation in Guyana today that is not trying to do its part to address violence against women. The problem is that there is a limit to what they can do without sustained government and private sector support and the involvement of the rest of the population – the men.

President Granger also told the NCW that he was particularly pleased (undoubtedly many women are too) to see more convictions of crimes committed against women such as rape, maiming and murder. But he put this down to the fact that women are currently heading the judiciary. No, Mr President, women (and men) should receive justice for crimes committed against them regardless of the gender of the magistrate or the judge, chief justice or the chancellor. That would be a true sign that the justice system in Guyana is really working. And while women are no doubt pleased to see themselves represented in the upper echelons of the halls of justice, true equality means that the most qualified candidate should hold those positions, again, regardless of gender. The law that man or woman needs to uphold for the greater good of all, the rules and regulations that would ensure he or she does the best job possible and the mechanisms and infrastructure to assist with this, now that is the forte of the policy makers and this one of the places where more work is needed.

It would have been far more fitting, therefore, for Mr Granger to have made such remarks to his Cabinet, to Parliament, or to the wider PNCR Congress, where more men are represented. There is a massive role for men in eliminating violence against women and one would imagine that they could be exhorted to do their part. And this would include but not be limited to men respecting women more, treating them as equals, not hitting, chopping, shooting or otherwise brutalising them, not killing them and not sexually abusing them or their daughters.

Furthermore, President Granger would do well to look back at the manifesto proclaimed by A Partnership for National Unity, the political alliance he represented when he contested elections in Guyana for the first time in 2011 and still does. On page 16 of that manifesto, the APNU had committed itself to the implementation of “the National Domestic Violence Policy… developed in a consultative process between civil society and government, and as an essential part of ending domestic and sexual abuse”. It had also vowed “to promote a sustained campaign to uproot the cultural acceptance of violence against the less powerful.”

In addition, APNU had vowed to work to “effect genuine 50:50 equality in Parliament, and as a proactive step in this direction commits to the global standard for the balance between women and men in governing bodies which is 40/60 – that is, neither sex should have less than 40% or more than 60% representation.”

The APNU had also vowed to “examine and take steps to correct the negative impact of economic policies and working conditions on women’s unwaged work and on children (boys and girls) and families. Ensure equal pay for work of equal value. Immediately ratify and implement the ILO Convention #189, which recognises domestic workers as workers.”

There is more, but let’s stop here because these promises have not manifested into workable solutions for women. By no means are we implying that nothing has been done for women and girls, on the contrary there have been laudable programmes targeted at girls’ and women’s empowerment. However, a coalition of the APNU and Alliance For Change has been in power since May 2015 and it is now August 2018, surely there has been enough time to implement real policy change. How is it, for example, that women who work as sweeper/cleaners in the country’s public schools are still the most downtrodden among workers? Why has their employment not been standardised so that they could be fairly treated and receive benefits?

By now women are well used to and disgusted by the meaningless platitudes politicians posit when they are campaigning for votes. All of the politicians representing parties in Guyana are guilty of this. Mr Granger is not a career politician and could be said to be cut from a different cloth. How impactful it would have been then if his speech to the NCW contained solutions to the issues facing women, rather than the same feeble admonitions that have been mouthed time and again.

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