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Gender equality and women’s empowerment come to the fore in Guyana

Article - March 1, 2016

President David Granger has made it clear that one of the fundamental pillars of his government is equal opportunities for the whole population, with the empowerment and protection of women, and eradication of poverty, at the forefront of its efforts.


Among the 17 global goals identified by the United Nations as essential for achieving sustainable development, goal number five is worldwide gender equality and women’s empowerment. Gender equality, as the UN states succinctly, “is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.” Unhindered access for all people to education, healthcare, employment, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will underpin sustainable economies, and clearly benefit societies and humanity overall.

With regard to international levels of employment, the latest statistics, for 2013, from the World Bank for ratio of female to male labor force participation show the Syrian Arab Republic having the lowest female participation, coming in 185th place at 19%, to Malawi being the highest, in the number one spot with 104%. The World Bank points out that globally women are less likely than men to participate in the labor market, i.e. less likely to be employed or actively looking for work, with only Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and Malawi being over the 100% mark. The UK and the US come in at 81% and 82% respectively. The World Bank explains that “female participation in employment is high and the gender gap low in many low-income countries where women are engaged in unpaid subsistence agriculture, although they are less involved in paid activities outside the household. Women also tend to be active in high-income countries, where over two-thirds of the female adult population participate in the labor market and the gender gap in labor force participation rates is less than 15 percent on average.”

Guyana places 154th in the study, which also shows the country’s ratio increasing from 48.2% in 2003 to 52.9% in 2013. Although it is still lower than the average of 68.4% for Latin American and Caribbean (developed) countries, it is moving in the right direction.

Furthermore, Guyana’s President David Granger has affirmed that gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental to the administration’s plans for the country’s future.

The President announced a five-point plan to address the topic during an “Equal Rights for All – Be Good to People” themed National Conference on the Gender and Development Policy in Georgetown last August, stating that a sharper focus was to be given to promoting equality of women in politics, eliminating poverty, enhancing employment opportunities for women, tackling violence against women, and improving access to education for women.

“The proposed National Gender Policy should aim to eradicate discrimination against women, to safeguard the emotional and mental integrity and physical safety of women. It should result in women having a greater say in decision making at all levels of society,” said the President.

Mr Granger also stipulated that the government would ensure more microcredit facilities were set up and greater access to small business loans would be available. He added that the government was prepared to consider offering tax rebates to companies that establish day care facilities for working mothers. He also promised the introduction of proactive, protective legislation and new training programs.

The UNDP has recognized Guyana’s efforts, stating it “has made very good progress towards promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. The country met the target of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education, and strives towards parity at the tertiary level. Employment of women is targeted for improvement and female political representation in Parliament has substantially increased.”

Indeed, educationally, the UNDP notes that “the targets of having gender parity in primary and secondary education have been achieved since boys and girls are equally represented at these levels. At the university level, there are twice as many girls as there are boys enrolled.”

Politically, according to UN figures, women now hold more than 30% of seats in national parliament in at least one chamber in 46 countries. Among them is Guyana, where since 2015 the proportion of seats held by women in its national parliament has reached 35%.

The President’s ambitions come with the wholehearted backing of First Lady Sandra Granger, a determined and accomplished career woman and homemaker. Mrs Granger has pledged to champion various causes during her husband’s first term as president, particularly equality, and the education and safety of children. When asked about her plans, Mrs Granger told the press that she is “looking at bridging the divide between seniors and younger people through certain programs. I want to help to provide a platform to preserve the skills of the seniors and transfer it to the youth. I want to create a mechanism to support that process. Older folk would be rejuvenated by the interaction and youths can have more mentors and guardians. A lot of our folklore is just dying because we don’t have such a system. I believe it will enrich the society.”