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In 1977 the United Nations officially recognised International Women’s Day (IWD), which is designated on March 8th. The Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century across Europe and in North America. Identified on the world’s calendar, IWD is dedicated to the celebration of women and the opportunity to push for positive change. This year’s campaign theme is “#BreakTheBias.” Consistent with the theme society has been asked to: –
“Imagine a gender equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women’s equality.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.
Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.
We can break the bias in our communities.
We can break the bias in our workplaces.
We can break the bias in our schools, colleges and universities.”
One such opportunity is to imagine the potential or possibility of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) electing, for the first time together, a female President and a female General Secretary. The Union is in the period of running off another Triennial Elections. Voting commenced on Tuesday March 1st and will conclude on Friday, April 15th Both Vanessa Kissoon and Coretta McDonald are trained educators. Together they have given more than 50 years of yeoman service to a profession credited for moulding the minds of citizens for self-development and productive participation in nation building.
Kissoon, a female, is challenging a male incumbent, Mark Lyte for the presidency. McDonald, a female incumbent General Secretary, is being challenged by a male, Milne Seymour. Should Kissoon win she’d be expected, in keeping with the function, to head the Executive body and lead the Union in labour representation in their bargaining unit. Re-election for McDonald means she’d continue to manage the day-to-day duties as the Secretariat and expected to be engaged in negotiation and representation.
Both are no strangers to the public. They are strong, indefatigable women leaders and have distinguished themselves as politicians and educators, a combination that shares symbiotic relations. Politicians participate in the legislation (debate and pass Bill) which influence national policies and programmes, and as teachers moulding minds to be good stewards of society.
Women comprise half of Guyana’s population but remain under-represented in leading positions in organisations, including the Executive and Legislative. McDonald’s election to the 12th Parliament, and Kissoon to both the 9th and 10th Parliament, represent some cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling, but the ceiling needs to be broken completely so as not to be a hindrance to women’s development. Both have been visible during teachers’ protests for better salary and working conditions, providing leadership. They have demonstrated nonpartisanship, holding principled positions fighting both governments.
Jane Goodall, primatologist and anthropologist, famously said “What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what difference you want to make.” The statement was posed to Kissoon and McDonald, who were pointedly asked, “What difference you will want to make?”
Vanessa said as President her top priority would be bringing the rank-and-file members closer to the leadership because she believes, “the real power of the union lies in its members and leaders are merely guardians of the people’s power.” It’s her candid belief, “such proximity will create opportunities for better representation with the employer, building camaraderie amongst the membership, and improving trade union militancy; all of which are necessary in ensuring the labour of teachers is valued and properly rewarded, and our children get the best education.”
Coretta wants to “build on (her) record of achievements.” Some of the areas she intends to pursue under the new Executive are increasing membership, seeing more qualified teachers at all levels, and agitating for a review of the Cyril Potter College of Education’s Programme to ensure consistency with 21st century development. It’s her view “teachers have to be adequately trained to impart knowledge in order that our children will be ready to contribute and compete in this economy.”
They were both asked, “Why a teacher and not another profession?” Interestingly, both see teaching as a call to service and won’t trade the profession for any other. It was asked, “What peeves them about the profession?” They responded that they have no peeve with the profession but believe the “noble profession” is not being given its deserving respect and the teachers their due reward. Evidently both women are running to make positive differences. Should they be elected, this would be a first in the local trade union. They will in effect #BreakTheBias in a movement that has never before elected or seen women in the two top positions serving at the same time.