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The month of March is the month when two significant international days are celebrated: International Women Day, first declared in 1911 and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, first celebrated in 1966. Now that those occasions have been marked for this year, it may be opportune to reflect on the significance of those occasions to the state of women and those who suffer racial discrimination, in Guyana.
The introduction of International Women`s Day was premised on the need to combat oppression and inequality of women. This malady was formally recognised in Guyana in 1976 and found expression in the State Paper on Equality for Women. Consequentially, legislation was passed to effect equality in the following areas: Prohibited Immigrants (the wife of a prohibited male was no longer automatically prohibited similar to the non-prohibition of the husband of a prohibited female); Capacity to Marry (the same age of consent for male and female East Indians was introduced); Maintenance of Spouses (either spouse could be held liable based on their economic circumstances); Infants (both parents were entrusted with the authority to conduct legal transactions for their under-age children); Legitimacy (equal rights were accorded to any child based on the determination of paternity); Common Law Unions ( common law unions were equated to registered marriages); Testamentary Capacity (the age of legal capacity for males and female was aligned); among other areas such as National Insurance, Income Tax, Employment and Criminal Law, all of which saw the introduction of equal treatment for the sexes. The bother to reflect is grounded in the frequency with which many persons suggest that Independence was of little consequence to Guyana and may even have been retrograde. They are either not knowledgeable of their comparative beneficial status or only equate progress to the material state of things.
Would a reflection on racial discrimination reveal the same state of affairs? There are those who argue that racial discrimination is the figment of the imagination of those who embrace the thought. There are those who say otherwise. In the face of those arguments, the Ethnic Relations Commission was provided for in the reformed constitution of 1999-2001. This is some recognition that the problem is alive and requires some action notwithstanding the diverse views on the matter.
It is apparent that a legislative approach has been adopted in relation to both issues. It begs the question as to whether such an approach will suffice. Clearly both problems can be manifested in attitudes and institutional policies and practices. It therefore stands to reason that in both instances the legal framework has to be employed, since it is law that seeks to define and enforce behaviourial contours. However, law alone has never being the panacea. Educations at all levels from nursery to where ever it takes one, and all forms from informal to formal must complement the legal provisions.
As Village Voice launches its printed version today, it sees itself as a part of that process of educating and informing in all spheres of nation building and in the aforementioned sphere, in particular, since the need for such interventions are obvious and has been formally acknowledged in addition to the everyday occurrences that vindicate the need.