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The National Congress of Women (NCW), the Women’s Arm of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), joins with all Guyanese women as well as women all over the world as we observe International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021, today, Monday March 8, 2021. This day is also observed when the entire month of March is dedicated to women. March is also recognized as Women’s History month. This year’s observances are celebrated under the United Nations theme. “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.”
The theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also aligned with the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”, and the flagship Generation Equality campaign, which calls for women’s right to decision-making in all areas of life, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end all forms of violence against women and girls, and health-care services that respond to their needs.
International Women’s Day provides an occasion to pause and reflect on how women of all colors and creeds have shaped the nation’s history and how they are influencing its future right now. We observe International Women’s Day to repair some of the damage the nation has suffered by stifling the talent and ambition of half of its population for centuries.
A cursory review of the history of women in Guyana reveals that it was the likes of Jane Phillips-Gay, who was one of the first three women to enter the Legislative Assembly in 1953, and along with Winifred Gaskin organized our women to become actively involved in the political landscape of the then British Guiana in 1957. After the United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year, the likes of Viola Burnham and Shirley Field-Ridley pushed the woman’s political agenda and with a legal team headed by Desiree Bernard consolidated the laws of Guyana relating to women. More women became Parliamentarians and Ministers of Government. Today it is a prerequisite for any political list of candidates for an election must comprise 33% women. As a result there are more women participating in the decision-making roles and the NCW looks forward to a 50% participation.
There is much for women in Guyana and the world to celebrate. Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Dr. Paloma Mohamed is the first Guyanese woman to ascend to that position, Kelly Hyles, who graduated from the prestigious Harvard University, Rukia Henry who developed a model to study herpes virus infections in the brain, Kesaundra Alves for ‘Advancing Law to fight Cancer’ and Amrita Rivas-Pierre of AT Investments, among others.
More and more women are being elected to public office, including Black women. Amanda Gorman, a young woman and the United States’ first-ever youth poet laureate, recited a powerful poem which she wrote for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. A nation hungry for optimism and seeking “light in this never-ending shade” was wowed and inspired by a stirring call to civic duty, unity, and national purpose. Ms. Gorman urged us to “Lift our gaze not to what stands between us but what stands before us.”
There are so many untold stories of valiant women who have made and remade the nation, in spite of and because of a culture that prefers them silent and submissive. There have always been women who were willing, able, and compelled to go against the grain and call for more political independence for women. It is sad and too frequent that some women feel compelled by artificially assigned roles even today to vote against their own interests.
But even as we in Guyana celebrate women’s leadership before this COVID-19 pandemic, achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world seems distant for some of our sisters.
The NCW condemns not only the Sexual and Physical violence meted out to many of our sisters here in Guyana but also the Economic violence to many of our sisters, many of them being single parents, who have been strategically placed on the breadline with the wanton termination of their services from their places of employment.
As women, we are the focus today because it is International Women’s day; the National Congress calls for an end to the verbal and physical abuse being bantered around in the hallowed halls of our National Assembly. The NCW calls for equality and justice.
Guyana has been blessed with talented women and we of the NCW insist that they come out of the margins and take their rightful place as leaders of the nation. It is altogether fitting that as a nation we should celebrate and amplify the voices of women leaders – not just to honor them, but to create a more perfect union. As Amanda Gorman reminds us, “Love becomes our legacy and our children’s birthright.” It is up to the women to “Rebuild, reconcile and recover.”