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Two seats in the National Assembly will be made available to the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) with the resignations of Dr. Nicolette Henry and Mr. Joseph Harmon. Henry’s resignation, which was announced in February, is to take effect from March 31st. Harmon’s will take effect from March 15th.
With the resignation of Henry, which came first, it has long been accepted that Mr. Aubrey Norton, the PNCR Leader, would have filled the seat, paving the way for his entry into the Assembly and election as Leader of the Opposition. Earlier this month Harmon announced his resignation. Whether Norton will take up his expected position earlier-given Harmon’s resignation takes effect two weeks earlier than Henry’s-has not been made public at the writing of this piece. What is known, however, is that there will be another vacant seat.
It is disappointing the names circulating to fill the other seat see no consideration for a woman, even though one left. The PNCR in its Press Statement on International Women’s Day saw it most fitting to remind us of the United Nations’ (UN) affirmation that: “Without gender equality today, a sustainable future, and an equal future, remains beyond our reach.”
Women comprise half of society (49.7 according to Trading Economics). They are believed to be the majority in the PNCR and often touted as being the most reliable base. Women’s presence and support led to Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, the Founder Leader, referring to them as “the vanguard” of the Party. Even if some were to argue the second replacement is not about gender but competency, they are sufficiently competent women who can be selected from the List.
The PNCR under this new leadership must demonstrate its commitment to women’s empowerment and equal inclusion in the highest decision-making forum of our country. Women fought to be on the List of Representatives and elected to the National Assembly rather than leave it to the attention or generosity of their male counterparts. As a group women agitated, via submission to the Constitutional Reform Commission, to have at least one-third presence on the List with expectation that constitutional recognition will result in representation in the National Assembly and other high offices in government.
Guyana is a signatory to the 2015 UN (Paris) Climate Change Agreement which places high premium on society being able to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which sets 17 Goals. The Agreement, signed on December 12, 2015, came into effect from November 4, 2016. Leading up to said Agreement, Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, addressed the issue of women’s role in Sustainable Development.
Writing in The World Economic Forum, (March 10, 2015) Robinson, in an analysis titled, ‘Why gender equality is key to sustainable development’ noted: – “Gender equality is not just the concern of half of the world’s population; it is a human right, a concern for us all, because no society can develop – economically, politically, or socially – when half of its population is marginalised. We must leave no one behind.”
Critical to the realisation of the 17 Goals, as per the Forum’s article, is that “those participating would be wise to remember that inclusive sustainable development can be realised only when all human rights – including gender equality – are protected, respected, and fulfilled.” As society’s nurturers, women see the development of their spouse and/or family as vital even if it means leaving herself undone or deferring the fulfillment of personal development. Women want to be treated as equals.
The late United States’ Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was of Guyanese extraction, offered words of wisdom associated with challenging a status quo that leaves behind or ignores the wellbeing of others. She said: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” This is a timely reminder to women to request their space because government and opposition work best when women have equal participation. Further development of society requires women taking up positions equally alongside men and where necessary, leading.