April 17, 1996 DRAFT
A. Definitional Issues|
B. Analytical Framework
I. Basic Features of the Situation of Women in Guyana(2)
A. Outline of the Situation of Women in Guyana
II. Policies of the Sector
A. Past Evolution of Policies
B. Description of Current Policies
III. Description of the Principal Issues and Constraints Related to the Role of Women and Gender
IV. Sectoral Objectives
F. The Household
H. Institutional Framework
V. Policy Recommendations and Their Technical Justifications
F. The Household
H. Institutional Framework
VI. Recommended Legislative Changes
A. General Observations
B. Specific Legislation
"[Development] is the progressive realisation of the capabilities, abilities and talents of each individual for his/her own satisfaction and enhancement of the social good..."
HE President Cheddi Jagan
Although there is widespread agreement that development should be broad-based, women often remain marginalised in the process. Though the experiences of individual women vary widely, in general women as a group fare worse than men on a number of fronts, ranging from the incidence of poverty to protection under the law, and from access to health care to decision-making power. This National Development Strategy gives a unique opportunity to draw together analysis of the situation of women in this country and to discuss ways forward. Only by including all Guyanese - so as to fully harness the human capital of the country - can we hope to enhance the social good.
Unlike the subjects of many of the other chapters of the National Development Strategy, gender cannot be easily isolated as a separate topic or sector, given its fundamental importance to all areas, ranging from employment policy to agriculture, and from environmental policy to poverty alleviation. In fact, the subject of gender often ends up marginalised when it is separated in such a way, and ultimately the challenge should be to integrate it into the mainstream. When reading this chapter, therefore, it is important that the wide-ranging significance of gender issues is realised. As the 1995 Commonwealth Plan of Action on Gender and Development states, a key strategic objective of government should be to "integrate gender in all government agendas, policies and programmes and create a culture within government which is gender-sensitive and where gender issues become the responsibility of all..."
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Despite the prominence of discussions about women in development within both national governments and donor agencies, the concepts used are often vague and emotive. Unless they are clearly defined, however, we are unlikely to make effective progress. Within this chapter, two key concepts that must be defined are "gender" and "subordination."
"Gender" is not the same as "sex" or "women"; it is about the relationship between men and women, and therefore concerns men as much as it does women. Defined by societal norms and practices, and supported by societal attitudes, this relationship is usually skewed in favour of men. Hence the focus of this chapter on the situation of women. This approach to analysing gender relations does not negate the fact that men can also find themselves in a position of subordination; it recognises that women are more often subordinated.
"Subordination" within this gender relationship can take various forms, ranging from inhibited access to certain kinds of work to the skewed structure of the legal framework. In general, subordination can result in the marginalisation of women; that is, their exclusion from the process and benefits of development. It is important to note that this relationship - as well as the roles men and women are expected to fulfill - is often socially defined; by what is expected culturally, by religion, by the balance of power within society, and other factors. As such, this relationship is a difficult one to change through policy, particularly if the policy environment is one that favours the status quo. Subordination and marginalisation can lead to a planning process which does not consider the needs of women, nor their contribution made through the various roles they play. It is premised on the assumption that decisions made will have universal benefits, and it can occur in the household, in the community or in institutions.
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The marginality of gender in policy making means that it is especially important that policy recommendations be based on a clear and rigorous analytical framework. One such framework - and the one used in this chapter - is that which distinguishes between "gender roles" and "gender needs" (Moser, 1989). As the 1995 Commonwealth Plan of Action on Gender and Development recognises, "Because men and women have different roles and responsibilities, they also have different gender needs. . . If gender roles and gender needs are understood, planning is more effective. Policies are more clearly defined and programmes and projects are designed with the different needs of the people who are supposed to benefit explicitly taken into account" (Commonwealth Secretariat, 1995: 15).
1. Gender Roles
Moser (1989) outlines a useful framework for understanding the different roles women (and men) have to fulfil in society: the Triple Roles Framework. Policies of a "practical" nature should assist women in the fulfillment of their roles, or at least should not make such fulfillment more difficult (such as by vastly increasing women's workload). In most societies, women must fulfil three main roles:
Reproductive: This refers not only to women's childbearing role, but also their child rearing one. Women engage in various activities that ensure the maintenance and reproduction of the labour forces.
Productive: This refers to the women's role as income earners (often in agriculture or the informal sector). Though they are often secondary income earners, there are many cases when they are the sole income earner (such as in female headed households). Much development policy has been based on what is termed the "ideal typical nuclear household," which assumes a pronounced sexual division of labour: a male head whose primary responsibility is to earn income, with the female engaged largely or solely in a reproductive role - any productive role is underestimated or ignored. Note also, that in most societies there also exists a sexual division of labour within production (especially in agriculture) and employment, with regard to the tasks and jobs women and men do and are expected to do.
Community: This refers to women's collective work at the community level.
Women have to balance these three roles, whereas men generally only have a productive role (though they may be involved in "community politics" where they organise at the formal political level).
2. Gender Needs
It is the fulfillment of these "gender roles" that determines people's "gender needs". Such needs can be further broken down into "practical gender needs" and "strategic gender needs" (Moser, 1989).
a. Practical Gender Needs
Practical gender needs refer those needs of men and women as defined by their existing engendered roles within society, in which, as mentioned, women must fulfill three roles while men usually fulfill one. Practical needs and practical policies are concerned with the effective fulfilment of these socially defined roles; that is, they do not seek to change the status quo. "Practical gender needs are to do with what people need to perform their current roles more easily, effectively and efficiently...[Projects can be designed to meet the practical gender needs of both men and women without necessarily changing their relative position in society" (Commonwealth Secretariat, 1995: 15).
Examples of policies that address women's practical gender needs are:
the provision of conveniently located stand-pipes and the development of fuel-efficient stoves, both of which will reduce their workload;
training in traditional productive activities (such as crafts) to increase their income;
the provision of child health education for women as a support to their child rearing role; and
the provision of crèches so that mothers can bring their children to work.
b. Strategic Gender Needs
In contrast, strategic needs and strategic policies are directly concerned with changing the status quo: challenging socially defined roles and tackling gender subordination in society. Indeed, as the Commonwealth Secretariat notes, "Most governments now endorse the need to improve the status of women"(1995: 15). Examples of policies that address women's strategic gender needs are:
the provision of training in non-traditional productive activities (such as, building or plumbing) which are often better paid;
legislation to ensure that women receive equal pay and conditions for equal work of equal value;
legislation to deal with imbalances of power in the family such as domestic violence and unequal divorce settlements; and
the encouragement of female membership of parliament, local committees, and other political bodies, so as to enhance women's participation in decision-making.
Such a distinction is useful when specifying goals, objectives, policies and programmes; it is important to be clear about whether the objective of a particular policy is practical or strategic.(1)
However, it is important not to treat women as a homogenous group; the experience of an individual woman will vary with respect to her class, race, and religion, among other factors. As a result different women will have different needs; some may only express practical needs, while others may be more concerned with strategic issues. A top-down approach that imputes generalised needs on women as a group must be avoided.
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This section looks at the situation of women in Guyana, who constitute over half the country's population [50.8 percent in 1992 (Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 1992-1993)]. As mentioned above, gender subordination covers a wide number of areas, eight of which are discussed in this report: poverty, employment, health, education, the household, the media, the institutional framework and legislation. It is only once the current situation is understood, that we can formulate objectives and consider the relevant policies.
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An accurate analysis of the current situation of women is inhibited by the paucity and unreliability of statistical data on gender matters. As Indra Chandarpal (Minister in the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security) notes in the introduction to Guyana's submission for the UN's 4th World Conference on Women held last year in Beijing, "When a gender-specific data base is lacking, it becomes problematic to make any meaningful assessment that would serve as a guide for the future" [in Shiw Parsad, 1994(b)]. A major breakthrough is the recent publication of the Women's Affairs Bureau (WAB) Changes in Situation of the Women in Guyana: 1980-1993 (Facts and Figures), which brought together a significant amount of sex disaggregated data from a wide range of sources, including the Bureau of Statistics' Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES), the most recent of which is for 1992-1993. However, even these data are in many cases four years old. As will be argued in this chapter, there need to be continuing efforts to improve the gender data available.
The Human Development Report 1995 (HDR), makes a significant contribution to the analysis of the situation of women with its construction of the Gender-Related Development Index (GDI). The GDI is a composite index of the same variables covered by the HDR's Human Development Index (HDI): longevity, knowledge and access to the basic resources people need to develop their capabilities. However, the GDI takes into account the inequality between women and men; the greater the inequality, the lower the GDI. The maximum achievement is 1.0 (a maximum achievement in basic capabilities with perfect gender equality); the highest country achieves 0.92 (Sweden), only 32 countries (out of 130) have a GDI above 0.8, and the lowest country achieves only 0.169 (Afghanistan). It is found that for all countries, the GDI is lower than the HDI, reflecting the fact that gender inequality exists in all societies. Guyana is ranked 70, with a 1992 GDI of 0.584. This represents a significant improvement since 1970 when Guyana's GDI was 0.490 (an increase of 19%). However, the 1992 value shows that there is still substantial scope for improvement, and relative to other countries Guyana's record between 1970 and 1992 is less impressive; it fell 20 ranks (HDR, 1995). Guyana's HDI is 0.622, where again 1.0 represents the maximum achievement.
Given its multidimensional nature, a wide variety of indicators must be looked at when establishing the incidence of poverty. In addition to per capita income, ownership of assets and access to credit, we look at health indicators (life expectancy at birth) and education indicators (literacy). It should be noted that in addition to the examination of the quantitative indicators of poverty, the social and psychological consequences and conditions must be taken into account. Socially, poor women are ostracised in a system where much value is placed on material wealth and appearances. In fact, in some cases, the poor would strive to be more endowed materially at the expense of the health and nutritional needs of members of the household.
The psychological costs of poverty are many, although not adequately catalogued. Poor self-esteem and a sense of powerlessness, for example, often prevent women from participating in programmes which are, themselves, designed to alleviate poverty. Increasingly it is argued that poverty is also about power, or rather powerlessness. Hence, a section is included below on the situation of women in Guyana with respect to their power in society. Under a number of these indicators, the incidence of poverty amongst women in Guyana is generally higher than that amongst men.
There is, however, a great deal of variation between different groups of women. The highest levels of poverty are to be found in hinterland Amerindian communities [which accounted for 7 percent of the household population in 1993 (HIES, 1992-1993), but there is also extreme poverty in some rural and urban communities. Poverty is particularly acute amongst female headed households (Danns, 1990), given the lower earning potential of women. Female headed households accounted for an estimated 29.5% of total households in 1993 (HIES, 1992-1993). Women with disabilities, elderly women on fixed incomes, and teenage mothers are also especially vulnerable.
It is important to note that the data must be treated with caution; much poverty will remain unperceived given the fact that the poorest members of society are also often the most isolated. Women (particularly Amerindian women), given their relative physical and social isolation, are likely to face far higher levels of poverty than the statistics show.
The situation of women with respect to employment, health, education, and their position in the household will be discussed in detail later, and so are only mentioned briefly here.
The Human Development Report 1995 estimates that men received 78.8 percent of earned income in Guyana(3)
. This income disparity is echoed in the a recent World Bank report on the Caribbean region, which found that women (in the region as a whole) earn 70 percent of the amount earned by men. This pattern is also reflected in the specific example of the Guyanese public service. Based on Public Service Management records, though women make up the majority of the work force (60 percent), they represent 60 percent of those in the bottom seven salary scales, and only 36 percent in the top seven (HIES, 1992-1993).
Such income data must be treated with caution however. Firstly, most income data collected in Guyana use the household, rather than the individual, as its unit of analysis. Thus many of the estimates of individual incomes must be based on household data, with certain assumptions being made about the internal workings of these households. Secondly, a large proportion of women's income comes from the (largely unrecorded) informal sector. And thirdly, much of women's time is spent in unwaged work (as agricultural labour, in family businesses, or in domestic duties).
According to the Deeds Registry records, men account for the majority of titles to property in Guyana (71.6 percent in 1993) [Parsad, 1994 (b)]. The imbalance is particularly acute in rural areas, where males accounted for 76.3 percent of property ownership as opposed to 63.3 percent in urban areas in 1993.
In the specific case of land, there are no legal provisions preventing land ownership by any citizen (Agrodev, 1995). However, there is no clear land policy and, in practice, men account for the majority of land titles. One reason is that the criteria used for the allocation of land by the Land Selection Committees discriminate against women. Also, in practice women often apply for land titles in their husband's name, which, among other things, removes their rights to the land in situations of inheritance. The situation is particularly acute for Amerindians; Amerindians do not possess inalienable rights to the land which they occupy and some communities do not possess land titles of any kind.
Differential access to land rights, the nature of the divorce law and the housing shortfall(4)
may produce vulnerability for women in terms of retaining household assets following family breakdown. These may also be factors which force such women into unregulated housing (slum and self-help housing). In parallel to the decline in the quality of housing and the continued inaccessibility of formal sector rental housing to low-income groups, there has been a significant increase in the size of the unregulated housing sector, a sector characterised by its diverse socio-economic and demographic nature. In certain areas, the problems that disproportionately impact women (such as availability of potable water, site access and social infrastructure) are compounded by the fact that the responsibilities of local institutions - Community Development Committees (CDCs) and Neighbourhood Development Councils (NDCs) - for infrastructural development have not been seen to incorporate self-help settlements.
Legally women are neither denied access to loans, mortgages and credit nor required to have consent from their husbands or male partners to obtain credit. However, the demand for high levels of collateral, as well as the high interest rates, puts formal credit beyond the reach of many women. The result is that women often have to turn to moneylenders and pay extremely high rates interest.
Three important credit schemes which aim to provide women with access to credit are those run by the following entities:
Bank of Nova Scotia: This credit scheme is geared towards lending on a microenterprise scale. No collateral is needed, and loans are given out to groups of five or six members, who are responsible for guaranteeing each other's loans. A minimum of G$15,000 is lent to each member, and repayments must be made monthly. Once loans are repaid by all members, they are entitled to borrow a greater amount (at an increase of five or ten thousand dollars, to a maximum of G$500,000). Savings are encouraged among members so that they may eventually qualify for individual loans. There are about two hundred groups presently, with approximately 80 percent of the participants being women. The repayment rate is approximately 95 percent.
Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED): The micro lending credit schemes require no collateral and target agricultural and industrial projects (any project with a value added component). Loans are given out to groups of five (all members of which must belong to a non-governmental organisation) up to a maximum of G$30,000 per member. After repayment of the first loan, the amount may be increased by 50 percent to a maximum of G$100,000. At the end of 1995, there were 2,080 members, about 75-80 percent of whom were women. The total disbursement at the end of 1995 was G$74.4 million, and the repayment rate is approximately 95 percent, except in circumstances such as crop failure and other situations beyond the creditor's or borrower's control.
Cooperation for Development International (CDI): This facility, which requires no collateral, targets persons with business experience (usually at least one year, though this is flexible). Apart from not financing start-up loans, CDI does not finance operations in trading, mining, and some areas of the service sector. Loans are granted to individuals, rather than groups, and to date there have been more than 170 members, of which less than 40 percent are women. CDI is engaged in an ongoing study of needs and is currently reviewing its lending policies, with the intention of increasing the participation of women. For example, it is looking at the trading sector, in which a large number of its female applicants operate. The total disbursement to date is G$21 million, with an estimated 80 percent repayment ratio.
Given the difficulty in obtaining formal credit, informal credit channels are particularly important. Two such channels are:
"Box Hand": This is a traditional method of saving in Guyana, and variants exist in numerous other Caribbean countries. A contributor can draw a large sum of money from the Box, while contributing a specific small sum on a weekly or monthly basis. This money is used for purposes such as investing in a plot of land, acquiring an animal, preparing for a wedding or some other useful purpose (Odie-Ali and Patterson, 1988). Market vendors and traders also use the Box Hand as a means of building up funds for purchasing goods for sale. This indigenous, popular form of credit is a crucial resource for women.
Mothers Development Window (MDW): This is an organisation established in 1991 to provide credit to its members, many of whom are traders and market vendors. The MDW has mobilised G$175,000 from savings and donations and has made 175 loans, mainly for petty trading and food vending (UNICEF, 1993).
According to UNICEF (1993), life expectancy at birth amongst men (65.8 years) is lower than that among women (70.8 years), though the quality of health amongst women is still very low. This is reflected in the high prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women (Thomas, 1993), the incidence of babies with low birth weights (LBW) and the increasing maternal mortality rate (MMR), among other factors (see Chapter 19 of this Strategy).
The inability of some mothers to meet the financial needs of their families has had an impact on the level of post natal care and, thus, on the health of their children. For example, a study in Linden found that mothers do not attend clinics if they perceive that their children's clothes are unpresentable (Jackson, 1995b).
The level of illiteracy is higher among women than men (4.9 percent as compared to 4.4 percent of the entire population in 1992), though the situation of women has improved considerably. (It was 11.0 percent in 1970.) The picture for Amerindian women is even more skewed: 56.2 percent of illiterate Amerindians are female.
Another important contribution of the HDR 1995, is the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) which measures women's economic, political and professional participation. It is a composite index, which encompasses three variables that reflect women's participation in political decision making, their access to professional opportunities and their earning power(5)
. The highest country, Sweden, has a GEM of 0.757 (out of a maximum of 1.0), while the lowest has a GEM of 0.111 (Afghanistan), and only 9 countries have a GEM greater than 0.60. Guyana, with a GEM of 0.461, is ranked 25th out of 116 and outperforms much richer industrial countries, including France, Japan, Spain and Portugal. However, the fact that its GEM is so low is a clear indication of the need for drastic improvement. Between 1990 and 1994, only 22 percent of council members and only 17 percent of mayors were female. Further, as of 30th June 1994, women only held 20 percent of the seats in parliament, and as of 31st May 1994, their share at the ministerial level was only 11 percent (UNDP, 1995). This should be seen against the recommended target of the 1990 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women of 30 percent participation by women as the minimum level for decision-making positions at the national level. "Reaching such a threshold . . . [is] . . . considered essential to women's ability to influence key decisions and to be taken seriously as equal participants in these decisions" (UNDP, 1995: 109). While it is desirable to have an increase in the number of women at decision making levels, it must be recognised that not all women are gender sensitive.
The fact that Guyana's GEM is lower than its GDI (0.584) indicates that it has "further to travel in extending broad economic and political opportunities to women than the distance [it has] already traveled in building their basic capabilities" (UNDP, 1995: 83). The level of access to power varies between different groups of women. Amerindian women face heavily male-dominated village governments, and all eight Amerindian members of Parliament are men (UNICEF/ARU, 1993). Note that many areas of power (most notably power in the household, as well as a wide variety non-quantifiable data) are not captured by the GEM indicator. Nevertheless, it is a useful indication of the position of women in society.
In Guyana, women also suffer from high levels of violence within (and outside) the household.
a. Level of participation in the work force
It is important to note that official labour force statistics only include as "work" those activities which have a monetary exchange value. As a result, the "official statistics reveal little of [women's] preoccupation with seeking various sources of livelihood and/or the time-consuming daily round of activities on which they are for the most part engaged" (Senior, 1991:110). This means that a large proportion of women's work remains unrecognised and unvalued (UNDP, 1995). Indeed, in 1992 only 39.3 percent of women in Guyana were recorded as being "economically active," i.e., working for pay, profit or family gain, or making tangible efforts to seek work (HIES, 1992-1993). Under this measure, women's economic participation has increased substantially (from 25.5 percent in 1980). A third of women (32.2 percent) were recorded as employed in 1992, as compared to 20.5 percent in 1980.
However, as was outlined earlier, women are generally engaged in three roles: reproductive, productive and community(6)
. The need to balance these roles influences the extent of women's participation in the paid employment. Of particular significance is their heavy (and unwaged) involvement in the domestic sphere; in 1992, 44.1 percent of women stated domestic duties as their principal activity, as compared to 2.5 percent of men. This is coupled with the fact that outside the home there is a shortage of care facilities, with only 35 percent of children aged 2-4 reported to be in day care centres. Women's participation in paid work is also shaped by the weight of their unwaged work in the community, subsistence agriculture and family business. It is important to note that the increase in women's paid work has not been accompanied by a decrease in their unpaid work.
The HDR 1995 argues that "the failure to value most of their work reduces women to virtual non-entities is most economic transactions - such as property ownership or offering collateral for bank loans. Because status in contemporary society is so often equated with income-earning power, women suffer a major undervaluation of their economic status. This is so despite their larger share of the total work burden [more hours and more concurrent tasks] and notwithstanding the reality that men's paid work is often the result of 'joint production,' much of which would not be possible if women did not stay at home looking after the children and the household" (UNDP, 1995: 97). The report estimates that if one were to impute a market wage to the women's labour time, the global output figure would increase by US$11 trillion.
Women face higher unemployment than men. According to the HIES 1992-1993, the rate of unemployment amongst women was 7.1 percent in 1992, as compared to 6.8 percent amongst men. The incidence of unemployment is particularly acute amongst Amerindian women, given that they are overwhelmingly located in interior areas away from the job opportunities in the coastal region. Note that these figures must be treated with caution given the size of the unrecorded informal sector, but they are at least indicative.
c. Nature of Employment
Despite the fact that women's participation in paid work in formal and informal sectors has increased, this often occurs in jobs in traditionally low-paying areas with poor working conditions, poor occupational health and safety protection, low job security and poor protection of maternity rights. Further, many of these jobs are non-unionised, unregulated and not subject to a minimum wage. Thus, for example, women represent a high proportion of those working in:
the public service: In 1993 the female to male ratio was estimated to be 5:4, in a sector where real incomes fell by a sixth between 1986 and 1991 (World Bank, 1992);
teaching and nursing: where salaries are particularly low;
security guard services: where pay is extremely low and hours are extremely long. Apart from this area (and a small number of women in the police force), women are largely concentrated in the "caring and serving professions";
domestic work in private homes: these women are the most vulnerable given their isolation. Their terms of employment are governed by an Act prescribing hours of work which is not even administered (UNICEF, 1993);
the garment industry: in those private industries that are the most unregulated, factory-based, and not unionised, mainly young women often work exploitatively long hours, without overtime pay in environmentally unsafe conditions (UNICEF, 1993). The garment industry increasingly involves small units established in private homes or yards which are even more outside regulation; and
the informal sector: the majority of women in the growing informal sector are estimated to be in small scale trading and market vending. Holder (1988) in a study of traders, found that part time traders were simultaneously teachers, Ministry/State Corporation employees, farmers, typists and nurses [the last category of which represented the highest proportion (37 percent).
According to the HIES 1992-1993, in general, most men work in agriculture, hunting and forestry (32.3 percent employed; 32.3 percent self-employed), while most women work in wholesale and retail trade (23.2 percent employed; 45.3 percent self-employed). Statistically, therefore, most women are self-employed or operate micro or small businesses (in wholesale or retail). However, official statistics often underestimate the involvement of women (and children) in agriculture; "men have been considered the main farmers with their partners being seen as household managers and their children being considered helpers." In fact, both women and children are active participants in the agricultural sector" (Jackson, 1995). The under-representation of women that is seen in the statistics comes largely from a production-focused definition of agriculture, while a large proportion of women are involved in marketing and processing.
d. Level of Wages and Position in Hierarchy
As already noted, women face lower wages than men. This is clearly seen in the case of the public service, which employs more women (58.5 percent in 1993) than men. Based on public service management records, there are 47.3 percent more women than men in the bottom seven salary scales, while there are 79 percent more men than women in the top seven.
Within both the public and private sectors, women are over-represented in lower, non-managerial positions, and even where women participate in managerial positions they are primarily at middle and lower levels. A survey of twenty enterprises by the Women's Affairs Bureau found that in 1993 men accounted for 87.6 percent of executive management positions and 60.1 percent of middle and lower management [Parsad, 1994(b)].
a. Life expectancy
According to UNICEF, life expectancy of both women and men has improved, with women continuing to have a higher life expectancy than men (70.8 years compared to 65.8 years in 1992, and 68.9 compared to 64.1 in 1980) (UNICEF, 1993). The fact that the figure is higher for women, simply reflects biological factors and is seen around the world [five years is the estimated global biological life expectancy edge women have over men (UNDP, 1995)].
The nutritional status of women, however, is a cause for concern. In 1992, of those pregnant women attending health clinics, 65 percent had haemoglobin levels (an important indication of anaemia) below the acceptable level (Agrodev, 1995). According to Thomas (1993), in 1990 more than 76 percent of pregnant women attending health centres had mild to moderate anaemia, and between 1986 and 1990 the rate of severe anaemia doubled to nearly 10 percent. Nutritional problems continue to be a major health problem for both men and women, with nutrition-related diseases accounting for five out of the ten leading causes of death in all age groups (UNICEF, 1993).
c. Birth Weight and Still Births
There is a high incidence of babies born with low birth weights (LBW), a further indication of low nutritional status in mothers. In 1992, 19 percent of live births were of low birth weights, of which 26 percent were born to women under 20 years of age and 66 percent to women between 20 and 34 years (Agrodev, 1995). The incidence of LBW is not evenly distributed; in 1991, 46 percent of births to Amerindian women and girls were below 2500g, compared to 24 percent and 30 percent for Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese, respectively, and a national average of 24 percent. LBW reflects and increases vulnerability, leading to greater risk of morbidity and mortality in infancy and early childhood (UNICEF, 1993).
There is also a high incidence of still-births, with a still-birth rate in 1992 of 27 per 1000 (Agrodev, 1995).
d. Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR)
There has been an increase in maternal mortality rate (MMR), which is regarded as a key indicator of women's unequal access to health care (UNDP, 1995). Records show an increase from 0.4 per 1000 live births in 1979, to 0.6 in 1984 (UNICEF 1993). The main causes of maternal mortality are attributed to abortion, toxaemia in pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, post-partum haemorrhage, sepsis during childbirth and ruptured uterus. As a Ministry of Health report notes, "It is generally accepted that the maternal mortality rate . . . is an indicator which reflects not only the adequacy of obstetric care but also the general level of socio-economic development" (Ministry of Health, et al, 1994: 13). The same report suggests that there is some evidence that the substantial increase in maternal mortality is not only attributable to inadequate antenatal care of hypertensive pregnancy disorders, but also poorly conducted abortions and post-caesarean section infections.
e. Chronic Diseases
Data on some chronic non-communicable diseases among women and men in Guyana show a higher incidence of cancer, heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases in men between 1989 and 1990. More women than men died of diabetes over the same period and from hypertensive diseases in 1988 and 1989. The rate of deaths in women from hypertensive diseases has been increasing.
Although less women than men have the AIDS virus in Guyana, the percentage increases in the number of cases amongst women (between 1991 and 1992) has been far higher than amongst men (207 percent compared to 71 percent). It should also be noted that HIV/AIDS amongst women can also have a serious impact on children, given that the HIV virus can be passed from pregnant mother to unborn child.
The fertility rate in Guyana is falling; in 1992 it was 2.6 per 1000 as compared to 3.2 per 1000 in 1980. One reason for the decline is the high level of migration among women of child bearing age. Despite the overall decline, women in the 30-34 age group had higher fertility rates in 1987 that in 1980, reflecting the fact that women are having children at an older age. However, teenage fertility remains extremely high in Guyana. Between 1992 and 1994, deliveries by teenagers accounted for 24 percent of all births at Georgetown Hospital (Agrodev, 1995). This group also has the lowest use of contraceptives [18 percent among sexually active teenagers aged 15-19, compared to 38.2 percent among all couples "in-union" (cited in Ministry of Health et al, 1994: 12)].
A "contraceptive prevalence survey" in 1992 found that 42 percent of all last pregnancies in Guyana were unwanted: 23 percent were considered to be "spacing errors," and 19 percent of women indicated that they had not wanted any more children at all (Ministry of Health et al, 1994: 12). In this context, it is possible to see how high fertility rates among certain sections of the female population can severely restrict women's freedom of choice.
In 1995, abortion was legalised in Guyana. Despite its previous illegality, and even though there was probably considerable under-reporting, the level of abortions was extremely high. A study by PAHO of urban clinics in Georgetown, found that half (47 percent) of respondents had at least one abortion. It was found that the number of abortions was higher amongst the age group 24-29 years, and higher amongst Indo-Guyanese than Afro-Guyanese women.
i. Mental Illness
Rates of mental illness appear to be increasing faster among women than men. In 1985 men outnumbered women, whereas in 1993 there was equal proportion. While the overall number of patients receiving psychiatric treatment at the Georgetown Hospital in 1993 decreased from 1985 estimates, the percentage of female patients increased from 44.5 percent in 1985 to 49.5 percent in 1993.
A study by Odie-Ali (1993) indicated that males were more than two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than females. Of a total of 147 officially recorded suicides (between January 1986 and June 1988), 77.1 percent were male. There is also a large imbalance between the races; an overwhelming majority of these suicides were committed by Indo-Guyanese (88.5 percent).
k. Access to health care
Economic problems have led to the deterioration of the health care system in Guyana; a system in which access was already limited. There have been severe impacts on maternal and child health care (MCH), which forms one of the major focuses of national health policies (Chapter 19). A document on MCH notes that "especially during the decade of the 80s in Guyana, perhaps more so than in most other Caribbean countries, sustained socio-economic crisis has contributed to steady deterioration of health infrastructure at primary, secondary and referral levels. Acute shortages of essential pharmaceuticals, other medical supplies and equipment, have been compounded by massive emigration of trained nurses, physicians and other health personnel" (Ministry of Health et al, 1994: 10).
The Ministry of Health estimates that 80 percent of women who had deliveries in the country as a whole were attended by trained medical personnel (cited in Shiw Parsad, 1994a). UNICEF (1993), however, reports that a majority of births were attended by midwives (53.9 percent) rather than doctors (4.4 percent). Moreover, certain sections of the population have far worse access to such resources; only 24 percent of Amerindian women had access to midwives in 1990, compared to 55 percent-75 percent of other groups. Indeed, Amerindians generally have poorer access to health care [only through the Community Health Worker (CHW) Programme], as reflected in low levels of immunisation (despite there being a high level for rest of the country) and a high incidence of diarrhoeal disease due to poor water and sanitation.
Adult literacy among females, as a percentage of that among males, was 98 percent in 1992 (UNDP, 1995), which compares well with other countries. It also reflects a substantial improvement from the situation in 1970; in 1970 overall female illiteracy was far greater than male [11 percent of the female population as compared to 5.7 percent of the male population (Census, 1970)], whereas by 1992 the gap had been reduced significantly, as noted above.
It is important to note, however, that the situation for Amerindians is very different to other ethnic groups; illiteracy rates are far higher for Amerindians as a group and their level of illiteracy among females is significantly higher than among males.
In addition, the level of functional literacy is a cause for concern, particularly among the young. A study of functional literacy of out of school youth found low levels amongst both males and females, though females performed better; the percentage of males functioning at high and moderate levels was 8.5 percent and 58 percent, respectively, while for females the figures were 14.1 percent and 64.1 percent, respectively (Jennings, et al, 1995).
b. Educational Enrollment
In Guyana, where co-education was largely in place before 1975, both males and females enjoy equal access to education. The proportion of females to males in school, across all age groups, more or less reflects the proportion in the general population. The combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrollment ratio in 1992 was 68.2 percent for females and 68.1 percent for males (UNDP, 1995).
According to Ministry of Education data, enrollment at the primary level (as a percentage of the school age population) was 41.1 percent for females and 42.6 percent for males in 1992/3. At the secondary level, this figure is higher for females than for males (29.4 percent as compared to 25.2 percent). At the tertiary level, female enrollment is now higher than male enrollment (53.4 percent of those enrolling in 1992/3 were female) though in 1980/81 the reverse was the case (only 31.9 percent were female). At the Cyril Potter College of Education, female enrollment far outweighs that of males (84.4 percent were women in 1992/3), but at the Technical and Vocational Schools male enrollment is far higher (75.6 percent). At the Guyana Industrial Training Centre, the balance is particularly skewed in favour of men (93.4 percent were male in 1992/3).
c. Educational Attainment
Educational attainment between the sexes is also fairly similar; in 1992, 20.8 percent of males had education of below primary school level compared to 20.3 percent for females. The figures for primary attainment were 55.4 percent and 54.2 percent, for secondary they were 22.5 percent and 24.2 percent, and for university the level was 1.3 percent for both males and females. The biggest improvement in gender equality was for university enrollment; in 1970 only 0.3 percent of women had university level education, as compared to 1.2 percent of males.
d. Distribution of Subjects of Study
However, despite equal access to education, at all levels females have tended to be clustered in traditional areas of study, with males more likely to be studying subjects related to technology, science and engineering and females more likely to be studying arts subjects. According to University of Guyana figures, in 1992/1993, 11.2 percent of females, but only 5.6 percent of males, enrolled in the Arts faculty. The picture for the Education faculty was similar with an enrollment percentage of 14.3 percent for females and 5.6 percent for males. In the case of the Technology faculty, 24.0 percent of men, but only 1.5 percent of women enrolled. The level of enrollment in the Social Sciences faculty was high for both sexes, but a significantly larger proportion of women enrolled than men (55.2 percent of females as opposed to 41 percent of males). It is interesting to note, however, that the percentage of males and females within the Natural Sciences faculty is now fairly equal.
As will be discussed later, this gender stereotyping in fields of study, combined with an absence of gender sensitive career guidance programmes, adversely affects women in both the short-term and the long-term; equal access to education does not necessarily translate into equal quality of education or equal outcomes. Training often confines women to low-income careers in low-income areas, thus reinforcing their disadvantaged position in society.
e. Educational Materials, Teaching Methodology and Classroom Management
Despite some committed efforts in the past two decades, gender stereotyping in the classroom persists. For instance:
in terms of the textbooks used: for example, females are still significantly under-represented in illustrations in Science and Technology textbooks.
in terms of teaching methodology: individual instructors are more likely to encourage the active participation of boys while they unwittingly reduce girls to mere observers.
in terms of the tasks assigned to girls and boys: girls are more likely to be required to sweep the classroom in school, and boys to lift desks and benches (Agrodev, 1995). It should be noted that often boys and girls are socialised into doing certain tasks; even if teachers encourage students to perform other tasks, girls may still choose to sweep floors, and boys to lift desks and benches.
At the primary and secondary levels, women form the majority of teaching staff; 76.2 percent at primary level, and 58.4 percent at secondary in 1993. The latter figure represents a reversal of the position in 1985 when men represented 55.4 percent of staff at the secondary level. However, despite an overwhelming female majority up to Senior Master/Mistress level, more males than females are appointed as Head-teachers. Such gender imbalances exist with regard to top management in the education system as a whole. Furthermore, some argue that the present low salaries of teachers is a direct result of the feminisation of the teaching profession.
At the tertiary level, the female dominance of teaching staff is reversed; men made up 70.3 percent of staff in 1993.
g. Adult Education
Adult education, particularly long-distance education (such as teleconferencing), is becoming increasingly popular. Provision of such education to rural areas in increasing, and the service is overwhelmingly accessed by women (Agrodev, 1995). A recent report notes that "the scope of the subjects is wide and the range of coverage is increasing through the use of distance education. Distance education by teleconferencing is currently available along the coast in Regions 2 and 6 while face-to-face adult education classes are offered in Regions 2,3,4,5,6 and 10" (Agrodev, 1995: 11,12).
5. The Household
a. The Concept of the Household
The household forms the context of much of women's lives. As such it is key to any analysis of the situation of women. Indeed, most data collected in Guyana uses the household as the unit of analysis. However, in much development policy, certain assumptions are made about the household which are untenable and which must be reassessed:
Structure of the Household: It is often assumed that a household is a discrete unit with a clear-cut "sexual division of labour"; headed by a male breadwinner, with child care and domestic duties the prime responsibility of his wife. This "ideal-typical nuclear" model of the household fails to explain the wide variety of household structures around the world. In Guyana, for example, there is a very high prevalence of households headed by females (where women fulfill not only their traditional domestic roles but also act as the main provider) and of "visiting relationships" (where long term partners do not live under one roof). In the case of female headed households, it was estimated that they accounted for 29.5 percent of total households in 1993, of which 35.2 percent were Indo-Guyanese, 50.8 percent Afro-Guyanese, and 2.6 percent Amerindian (HIES, 1992-1993). A study of Georgetown found that 45 percent of households were headed by women (Agrodev, 1995). Furthermore, it is generally agreed that the number of female-headed households has been increasing [from 24.4 percent of total households in 1993 (HIES, 1992-1993)] for various possible reasons, including migration, increases in the level divorce, marital separation, male mortality, and, increasingly, individual choice. It must be noted that not all female-headed households have a single head, and that the single head of some households is male. In addition, an undetermined number of households headed by children exist.
Internal Workings: In much development policy, the internal workings of the household are either ignored (so that the household is treated as an individual), or are assumed to be characterised by altruism (with a male head distributing the available resources to the benefit of all household members). These descriptions have been increasingly questioned by authors who argue that, not only are the internal workings of the household critical, but that distribution is determined by the relative balance of power between household members. In cases where women are subordinated within the household, they may find that they have inferior access to male earned income, or even to their own earned income. In Guyana, the prevalence of domestic violence (which is often treated as a "private" matter) is an important reason to look inside the household.
External Context: In most cases households are treated as discrete units. However, it is important to be aware of the relationship that exists between the internal workings of the household and wider society. On the on hand, women's position in the household may influence their position in wider society, such as the nature of their participation in waged labour. On the other hand, various societal factors are crucial to understanding the internal workings and the relative balance of power in the household; beliefs about the "proper" role of women, the idea of women as "secondary income earners" (often used to justify low wages for women), and perceptions of "natural" female traits (such as patience, expressiveness and weakness).
b. Intra-Household Distribution
Unless we know something of the internal workings of the household, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from income data about the true situation of women. How is income spent? Are women expected to contribute a greater share of their income to the household, than men? The data available do not allow any answers to these questions.
One fact that is clear, though, is that a large proportion of women's time is spent in unwaged work (performing domestic duties or providing unpaid agricultural labour, for example). Though they work as long, if not longer hours than men, and are involved in more tasks, their contributions are generally insufficiently recognised and rewarded.
c. Domestic Violence
Domestic violence exists in disturbing proportions in Guyana. One study of Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese households found that "About 2 out of 3 women experienced at least one incident of some form of physical violence from the husbands or male partners, ranging from pushing and slapping to battering and maiming" (Danns and Parsad, 1989). Of their sample, a third experienced regular violence, almost on a daily basis, and in most cases violence was tied to alcohol abuse. In general, the most prevalent type of reported violence is physical, followed by sexual assault and rape, incest and homicide in the family (Jackson, 1991, Danns and Parsad, 1989). It should be noted that the social stigma attached to rape, incest, and other forms of violence against women, leads to a significant under-reporting. Women who suffer domestic violence face the twin problems of society treating domestic violence as a private matter, and of authorities not dealing with reported incidents seriously (particularly if there are no serious or fatal injuries).
In Guyana in recent months, certain women's issues, concerns and events, such as the recent legislation on the Medical Termination of Pregnancy, the issue of domestic violence, and the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, have gained the attention of both the print and electronic media. However, it is the view of some media and development practitioners that media coverage vis-à-vis women and their involvement in national life, is more ad hoc than part of a conscious policy on women, gender and development. At present:
There are approximately 15 television stations, with 8 located in Georgetown; (of which one is State-owned). There are two national daily newspapers (one State-owned) with a handful of other biweekly, weekly or bi-monthly newspapers. There is one state-run radio station;
There is no apparent systematic and/or focused coverage of gender issues;
There is minimal local television programming;
A number of existing media houses, both private and State-owned, are capable of accepting responsibility for accessing and disseminating information on women and gender-related issues and concerns to the general public on a regular basis;
There is an inadequate representation of women at the decision-making level in media organisations; and
Frequently, stereotypical images of women are used in advertising.
7. Institutional Framework
a. Historical Background
The history of women's organisations in Guyana dates right back to women's efforts organised protest against the exploitative conditions of colonialism, slavery and indentureship. After the Second World War, the number of women's groups grew rapidly both in number and variety. A large number of women's interest groups, ranging from church groups to mothers unions, from professional organisations to service organisations, dealt primarily with women's practical needs, making a significant contribution to social welfare. Where they dealt with women's production, emphasis was on traditional activities, such as shoe repairing, handicrafts, sewing and embroidery, and preserving jams and jellies. The post-war period also saw the rise of a number of organisations concerned with women's strategic needs, such as the Women's Political and Economic Organisation (1946), the Women's Progressive Organisation (1953), and the Women's Auxiliary of the PNC (1957).
Since then the number of organisations has increased and the institutional capacity of the sector has grown. In 1972, for example, the Conference of the Affairs and Status of Women in Guyana (CASWIG) was established as an umbrella organisation, which engaged in income-generating and education projects through the 1980s. In 1981, on the recommendation of CASWIG and in response to commitments given in international and regional fora, the Women's Affairs Bureau (WAB) was set up by government to work towards the elimination of discrimination against women.
b. The Women's Affairs Bureau (WAB)
The Women's Affairs Bureau (WAB) was established by the Government in January 1981 as an institutional mechanism for monitoring and advancing the participation of women in all aspects of national life and national development, and for addressing issues related to the status of women in Guyana. Currently located within the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, the WAB is an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral agency engaged in a wide variety of activities. The WAB is funded from the national budget, although it also receives funding from foreign agencies (4 out of 5 projects are funded by foreign agencies, with UNICEF funding 60 percent of all projects). The WAB's key activities are:
Provision of technical support to the Minister for Women's Affairs.
Policy formulation on issues concerning women.
Provision of specialist advice and technical support to non-governmental women's organisations (NGWOs) and individual women. The Bureau works in close collaboration with 65 national and regional women's organisations with the aim of bringing women's concerns into one major forum.
Project monitoring and implementation.
Research and documentation. The WAB has had a major influence in improvements in collection of sex-disaggregated data by the Guyana Statistical Bureau, but generally its research and documentation activities have been inhibited by inadequate staffing and the reluctance of public and private agencies to compile sex-specific data.
Operation of a revolving loan fund, which up to 1993 involved 54 women, a total of G$877,738, and helped a large number of businesses (particularly in the areas of agro-processing and greens vending). However, the scheme has faced low repayment rates.
Counselling on a wide range of problems, including matrimonial, financial, legal, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Between 1990 and 1993, approximately 700 women were counselled. The Bureau serves primarily as a referral agency.
The WAB extends its functions through the diverse geographic areas of the country via its regional links, the Women's Affairs Regional Committees, which are subcommittees of the Regional Democratic Councils. They function as non-governmental organisations to liaise with and coordinate the operations of local non-governmental women's organisations (NGWOs) and other groups.
The WAB is intended to work with relevant ministries and sectoral agencies to ensure that programmes reflect women's concerns. It also receives some technical support for its programme formulation.
c. Non Governmental Women's Organisations (NGWOs)
At the NGO level, women's groups have long existed which were organised to deal with women's practical gender needs via the provision of welfare services or the establishment of income-generating projects and cottage industries. In addition, there are a large number of women's groups, whose agenda includes the importance of addressing women's strategic gender needs. In total, there are about 65 NGWOs dealing with social welfare, women's rights and other developmental issues as well as specific sectoral linkages of concern. Many of these organisations have countrywide linkages which are not included in the total. By far the largest proportion of NGWOs are religious (33.8 percent), followed by those oriented to social service and welfare (16.9 percent) and community support groups (15.5 percent). Trade union- affiliated NGWOs represent 12.3 percent of the total, while professional NGWOs and those oriented to education, training and development also represent small proportions. Finally, although small, the category of political NGWOs has country-wide linkages.
In the recent past, a number of women's groups have been formed at the community level in coastal areas. Their development has been spurred by the availability of funds earmarked for poverty alleviation and small projects for women. Many have focussed on traditional skill areas and have succeeded in providing women, who were previously unorganised, with familiarity with self-development opportunities.
d. Other Key Organisations
There are too many organisations involved in improving the situation of Guyanese women to mention them individually here. However, three important ones, which are not NGWOs, are:
Women's Advisory Council of the Trade Union Congress (WAC-TUC): This was officially established in 1967 to: (1) establish training programmes for women Trade Unionists; (2) advise the TUC on problems and goals for female workers; (3) coordinate activities of the women's section of the TUC; and (4) secure complete organisation of all women in unions affiliated with the TUC.
The Guyana Chapter of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA): This is a link to a regional network with a Secretariat in Trinidad and Tobago. The focus is on research and action aimed at confronting exploitation and subordination of women. In 1992, the Guyana Chapter spearheaded the Women's Rights Campaign, which looked at domestic violence, women's rights at work, child abuse and sexual harassment. The Guyana Chapter has also addressed the issue of media reporting of cases of violence against women and conducted occasional training in this area for the police force.
The Women's Studies Unit, University of Guyana: Established in the Faculty of Social Sciences in September 1987, the Unit conducts a wide range of research, teaching, and outreach activities. Research projects completed for agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP have looked, for example, at the economic and social situation of households headed by females, and at the incidence and problems of early pregnancies. The Unit also organises forums and publishes a newsletter
e. International Arena
Guyana is bound under a number of international agreements to improving the situation of women. These agreements include the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and those related to Guyana's membership of CARICOM, the Commonwealth, OAS, and ECLAC. However, strategies for monitoring these agreements are insufficiently defined and the necessary reporting schedules are not met.
a. The Situation of Women in Theory
Guyana's framework of legislation provides women with near de jure equality. For example, under law, women are entitled to equal occupational health and safety, the same right to vote, and same minimum wage as men. Indeed, following the Declaration of the United Nations Decade for Women 1975, the Government of Guyana introduced in Parliament in January 1976, a "State Paper on Equality of Women," in which it affirmed its commitment to "a comprehensive assault on the problems at legislative and other levels."
b. Significant Legal Reforms in the Past (See Box 1)
Guyana's inherited legislation under British colonialism made no special provision for women, and indeed it discriminated against them. Though significant legislative reforms occurred prior to independence, the pace of reform was accelerated after independence in 1966. The most dramatic period of change was the 1980s, which saw a number of unprecedented legal reforms. Indeed, it was in 1980 that the principle of equality for women was enshrined in the new constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, which stated under Article 29 (1), "women and men have equal rights and the same legal status in all spheres of political, economic and social life. All forms of discrimination against women on the basis of their sex are illegal".
The year 1990 was perhaps, though, the single most significant year for women's rights in Guyana, with the passing of the Family and Dependent Persons Act, the Married Persons Property (Amendment) Act and the Equal Rights Act. The year 1995 was also significant in that it saw the passing of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. Box 1 outlines the key legal reforms of the past.
c. Current Significant Legal Reforms
The Domestic Violence Bill was submitted recently to Government for approval. Based on the model developed by CARICOM and acts of countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and Belize, it was drafted by the Legal sub-committee of Women's Rights Campaign. The Bill:
provides protection for any family member who is a victim of domestic violence;
covers all forms of domestic violence including physical and emotional cruelty;
enables the victim to apply to the Courts for:
- the removal of the abuser from the home;
- the provision of a protective or restraining order;
- an ordering that the husband continue to pay the mortgage even if he is not living in the home; and
- a referral of the matter for counselling.
Box 1: Past Significant Legal Reforms
1904 Separate property rights were conferred on women.
1928 Women who owned property were enfranchised for the first time.
1945 Women were eligible to sit on the legislative council.
1953 Universal Adult Suffrage was granted to men and women, 21 years and over.
1961 Women were eligible for jury service.
1966 Women benefited from maternity provisions under the National Insurance Scheme.
1972 Women were allowed parity in the Guyana National Service.
1975 Co-education was implemented.
1976 The Government's State paper on Equality for women was documented.
1976 Women were allowed parity in the Guyana People's Militia.
1977 Married women were eligible for recruitment to permanent pensionable positions in the Public Service.
1977 Women were eligible for entry into previously exclusively male institutions.
1980 The principle of equality between the sexes was enshrined in the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, Article (29)1.
1983 Children born out of wedlock were entitled to the same legal rights and status enjoyed by children born in wedlock.
1983 Repeal of the Bastardy Act gave full credence to the Children Born out of Wedlock Act.
1983 There was repeal of the Labour Law as it relates to the employment of women at nights in industrial undertakings and overtime work for women in factories.
1983 The Infancy Act (Amendment to Children Born out of Wedlock Act) provided for entitlement to the custody of the child to either parent, whether or not the child is born in wedlock.
1985 The Marriage Act created a uniform system for all marriages.
1987 The Fiscal Amendment Act provided for married women to file separate income tax returns.
1987 The Minimum Wages Bill established parity in the term "skilled" and "unskilled" to both male and female workers.
1988 The Domicile Reform Act enabled both men and women to transmit their citizenship to spouses.
1990 The Family and Dependant provision Act provided for persons who are family members or dependants of a deceased person to claim financial benefits for the estate of the deceased person. Persons in a common-law union for seven years immediately prior to the death of the partner can also make similar claims.
1990 Under the Married Persons Property (Amendment) Act, the division of property could take into consideration the contribution made by the spouse to the marriage and the welfare of the family on condition that the claimants are either legally married or if they cohabit, that neither partner is married to someone else. The division of property would be applicable if the couple has lived together for less than 5 years. Where the union has lasted longer than 5 years, the claimant is entitled to one-third of the property if he/she did not work outside of the home and one-half if he/she did.
1990 The Equal Rights Act served to enforce Article (29) 1 of the Constitution on the principle of equality between men and women.
1995 The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which makes abortion legal in Guyana, was finally passed after vigorous campaigning by women's groups.
Prior to this Bill, there were no laws specifically dedicated to domestic violence; cases were tried under various sections of criminal and civil codes.
d. The Situation of Women in Practice
In practice, women still face a high degree of inequality and discrimination. Two important reasons why their de jure equality does not translate into de facto equality are:
low level of legal awareness amongst women: Many women are unaware of their legal rights. In its initiative to promote legal awareness of women's rights, the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers has made significant contributions particularly in the areas of publications [such as, The Law and You (1993)], lobbying for legislative reform, and public campaigns.
implementation problems: As with many policies, gender laws fall at the implementation stage. On the one hand there is insufficient capacity to enforce regulations, and on the other the enforcement mechanisms are dominated by men. For example, in 1993, 80 percent of judges and 78.6 percent of magistrates were men. Even where women are the authority figures, there is no guarantee that they will be gender sensitive. In addition, the police are insufficiently trained to recognise and deal seriously with gender inequality. It is also important to note that many women work in the domestic sphere or in professions that are largely unregulated (such as the garment industry, or those in the informal sector).
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As shown by the information in Box 1, there has been a progressive improvement in the situation of women under the law, especially since the mid-1970s. From 1976, when the State Paper on Equality of Women was introduced, the approach of the government has been two-pronged:
to provide women with equal status in law and equal access to education as the basis for improving their economic status;
to organise and provide training for small economic ventures of women.
The commitment of the government to the addressing the concerns of women in the various social, economic, political and cultural spheres, was echoed in a number of progressive legislative changes, particularly over the 1980s, and especially in 1990 (See above). A significant development in 1995 - in the form of the National Policy For Women - was the formulation of broad policy guidelines regarding the principle of equality for women. The National Policy emphasises:
the strategy of mainstreaming, ensuring that the issues of concern to women's condition and position are fully taken into account in all levels of the national development planning process;
the need for equitable consideration in areas relating to the social, economic, political and cultural development of Guyana;
the specific need for quantifying the unwaged labour of women;
the need for women's reproductive roles to be given more meaningful recognition and linked with women's productive roles;
the need for attitudinal change in men towards sharing family responsibilities;
the elimination of poverty;
the inclusion of the issue of gender equity on the national agenda, with the aim of educating and informing the public of the central importance of addressing gender in all areas of national life.
However, as discussed above, implementation of these policy orientations has tended to lag well behind the enunciation of policy.
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The remainder of this section examines specific policies in key areas, making a distinction between those relevant to women's practical gender needs and those relevant to their strategic ones.
Since the introduction of the first structural adjustment programme in the late 1980s, the short term approach to poverty alleviation among women has been to target especially vulnerable sub-groupings of women for support from the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP). These interventions primarily dealt with women's practical needs. SIMAP, designed to help cushion the impact of structural adjustment on vulnerable groups, has provided nutritional supplements, maternal and child care, shelter, education, and infrastructure (water, sanitation, schools, recreational facilities, roads, drainage, and irrigation). In addition, there are general policies of poverty alleviation from which women benefit, such as improvements in the social infrastructure. However, many of the poorest women are difficult to reach, and many remain outside the policy net.
Under the auspices of the Women's Affairs Bureau, a credit scheme (revolving loan) is in operation which has assisted women in traditional businesses (such as food preservation and processing and greens vending). However, the scheme has a low coverage and a poor repayment rate. Nevertheless, the small-scale credit schemes of Scotia Bank and IPED have given considerable assistance to low-income female entrepreneurs.
A number of policies have also tackled power and equality issues, which under a broad definition of poverty, should be considered here. Significant policies in this regard are grounded in the 1976 State Paper on Equality of Women, the Constitution (1980) and the Equal Rights Act (1990). The move to women's eligibility to sit on the legislative council (1945) and the introduction of universal suffrage (1953) were two significant milestones in the area of women's political participation.
A number of policies in the 1996 Budget will be helpful for women. In particular:
Public Sector Wages: Pending an agreement on a wages policy, the Government increased wages of civil servants by 15 percent, which comes on top of substantial past increases (103 percent between January 1993 to January 1995). This is beneficial for women, given their high representation in this area.
Personal Income Tax: The increase in the threshold from $12,000 per month to $15,000 per month, will be beneficial for women to the extent that women earn less than men, and so are more likely to fall below this threshold.
Minimum Tax on Turnover: The removal of minimum tax on turnover will provide a greater incentive for women to move into small business activities and will benefit those already involved in this area.
However, apart from the argument that beneficial policies did not go far enough, some policies in the Budget will actually be detrimental to women. For example:
Hucksters Licences and Control Act: The Government intends to amend this act (among others) to bring the fees payable by operators "more in line with the administration and collection costs involved". While this move may be necessary, it will impact women severely given the high proportion of them involved in this activity. It should be noted that a large proportion of hucksters do operate without licences.
Over past years, there have been various policies that have had a positive effect women's income, such as training schemes for small economic ventures of women.
In the area of agriculture, the Government has articulated a draft policy on Women in Agriculture as part of the National Agricultural Policy. This "addresses the need to take more cognisance of women's role in the sector and states strategies to achieve this" (Agrodev, 1995: 15). The policy aims to:
ensure that sustained attention is given to the integration of women into development activities in the agricultural sector;
ensure that the needs of women receive consideration during project formulation; and
enhance the socio-economic conditions of rural women and their families (Agrodev, 1995: 15).
As already mentioned, the government policy is to treat women equally. This is reflected in a number of legislative reforms, including those making married women eligible for recruitment to permanent pensionable positions in the Public Service (1977), the reform of the Labour Law with regard to women's nightwork and overtime work in factories and industrial undertakings (1983), the provision for women to file separate income tax returns (1987), and the establishment of parity in the minimum wages between skilled unskilled male and female workers (1987).
The focus of health policy in this country is to assist women in their reproductive role; that is, mother and child health (MCH). The Minister of Health, at the Opening Session of the MCH Workshop (Georgetown, 29th January, 1994), said ". . . Where does one put the focus? For me the focus has to be on Primary Health Care and on Maternal and Child Health in particular" (cited in Ministry of Health, et al, 1994). This priority is echoed in the health policies presented in Chapter 19.
In terms of health care for mothers, the MCH Unit in the Ministry of Health, aims to provide health education and nutritional advice, and to operate programmes in the areas of prenatal, intra-natal, postnatal health and child spacing. The Unit operates programmes through 116 health centres, 42 satellite health centres and 19 health posts, in addition to district, regional and national (referral) hospitals.
In addition to the above, a national plan of action for nutrition is being developed, as well as a policy on breast feeding under the direction of GAHEF. Also, as outlined in the 1996 Budget Speech, the Government intends to provide supplements to pregnant and lactating women and vitamin and iron tablets.
The recent legalisation on the medical termination of pregnancy in Guyana (1995) is an extremely positive step for women. Given the number of abortions that occur in Guyana, the legalisation not only has health implications (since abortions can now be carried out legally and so under better medical conditions), but also socio-economic implications as it reduces the cost of abortions (a number of doctors performed abortions illegally at a high price) and helps remove the social stigma attached to abortions.
The current educational policies (Chapter 20) are placing greater emphasis on primary education, community involvement in schools, and strengthened technical and vocational education and training (see also Chapter 35).
One of the key aims of the 1976 State Paper on Equality of Women was to provide women with equal access to education as the basis for improving their economic status. The main objective of the Ministry of Education and Cultural Development's current policy is to make high quality education available and accessible to all Guyanese children from the nursery level to, at the minimum, the age of fourteen.
Since 1975, when Guyana committed itself to progressive educational reform, exemplified by the introduction of co-educational schooling, educational reform initiatives have been adopted to address women and development concerns. Most recently, reforms aimed to address gender sensitivity have become manifest in the crafting and implementation of a common curriculum.
Additional reform initiatives specifically attempt to correct the present gender imbalances in the science and technology fields of study and others are aimed at the educational system in general. However, as ambitious as these aims are, uncertainty still exists as to how to actually achieve them. In other words: the destination is known; the problem lies in charting a successful route that ensures a safe passage. For that to happen, it will be necessary to adopt and, then adapt, effective strategies to realise the Ministry's gender sensitive policy goals. What is more, the Ministry recognises that institutional alliances (between and within the private and public sectors) will have to be strengthened in order to orchestrate the reduction and eventual removal of gender imbalances throughout Guyana.
5. The Household
A number of policies already referred to assist women within the engendered role within the household, such as social infrastructure investment and health education. Policies aimed at enhancing their income earning potential also assist them in fulfilling their productive role. Another policy that should benefit women especially is the establishment of special funds for supplementing mortgage payments and housing rental payments (Chapter 23).
A number of policies, however, deal specifically with the internal relationships of the household. A number of laws deal with women's entitlement to property (in cases of inheritance and divorce or separation). In addition, current legal reforms look at the pervasive problem of domestic violence, long seen as a private matter out of the scope of public policy. The Domestic Violence Bill has been submitted for the Government's approval.
In addition, measures have been taken to sensitise the public on the issue of violence against women, including workshops and media programmes. The recent commemoration of the International Day of Violence Against Women also received substantial public attention. During 1993, special workshops were held for the training of law enforcement officials, particularly women police officers, to deal with victims of family violence.
a. Practical and Strategic
There are no policies guiding the treatment of gender issues. There is also no policy outlining codes of conduct with respect to the portrayal of women in the media.
7. Institutional Framework
a. Practical and Strategic
Consistent efforts were made by the Government of Guyana to place the issue of women's integration into high visibility and to ensure that effective mechanisms were put into place to monitor, coordinate and link programmes designed to increase women's participation in the developmental process.
The National Policy 1995 reaffirms Government's commitment to improve the institutional capacity and capability of the WAB to effectively carry out its main responsibility of advising Government on all matters relating to the impact on women in Guyana of all sectoral policies, programs and projects.
Following the Declaration of the United Nations Decade for Women 1975, the Government of Guyana introduced in Parliament in January 1976, a State Paper on Equality of Women which affirmed the commitment of Government to launch "a comprehensive assault on the problems at legislative and other levels." This State Paper was the forerunner to the enshrinement of equality of women in the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana under Article 29 (1) enacted in 1980.
The Government subsequently appointed Justice Desiree Bernard, the only female high court judge at the time, to head a committee in order to examine Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution as against existing laws and to see how they could be amended. The Desiree Bernard Committee recommended 23 amendments to the Law of Guyana and fifteen subsidiary amendments. Among the laws amended were those providing legal rights and status to children born out of wedlock, labour laws concerning employment terms for women who work at nights and in factories, custody of children, and marriage.
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Under a number of indicators, the incidence of poverty (broadly defined) is higher amongst women than men, though higher among some women (such as female headed households) than others. In particular women face lower incomes, face major difficulties accessing credit, suffer severe health problems and higher illiteracy. With regard to credit, banks usually provide minimal amounts of credit to women, and informal credit institutions often have limited coverage. Women also have very limited access to positions of decision making power in both the public and private sectors, with the result that policies are devised without regard for gender issues. In addition, women face a high degree of violence both inside and outside the domestic sphere. In Guyana as in other countries, gender stereotyping in the home, gender bias in education, and gender segmentation in the labour market combine to keep the majority of women at the base of the economy. It is important to note that a great deal of poverty amongst women remains unperceived.
Weaknesses in physical and social infrastructure have a disproportionate impact on women and is an important factor in their poverty. Weaknesses in social infrastructure increase the time and energy needed to perform daily tasks of family care and, therefore, reduce the time women have available for paid work and other activities.
The situation of women in Guyana and the conditions under which present policies to reduce poverty among women have had to be devised, continue to be shaped by a number of global factors. To a certain extent, these factors have served to negate the impact of changes in the legal and educational status of women in Guyana. One significant factor is the process of structural adjustment, which has been found to impact disproportionately on women for a number of reasons. For example:
- women are in the majority in the public sector where the wage bill has had to be contained;
- it contributes to a rise in unpaid work as some of the provision of services is shifted from the State to households and community groups, spheres where women have primary responsibility.
Women's apparently low participation in the work force can be explained by their substantial participation in unwaged work and in the unrecorded informal sector. Women perform the bulk of domestic and child rearing duties, which is unremunerated and undervalued, and which limits their participation in waged work. Indeed, increased participation in paid employment may mean an increase the hours they have to work each day, unless there are corresponding changes to reduce women's unpaid work burden. In addition, women often work as unpaid labour in agriculture and in family businesses. Neither this fact nor their substantial involvement in the informal sector are reflected in the employment data.
In general, not only are women paid significantly less for similar tasks, but they are more or less excluded from higher-paying occupations and higher positions in occupational hierarchies. Women continue to predominate as low-paid domestic workers, nurses, and many of these jobs are non-unionised, unregulated and not subject to a minimum wage. As in other territories of the Caribbean, there is also a trend for women to become the majority of workers in sectors whose remuneration has become unattractive compared to the cost of living and to wages available in other sectors. Indeed, women are often exploited as a source of cheap labour (such as in piece work); a fact that is enhanced by current trends towards the globalisation of production. In addition, the majority of senior posts within both the public and private sector are held by men. One factor constraining women's advancement is their need to balance a variety of gender roles. Note that, in addition to lower wages and lower promotion prospects, women also face higher levels of unemployment.
Women face severe health problems, particularly in the areas of nutrition and maternal mortality. Women also face higher increases in the numbers with HIV/AIDS virus, and a higher incidence of diabetes and hypertensive diseases. Women's health is determined to a large extent by their access to, as well as the quality of, services, both of which have deteriorated substantially.
It has been empirically found that providing assistance to women has a more beneficial effect on the well-being of children, than when this assistance is channelled through men. That is, in general, women tend to spend a higher proportion of their take home pay on children's nutrition. According to Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Prime Minister of Norway, "The economic returns on investment are generally comparable to those for men, but the social returns in health and fertility regulation by far exceed what we achieve by educating men" (cited in UNDP, 1995:110).
The increasing burdens of providing and accessing health care, whether in homes, clinics or hospitals, fall hardest on women. This is a result of their primary responsibility for health in both their reproductive and productive roles.
Women's capacity to access and use health information is limited by their gender roles and the circumstances in which they live and work.
Education has a critical role to play in tackling gender inequality in society, and is vital for the personal growth and self-realisation of all people. As Senior (1991: 44) notes, "Education is a key to women's empowerment, to the acquisition of power and status both within the society and in her domestic life. A woman's educational level will affect her job opportunities and her exercise of legal and other legal rights, and will influence factors such as contraceptive use, number of children she has, age she commences childbearing - in short, her lifestyle and options." A study of four developing countries (Côte d'Ivoire, India, Indonesia and Thailand) found that an additional year of schooling can increase women's future earnings by about 15 percent, compared to 11 percent for men [cited in UNDP (1995: 110)]. While Guyanese women compare favourably to men in educational attainments, schooling is still much too limited for both sexes, on average.
In Guyana, though both males and females enjoy equal access to education, this does not necessarily translate into equal outcomes in terms of societal opportunities. This is largely a result of gender stereotyping in fields of study, where females and males are concentrated in traditional subject areas. For example, females are under-represented in science and technology (despite the fact that boys and girls receive a common curriculum up to Form 3) and in non-traditional vocational and technical education. This ensures that the low wage segments of the domestic job market which have been traditionally filled by women remain unchanged, not to mention unchallenged. Gender stereotyping in education, then, can be rightfully interpreted as reinforcing and rationalising the pervasive structural imbalances in society. The effects of this are compounded by a number of factors including the sharp systemic decline in educational quality in Guyana, gender stereotyping in the classroom (such as in the areas of teaching style and text books used), the absence of gender sensitive career guidance programmes, and the lack of female and male role models in non-traditional occupations.
The country's non-formal education programmes, where enrollment of females is considerably higher than enrollment of males, do little in the way of addressing the issue of gender stereotyping. The only known instance in which gender issues are raised is in a course entitled "Social Work II," given at IACE. Moreover, it can be argued that informal education (the transfer of knowledge, attitudes and values through, for example, song, the media, dance and drama) does even less to reduce gender stereotyping, and may even reinforce it.
There is an under-representation of women in senior administrative positions within individual schools and the educational system as a whole.
The system does not cater for young girls whose education is interrupted due to pregnancy. Culturally, society has not fully accepted young girls re-entering the formal school system to continue their education.
5. The Household
A high proportion of households in Guyana does not conform to the model used in much development policy and statistical data collection. The prevalence of female headed households and visiting relationships in Guyana puts into question the reliance on an "ideal-typical nuclear model" of the household (headed by a male breadwinner, with a wife focused on domestic duties and child rearing).
Household income is a poor measure of the welfare of individuals within the household, given that distribution of income within the household can be very unequal. It would follow that increases in household income do not necessarily imply the improvement in welfare of women (and children). Studies that have been done elsewhere on intrahousehold resource allocation have found that women fair worse in the areas of nutrition, medical care, education, and inheritance. The preferential treatment of men in these cases could reflect males' higher earning potential.
The high prevalence of domestic violence in Guyana demands that the state looks within the "private sphere" of the household. If the Government is serious about improving the situation of women they must start by protecting them from the violence they experience in their own homes, but so far this issue has been largely ignored in the policy sphere.
The media are uniquely placed to address women's practical and strategic gender needs but so far have not acted in this regard. The mass media (newspapers, radio and television) are among society's central actors, and they are in a unique position to provide women with information to help them fulfill their practical needs (such as child care advice and education) and strategic needs (such as legal rights and non-traditional skills). Together, they are a powerful tool for the transmission of culture, education and health promotion, the development of attitudes and values, and the defining of social aspirations. The potential of these mass media to contribute to women's empowerment, including economic empowerment, and to enhance their participation in national development is, therefore, profound. Despite this fact, there is no apparent systematic and/or focused coverage of gender issues. This may partly be the result of a male-dominated decision-making level in media organisations.
7. Institutional Framework
The objectives of the Women's Affairs Bureau (WAB) are made difficult to achieve by its weak institutional capacity. The effectiveness of the WAB is undermined by two main factors:
- inadequate staffing: the Bureau is staffed with an administrator, two officers and one assistant. Given the importance and scale of its task, this, together with budget allocations far below requested amounts, severely limits what it can achieve.
- structural location within Government: within its first 10 years (1981-1991) it functioned under 6 different Ministries and Government offices, which hampered its development. Its current location within the Ministry for Labour, Human Services and Social Security hampers its ability to participate in central decision making and impact upon policy formulation. Its ability to function is further hampered by an absence of inter-ministerial linkages; there is no inter-ministerial committee, nor are there focal points in technical Ministries (with the result that the goals of the WAB are largely unknown to the Ministries).
While there are a number of individually strong and vibrant women's organisations, their efforts have not been coordinated largely because of political polarisation, coupled with resource constraints within the organisations.
The current situation of Guyanese women reflects near equality de jure but not de facto. There are a number of reasons for this, including implementation problems, the existence of loopholes, and an inadequate level of legal awareness on the part of women as to their legal rights.
Despite dramatic legal reform in favour of women, there are a number of remaining legal weaknesses. These include the following:
- The law does not adequately recognise the value of women's reproductive work, nor that caring for children, the elderly or other household members is a social responsibility. One of the most striking weaknesses relates to the provision in the Married Persons Property Act, which entitles a claimant who did not work outside the home to less than one who did, and which, therefore, fails to recognise and value unwaged reproductive work.
- The law does not provide for protection against dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy, paid time off for ante-natal care, paid or unpaid maternity leave, or the right of reinstatement after maternity leave. The Equal Rights Act of 1990 only provides that an employer may make provision for an employee to have these options, but does not require him or her to do so (Whitehead, 1991).
- The land tenure law is extremely discriminatory and needs to be looked at urgently. There needs to be equality of property rights especially for Amerindian women.
- There is inadequate protection from domestic violence, rape and other forms of violence against women. Perceptions of and attitudes towards violence by families and authorities help to foster its perpetuation through non-interference by agents of social control on the one hand and the treatment of violence as a private family matter, on the other. An inadequate legislative framework for the resolution of violence compounds the problem.
- There is a lack of sensitivity on the part of police, court authorities, medical workers, media and the general public towards domestic violence (especially towards sexual violence).
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So far this section has outlined and discussed the key issues relating to the situation of women in Guyana. A number of general constraints exist to dealing with them, and these must be identified if headway is to be made in improving the situation of women.
The Government is heavily constrained financially, a problem largely related to the size of the debt burden. In addition, it is likely that aid flows (Official Development Assistance) will decrease before long. The financial difficulties of the Government are compounded by an insufficient revenue base and a trend toward declining real prices of Guyana's exports. This makes the inclusion of gender considerations in project and programme design harder to ensure, given the fact that they are seen as an additional cost and as a non-priority area. In this context, the cost-effectiveness of programmes and projects relating to gender issues, as well as the issue of targeting resources to the most needy, must be taken into consideration.
The concept of gender is poorly defined. Unless women's gender roles and gender needs are understood, it will be difficult to improve the position of women in society. For example, an awareness of women's need to balance different roles leads to an understanding that inflexible working conditions are a constraint to women's advancement, since they make it impossible to combine paid work with family care. In the case of gender needs, it is necessary to be clear about whether they are mainly practical or strategic; that is, whether proposed policies will assist women to fulfill their traditional roles in the home and society, or help them redefine themselves.
A major constraint in the analysis of gender in this country is the insufficient level and quality of the necessary data; data are often not broken down by sex. Income, for example, is recorded for the household, and not the individual. Across a wide spectrum (in both the public and domestic spheres), this informational lack hampers efforts to improve our understanding of women's position in society. For example if data were collected on time use within the household, then some steps could be taken toward imputing an economic value to women's unwaged work. Poor data results partly from the weak institutional capacity of those agencies concerned with gender. In addition, there is insufficient emphasis on the collection and use of qualitative data.
4. Institutional Capacity and Coordination
The institutional capacity of both the Government (specifically the WAB) and the non-government sector is weak, both in terms of human and financial resources. The position of the WAB is further weakened by its location in a social services ministry. In the case of the numerous non-government women's organisations, the problems are compounded by the failure of the older NGWOs to attract younger women, as well as poor coordination, which is partly a result of political polarisation. The result is that mechanisms for the monitoring of the situation of women and for the enforcement of gender laws, and hence gender equality, are inadequate.
5. Accessibility and Delivery Mechanisms
Often the poorest women are the hardest to reach; indeed, by definition their poverty implies that they have inferior access to services (such as education and health). Amerindian women, for example, who represent the poorest group, are often in areas of the country which are difficult to access. The problems are compounded by poor delivery mechanisms and infrastructure.
Beliefs about the proper role of women and men which are ingrained at the policy making and implementation levels, as well as in wider society, make the tackling of women's subordination and marginalisation harder to bring about. Such beliefs are associated with perceptions about the "natural" traits of women, and they often serve to maintain the inferior economic, political and social status of women, both within the household (such as, what is seen as their "natural" position within sexual division of labour) and within wider society (such as, the view of women as "secondary income earners," often used as a justification for lower wages for women). The fact that women have limited access to economic and political decision making power, acts as a further constraint to beneficial societal change. The constraints that the belief structure imposes are compounded by inadequate awareness and knowledge of gender issues throughout society, from government officials to media executives, from education practitioners to health workers.
7. Nature of Development
Given the emphasis on the private sector as the engine of growth, the need to attract foreign investment, and the competition between countries in the region to do that, there is a strong temptation on the part of government to informalise its labour market (in terms of employment law, health and safety and wages). As mentioned, it is often women who bare the brunt of this.
8. Nature of the Subject
The centrality of women to national development and the fundamental importance of gender analysis is not sufficiently recognised in Guyana. Gender is mistakenly seen as a peripheral subject and as a consideration which simply increases the financial cost of and time required in economic and political transactions. This perception, held by a majority of those in power, makes it harder to gather the necessary resources and commitment.
It is important for those who see gender in this way to understand not only the moral arguments for eliminating gender discrimination (which ranks alongside the abolition of slavery and the elimination of racial discrimination), but also the rational economic arguments. As the Human Development Report argues, "Investing in women's capabilities and empowering them to exercise their choices is not only valuable in itself but also the surest way to contribute to economic growth and overall development" (UNDP, 1995: 2). This is not only because women represent over one half of the country's population, and thus represent a vast human resource which is yet to be fully utilised, but also that the educational attainment and future financial status of children are much more likely to reflect those of the mother than those of the father. Thus the benefits of current investments in human capital are more likely to be passed on to future generations if gender considerations are brought into the mainstream and women are successfully integrated into the growth process (Todaro, 1994: 153). As Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway, puts it, "It pays to invest in women - not just for them, but for children and men as well" (cited in UNDP, 1995:110).
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The preceding description and analysis of the situation of women in Guyana, makes it possible to define the objectives for the future, and the policies required to meet them.
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To accelerate the pace of change towards gender equality by improving the situation of women in Guyana, with the ultimate aim of eliminating economic, political and social inequality between the sexes in both the public and domestic spheres. Initiatives will not only have to come from the State, but also from the private sector and civil society as a whole.
To develop the national capacity and institutional strength to ensure the gender planning, training, appraisal, monitoring and enforcement that is necessary with respect to gender in order to satisfy the above objective.
To bring gender considerations into the mainstream of development policy; that is, promote a pattern of development based on gender sensitive policies that are designed, implemented and monitored with women's full and equal participation, so as to better meet their gender needs. Policy should recognise that women, as a social group, share common interests and concerns and face common prejudices, but that they also span a broad cross-section of society and represent many cultural, religious, ethnic, generational and economic groupings and sub-groupings. In short, policy must recognise the fact that different women have different needs. Policies should be designed to meet women's expressed "strategic needs," while not imposing strategic programmes and projects on those who express purely "practical needs."
To improve our understanding and increase awareness of the situation of women, and develop sensitivity towards gender issues, not only within government but within society as a whole.
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To alleviate poverty amongst women, with emphasis on the poorest and most vulnerable groups, and with an emphasis on self-help. Policies should have an immediate impact on their lives and the lives of their families and communities, while also establishing the groundwork for lasting change. The aim should be that women participate in designing and monitoring an integrated programme.
To ensure that the gender-specific impacts on women are taken into account when designing macroeconomic policy.
To improve women's access to economic and political power (in society and in the household), given that powerlessness is a key element in their poverty.
To achieve, in the long term, sustainable growth and development based on equity for women.
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To increase the opportunities for employment and self-employment amongst women, so as to fully utilise Guyana's human resource base. The aim will be to increase the level of participation of women in the work force and to encourage their entrepreneurial potential.
To decrease the high incidence of unemployment amongst women.
To improve our understanding of the nature and extent of women's unwaged work, with the ultimate aim of bringing about greater recognition of their contribution to the household in both quantitative and qualitative data and policy design. A better understanding of their contributions will lay the basis for a more equitable distribution of resources within the household, as well as in the cases of inheritance and divorce. Women's contributions could be estimated in economic terms, but of course they go vastly beyond this to include the social aspects of their role (caring and nurturing, for example).
To support women's work within the informal sector.
To create a "family-friendly" employment environment, so that women can effectively balance their reproductive and productive roles. The aim will be to make it easier for women and men to combine family responsibilities with work outside the home.
To ensure that, even in practice, women command wages, work conditions, terms of employment and promotional prospects equal to their male counterparts. The ultimate aim will be to eliminate gender discrimination in the work place (that is, create a system in which women are judged on their individual merit, rather than with reference to the assumed shared characteristics of women as a sex).
To ensure that those industries in which women are concentrated conform to certain minimum accepted levels of occupation health and safety, terms of employment and remuneration. The aim will be to ensure that women are not exploited as cheap or informalised labour.
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To tackle those health issues facing women, such as low nutrition, high rates of complications in childbirth, and the rapid rise in the incidence of AIDS.
To support women in their child-bearing and child-rearing roles, by providing better access to maternal and child health services.
To improve women's access to health services in general, as well as to clean water supplies.
To increase women's control over fertility decisions, including improving access to contraceptive advice and technology, and ensuring abortions are conducted under medically safe conditions and at reasonable cost.
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To improve women's level of educational attainment. Even though there is equality between the sexes in this area, the levels (for both women and men) need to be improved.
To provide second-chance educational opportunities for women who leave the system early, whether due to pregnancy or otherwise, as well as for young adult females who wish to continue their education.
To improve access to education, such as through distance learning and promotion of non-formal education, so as to take into account the multiple demands of women's time.
To increase the number of females and males in non-traditional subjects, such as in Science and Technology courses after Form 3.
To encourage females and males to pursue non-traditional careers. This will require instilling in both males and females the appropriate attitudes and skills in order that they may define personal goals and pursue individual aspirations, as well as the creation of an environment which is supportive of their participation in non-traditional spheres.
To ensure that educational materials, teaching methodology and classroom management reflect gender considerations.
To sensitise and heighten the awareness of teachers, school administrators and education officials, as well as those involved in non-formal education, to gender issues.
To facilitate the presence of more women in decision-making positions within the education system.
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To improve our understanding (as mentioned above) of the nature and extent of women's unwaged work, with the aim of valuing this in some way for statistical and policy purposes.
To improve our understanding of the internal workings of the household, not only in relation to the sexual division of labour, but also in relation to the internal distribution of resources and patterns of decision making.
To develop effective societal mechanisms to protect women against domestic violence, which is an infringement of human rights.
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To encourage media agencies to be responsive to the fact that women often lack access to information on issues that affect their lives and which would help them overcome their particular problems. For instance, the media's capability as a tool of education and health promotion should be supported and utilised.
To increase media coverage, with respect to both quality and quantity, of women's situations and concerns, their contribution to society, for example, with reference to their level of unwaged work.
To encourage and utilise the media agencies' role in providing information on issues that affect women's lives. For instance, the media are in a position to explore avenues for and obstacles facing women's economic empowerment and participation in politics and decision-making. In general, government should take advantage of the media's position to examine the gaps that exist between men and women, and aim to enhance the media's capability as a tool of economic empowerment of women so as to promote a more just society.
To ensure the mainstreaming of gender issues in the media, given the media's important and influential role in removing or reinforcing prevailing prejudices and stereotyping vis-à-vis women's role in development. The portrayal of women in advertising is one of the areas that must be looked at in this regard.
To increase media coverage, both with respect to quality and quantity, of women's situations and concerns, their current and potential contribution to society as equal partners with men, for example in the political area.
To encourage gender-responsive media programming that recognises the similarities and the differences among women.
To increase women's access to and participation in all levels of the media, including decision making levels.
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1. Practical and Strategic
To ensure that the WAB has the capacity and the capability to carry out its functions with the greatest possible efficiency and effectiveness. The mainstreaming of issues that concern women's position and condition must be accompanied by effective mechanisms for the review and monitoring of sectoral policies.
To improve co-ordination within the non-governmental organisation sector and between this sector and the WAB. The ultimate aim will be to encourage the emergence of a women's movement, comprising a network of women's organisations and individuals, regardless of class, race, religious persuasion, age, disability and political party affiliation.
To promote and maintain an awareness of key gender issues and develop analytical capabilities for those issues.
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To reform the law in those areas which still do not provide for gender equality, such as in the areas of pregnancy, tenure, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and recognition of women's unwaged work.
To improve implementation of the law, through improvements in the level of legal awareness amongst women and men and in legal enforcement mechanisms.
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Overhaul existing databases and introduce new databases, so as to capture the true picture of the situation of women in Guyana, and their contribution to the nation's development. There is a desperate need for databases broken down by sex to get a better understanding of differences in the incidence of poverty between men and women and between different groups of women. This may require a comprehensive national survey. In addition, studies need to be conducted that focus on women's participation in the informal sector, as well as women's unwaged work within the household (such as time use surveys). Moreover, data need to be updated on a more regular basis than is presently the case. Improved data collection will require strengthening of the Guyana Statistical Bureau, in terms of relevant statistical expertise and resources, and closer collaboration with the WAB and the research units of the University of Guyana.
Establish "focal points" within all Ministries and agencies, to ensure the inclusion of gender considerations in policy making, and to act as a source for training in gender planning for all female and male policy-makers. Under the WAB, these focal points will be charged with identifying gender needs as they relate to their Ministry's area of activity, and ensuring that these needs are considered in policy design and implementation, as well as in the distribution of annual budget allocations. Monitoring of outcomes will need to conducted against detailed objectives, indicators and targets. In addition, the focal points will be charged with the gender sensitisation of government personnel at all levels.
Publish data on the situation of women in key government statistical publications. Data on women's socio-economic position, as well as the imputed value of their unwaged work, should be published alongside national macroeconomic data, along with targets for improvements.
Rank private firms and government agencies by performance on various gender indicators. Government can indirectly encourage both sectors to move towards gender equality by publishing a performance table which ranks firms and agencies by gender achievement. Indicators could include, for example, the percentage of female staff, as well as proportion of women at senior levels. Consumers will then be able to take their business to those firms which they most approve of, allowing the desire to maximise profits to drive reform, and policy-makers will be given incentive to correct gender inequalities in public agencies.
Conduct public campaign to raise public awareness of gender issues. Through the mass media, formal and non-formal education, production of information and awareness materials, and national campaign days, the Government needs to increase awareness of the situation of Guyanese women.
Provide budgetary support to women's support groups at the community level (contingent to the review of their action plans and monitoring their performance), so that they can establish shelters for women and children affected by domestic violence, carry out community sensitisation programmes on that subject, and provide support groups and counselling for women. A goal in this area is that, eventually, every man who commits domestic violence would have to face moral pressure from a committee of a dozen or so neighbors.(7)
Develop linkages with regional and international efforts on gender, so as to take advantage of support networks, information and, possibly, funding.
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Increase the remunerative employment opportunities for women, through a combination of policies to promote economic growth, investment in women's "human capital" (such as relevant training and improved health), and encouragement of women's entry into the market (such as flexible work conditions). Since most remunerative employment opportunities may not be in the formal sector, there also need to be policies to support self-employment and microenterprise development [such as, small business advice, credit facilities (see below), marketing advice and transportation assistance]. The context should be a policy environment supportive to the informal sector.
Enhance women's access to credit by supporting grass-roots credit schemes, and encourage the setting up a national women's credit institution, which will meet the credit needs of low-income women who often find themselves excluded from formal credit due to collateral requirements. The institution can be modelled on successful institutions in other parts of the world (such as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh(8)
) that have proven the effectiveness of lending to poor female entrepreneurs and producers, in terms of high savings mobilisation, high repayment rates, and productive use of loans(9)
. The institution should be a joint project between the NGOs, the private sector and the donor community (all of whom have valuable experience with such schemes), and the Government may have a minority stake in its capitalisation.
Invest in basic social services, with an emphasis on the poorest groups of women. Among other things, there needs to be an expansion of SIMAP money supplements; expansion of nutrition programmes; improvements in the social infrastructure and service delivery mechanisms; increased access to productive resources, including training and credit (see above); increased access to education and primary health care; and increased access to safe drinking water. Investment in social infrastructure will disproportionately benefit women, given their need to balance different roles. In line with the Social Summit in Copenhagen, the aim should be to earmark at least 20 percent of the national budget for basic social services.
Establish the special funds for supplementing poor families' mortgage payments and housing rent payments that are called for in Chapter 23 of this National Development Strategy.
Train women in non-traditional (and more highly paid) trades. Apart from direct provision, financial inducements should be offered for women to attend non-traditional vocational training institutions (such as sponsorships or career development loans).
Establish a committee to look into the case for affirmative action. Affirmative action in the form of quota systems are used to overcome historical imbalances in many countries around the world, as diverse as Norway, Argentina, Pakistan and Tanzania. However, affirmative action remains controversial, and its applicability in Guyana must be analysed. Tax incentive to private firms can have a similar affect in boosting the participation of women, and should also be considered by the commission.
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Implement the policies announced throughout this Strategy to boost employment opportunities (See above). Note that there should also be sponsorship (or provision of career development loans) for retraining of unemployed women, and those returning to labour market after raising children.
Conduct a study into use of time, in the attempt to estimate the economic value of women's unwaged contribution to the national economy. By imputing economic values to unwaged work, we will gain a greater understanding and appreciation of women's contribution; a contribution which is largely invisible in national income accounts.
Introduce policies to create "family friendly" working environments and employment conditions. Such policies would include some combination of one or more of the following: (1) the introduction of crèches at work; (2) the provision of more day-care facilities; (3) the introduction of "flexitime" systems; (4) the introduction of the option for workers with very young children to work from home; (5) the introduction of the option to shorten the working day while a child is very young; (6) the introduction of the option to switch to part-time work while a child is very young; and (7) the introduction of parental leave for females and males (that is, both maternity and paternity leave). Such policies, by assisting women in balancing their roles, will encourage more women to enter the work force.
Train women in non-traditional (and more highly paid) trades (See above).
Implement the broader approach to technical and vocational education and training called for in Chapter 35, section V.A.2.
Ensure the compliance of corporations, local and foreign, with national laws and codes governing the rights and benefits of women workers. This will require addressing not only weaknesses in the law but also issues of legal awareness and enforcement (see below). The WAB will have to be strengthened to allow it to monitor compliance with laws effectively.
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Provide improved levels of primary health care and reproductive health care, with a special emphasis on female malnutrition and maternal mortality levels (Chapter 19). An integrated programme will need to include, among other things, nutrition programmes, health education, improved access to safe drinking water, improved access to health care, improvements in the quality of health care, and tackling of resource constraints in the MCH Unit in the Ministry of Health (in terms of staffing shortages and financial resources). The rapid rise of AIDS amongst women should be tackled through a concerted health education programme.
Distribute contraceptive technology, so as to enhance women's control over fertility decisions. This will need to be accompanied by wider availability of family planning advice.
Monitor those health institutions that carry out abortions, to ensure that minimum health and safety requirements are adhered to. In addition, counselling should be provided for those women who have had or wish to have an abortion.
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Improve the level and quality of education, particularly at the basic level (up to grade 9), through improvements in teacher quality (which involves an increase in salaries and an improvement in access to teacher training colleges) and quality and quantity of schools.
Introduce parenting skills into the curriculum of both formal and non-formal institutions.
Assist women (including teenage mothers) returning to the educational system after pregnancy or child raising, by providing grants or loans to those returning to school, as well as formal and informal back-to-school and job training programmes.
Provide day-care facilities at secondary and post-secondary academic and vocational institutions, so as to help women with children to balance the different demands on their time.
Set up national distance learning scheme, ideally under the auspices of the University of Guyana. This enables those women who do not have time or who do not have access to schools or training centres, to gain an education.
Offer incentives, in the form of scholarships, grants and fellowships to female students to pursue non-traditional fields of study (such as Science and Technology) at all tertiary institutions, the University of Guyana and other post-secondary institutions. Similar incentives could be offered to males to enter into non-traditional areas for them.
Set up a careers advice service and system of industrial placements for female students in non-traditional firms. Career guidance programmes at the secondary and tertiary levels need to be reformed so as to emphasise an expanded set of career choices for women. Placements and work-study programmes can be arranged post-CXC, post-A-Level, or as a part of a "sandwich course" at University. These programs could be financed by Government and the private sector firms involved in the programs.
Set up guidelines for classroom management and educational materials (such as textbooks). Educational materials that are sensitive to gender issues should be encouraged, while those which are not, should be modified or actively discouraged. In addition, it should be ensured that the curriculum avoids gender stereotyping at all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary), and, indeed, that gender sensitivity is included as a topic.
Conduct gender training for teachers and educational administrators. Trainee teachers should be equipped with the requisite skills and techniques for gender sensitive teaching and learning, as well as for managing mixed classrooms.
Encourage more female teachers at tertiary institutions and in management positions, primarily by the removal of discriminatory barriers and by the encouragement of female applicants.
Establish a "Task Force on Gender Issues in Education." This will act as the "focal point" in the Ministry of Education (as described above). Members will be drawn from the Ministry of Education, Teachers' Unions, the Women's Affairs Bureau, the Women's Studies Unit at University of Guyana, and school administrators, counsellors and teachers. The Task Force will address the establishment of a gender-impartial curriculum; the standardisation of the secondary school/post Form 3 curriculum, with slots for electives; and gender sensitivity training for counsellors, administrators and teachers. The conclusions of this task force will be made public and its suggestions will be implemented, in stages, upon review by the Ministry of Education and the Women's Affairs Bureau. This task force will remain active after presenting its findings as a monitoring and assessment unit.
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Enact the Domestic Violence Bill, and ensure adequate institutional capacity to monitor and enforce its implementation. The will require institutional strengthening of the WAB, a national campaign to bring about public awareness, and training of those directly involved in enforcing the new law (particularly the police). Counselling facilities will need to be developed alongside this.
(See also the recommendation above for providing financing for community support groups of women.)
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Utilise the position of the media as a source of information (with respect to women's practical gender needs) more effectively. The WAB should use the media as one of its key tools of providing information on, for example, health (nutrition, child-care, HIV/AIDS and so on) and education (long-distance learning). Links between the WAB, the media and other women's organisations should be established.
Introduce policies to encourage creative media programming on gender, with particular emphasis on the specific circumstances, contributions and achievements of rural and hinterland women, Amerindian women, and women from lower income-groups. Policies (which must come as much from the professional media bodies as the Government) could include: sponsorship of women's programmes; introduction of media awards for outstanding coverage of gender issues; the inclusion of a regular women's column in the newspapers; and a regular women's programme broadcasted on radio and television (directed and presented by someone with background in gender issues). These would be strategic as well as practical policies.
Utilise the position of the media as a source of information (with regard to women's strategic gender needs) more effectively. The WAB should use the media as one of its key tools in, for example, enhancing women's legal awareness, providing women with advice on non-traditional careers, and raising public awareness about the situation of women. Links between the WAB, the media and other women's groups will be particularly important.
Establish a binding agreement between WAB, media agencies and other women's groups defining a code of conduct for gender-sensitive media programming. The committee should consider the nature of the code and how it is to be managed in practice. The code should seek to guide editorial policies, so that there is a more adequate reflection of gender issues, and coverage and portrayal of women. The designing of the code will require research into all aspects of gender as it relates to the media, so as to define areas needing attention and action, and should be done by a committee that includes representatives of the media.
Conduct gender sensitivity training for media professionals at all levels.
Introduce policies to encourage women to enter journalism and to promote their upward mobility within the profession. Policies could include scholarships or career development loans to attend a Media/Communication Studies course at the University of Guyana, as well as internships at media companies.
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1. Practical and Strategic
Strengthen the institutional capacity of the WAB so that it may perform its functions (including training and monitoring) more effectively. This refers to strengthening of the WAB in terms of number and quality of personnel, financial resources, and the creation of appropriate support structures which can effectively carry out the complex tasks required. Specifically, the following institutional strengthening measures are required:
Improvement in the status and competence of the WAB as an effectively functioning unit. Specific measures are:
- the appointment of an inter-ministry committee to provide competent technical expertise in the framing of policy and programme initiatives by the WAB. The officers will be appointed by their respective Permanent Secretaries and will report to the Permanent Secretary on the relevant programmes of the WAB. This committee will be chaired by the Head of the WAB.
- the establishment of a National Commission on Women comprising not more than ten eminent persons, female and male, representing sectoral areas of Government as well as relevant social partners, such as the Trade Union Movement and the private sector. The Commission must have an independent moderator, and the WAB will be the secretariat for the commission. The commission, which should be non-partisan, would generally have responsibility for :
Recommending to the Minister policy and programme directions in regard to gender.
Promoting a lobby for the policies and programmes of the WAB.
Stimulating a broad national debate on issues of gender equity.
Undertake, or assist the undertaking by others of, appropriate research and educational activities in this area.
The WAB should be headed by an officer of appropriate status for liaising with the Permanent Secretaries of Ministries relevant to the formulation and implementation of the policies and programmes of the WAB. The Head of the WAB should be politically impartial. Competent professionals should be appointed to staff the Bureau. Specific competencies should be for policy analysis, research, data gathering and dissemination. In support of the accepted strategy of main streaming of issues, the WAB should be located within the Ministry which has responsibility for National Development Planning.
The WAB should be provided with required technical and financial support for its national programmes, as well as for meaningful participation in regional and international organisations. In addition, there should be full recognition at the national level of the linkages between the WAB, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other external agencies which are mandated to address issues that concern the condition and position of women.
Project implementation must be the responsibility of the line ministries supported by competent NGOs. The role of the WAB must be to formulate policy and programmes, based on careful research, to monitor programme and project implementation and to coordinate the support of international donors and regional agencies.
Focal points will be established within ministries and agencies, and will be staffed by trained members of the government divisions. This measure reduces the need for additional staffing in these agencies and the WAB itself. Moreover, it assists the WAB in its training and monitoring aims.
Improve coordination between the various non-government women's organisations and other gender groups, by strengthening information networks to disseminate relevant information and communicate ideas. The aim will be to establish a forum, bringing together all groups concerned with gender issues, regardless of race, class religion or party political affiliation. There is much scope for closer co-operation, not least between the Government (the WAB) and the non-governmental sector; given the expertise and experience of both parties.
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Conduct a national legal literacy campaign to enhance women's awareness of their legal rights. The campaign should also aim to mobilise public opinion with regard to the situation of women in Guyana.
Conduct gender training for law enforcement officials, so that they may better understand and respond to, for example, domestic violence and discrimination against women. Gender sensitisation will have to be accompanied by training in counselling; the encouragement of more female enforcement officers; training of judiciary (and perhaps the establishment of a separate court to deal exclusively with domestic violence); better protection for victims (such as protection against intimidation from rapists on pre-trial bail); and better monitoring of the law enforcers.
Reform the law in those areas where weaknesses still exist. (See next section.)
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In the context of extremely progressive legislation providing for women's equality, remaining weaknesses in the law relate to the following areas(10)
- Unwaged Work: The law does not ascribe equal importance to women's waged and unwaged work. This is seen clearly in the Married Persons Property (Amendment) Act, which (after a union has lasted five years) entitles a women who worked outside the home to one-half of the property, but a women who did not, to only one-third. Though these amounts can vary, it is a clear example of the preference given to waged work. Once time use studies are completed, and economic values imputed for unwaged work, the case for greater equality in this law will be strengthened. Ideally, each family member should be entitled to a share of household income proportional to her or his (waged or unwaged) contribution.
- Employment: A number of reforms are recommended including, adoption of CARICOM model legislation on Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value; adoption of CARICOM model legislation on Equal Opportunity in Employment; adoption of ILO Convention Number 156 relating to the rights of workers with family responsibilities; and an extension of legal protection to domestic workers and other workers not presently covered by such legislation.
- Pregnancy and Maternity: There is currently no legal protection for paid or unpaid maternal leave, paid time off for antenatal care or the right of reinstatement after maternity leave. A necessary addition to the Labour Act (Chapter 98:01) could read as follows: "Clause 43: A maternity leave shall be granted to an employee who is pregnant for a maximum duration of thirteen weeks. The specifics of the arrangement are to be agreed upon by both the employer and the employee in question" and "Clause 44: It is unlawful to dismiss an employee for reasons of pregnancy, or to prevent an employee from returning to work after maternity leave." The Equal Rights Act should also be amended to provide legal protection to maternity rights. Legal provision for paternity leave (and so providing both parents with legal rights for parental care) should also be included.
- Land Tenure: In the absence of a clearly defined policy, it is important that the Tenure Law be looked at, given its extremely discriminatory nature. There needs to be equality of property rights especially for Amerindian women.
- Domestic Violence and Rape: The Domestic Violence Bill must be ratified by Parliament. In addition, a number of other issues need to be clarified. In particular, the definition of rape should be extended to not only include penetration by penis, but also by other objects, given the nature of some rapes. In addition, the age of majority must be unified across the different laws in Guyana (perhaps to 16 years). This would effect the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, Ch. 8:01, (Clauses 69) which currently defines sex (even with consent) with a female below the age of 13 as rape. Another area that needs attention is that of bail (which should not be granted, for the protection the victim and her family) and penalties (which are too low).
- Language: A number of areas in law assumes the sex of the different parties. All reference to sex should be removed (that is, "his" should be replaced with "his/her," "wife" should be replaced with "spouse," and so on). Examples of areas of the law requiring language change are: The Matrimonial Causes Act (Chapter 45:02) Clauses 4, 6, 34-42, 51-52, 63-65; and The Equal Rights Act (Chapter 8:02) Section (c);
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In Guyana, several of pieces of legislation have been enacted in order to secure the rights of women. In 1990 three main pieces of legislation were passed. This legislation, though forward looking, needs amendment. These amendments will now be considered in turn.
1. The Married Persons Property (Amendment) Act 1990
This Act codified property rights which women had been granted by the courts long before that year. The Act concretised the position of women in common law, de facto relationships, or union, so that they too could be treated equally like married persons in cases involving the division of property between spouses.
In Guyana there is strictly speaking no minimum period for which the parties must have been cohabiting before they can make a claim under the Act.
The provision for common law spouses is found in the definition of husband and wife and this refers to single persons living together. This narrow definition means that when one party to the union is still married then neither spouse can apply under the Act for division of property. They would have to resort to equitable principles as espoused by the courts in Guyana and the Commonwealth. It is admitted that this definition should be widened to make it similar to the definition of common law union in the Barbados Family Law Act 1981 which provides that it is a union between a man and a woman who are not married. It is, however, suggested that unlike Barbados, Guyana should retain its provision that allows for persons of a union of any duration to apply.
There is also a distinction between working and not working spouses who have lived together for more than five years. In the former case the spouse would be entitled to one half share and in the latter to one third share in the property though in both cases these awards can be varied at the discretion of the Court. There is no definition for working. This provision reduces the discretion which is left to a judge in other territories to recognise the value of a spouse who is a homemaker. There are cases from Barbados and Australia, for example, where a homemaker has been held to be entitled to one half share on a division of property based on the contribution to the home and family. It is suggested that this provision be deleted and substituted with one of wider application which in addition would provide for matters which the Court can take into consideration in coming to its decision.
It is stated that property for the purposes of the Act must only be property which was acquired during the marriage and by extension the union as there is no definition of marriage. This is definitely too restrictive when one considers that many women go to live in homes owned by their husbands and that they often assist in the maintenance and improvement of the home. A contribution to maintenance and improvement is recognised in the equitable principles that be applied by the Court. It is suggested that these principles be codified as is the case in Barbados where property, whenever and however acquired is brought into the total assets for the determination of property rights and in the interests of the certainty of the law. The Court then makes an equitable adjudication based on the facts before it and bearing in mind the matters to be considered as outlined. The issue of computation of time needs to be more specifically addressed as cases from Barbados have revealed that there is some degree of uncertainty in determining what exactly amounts to five years. For example, in one case the judge allowed a two to three days leeway in arriving at its decision, but in another case the Court held that the applicant had failed to prove the five-year period by nine days.
The words "spouses" and "marriage" also need to be defined. Then these definitions which would include common law spouses should apply to the entire Act and not only to specific provisions.
2. The Family and Dependants Provision Act 1990
This Act is patterned after a similar piece of legislation in England. However, in Guyana, to qualify for provision out of the deceased's estate under the Act, a common law spouse has to prove that he/she has been living with the deceased for seven years at the time of his/her death. It is suggested that this period be changed to one of five years duration which would be more in line with similar legislation in other territories such as Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Also, it would be in line with the five-year period as contemplated in the Married Persons Property (Amendment) Act 1990.
In a related piece of legislation, the Civil Law of Guyana Act Chapter 6:01, only a legal spouse has rights to claim on intestacy. Therefore, common law spouses have absolutely no rights to a deceased's estate if he/she dies without leaving a will. Their only claim is to financial provision out of the deceased estate as a dependant under the Family and Dependants Provision Act 1990. It is suggested that an amendment be made to allow a common law spouse to apply for a grant of representation at least in the case where there is no other spouse alive. In this case it may be necessary to stipulate that the parties to the union would have to be two single persons living together, for example, for five years at the time of the deceased's death.
3. The Equal Rights Act 1990
The main amendment sought in this Act is that it be provided that men and women be paid equally not only for the same work, but also for work of equal value. This is because the work may be different in nature but may be weighted equally in terms of value for money. This amendment would bring Guyana in line with the terms of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, on this issue. It has also been suggested that the definition of discrimination be amended to include indirect discrimination and the word "gender" should be substituted for the word "sex." Also, there should be a provision for discriminatory dismissal from employment.
4. Maintenance Proceedings
Although the Bastardy Act has been repealed by the Children Born Out of Wedlock (Removal of Discrimination) Act 1983, it appears that the old procedures used under this repealed Act are still followed in practice. This means that only a single woman can apply for maintenance for her child who is born out of wedlock. If she marries another man who is not the natural father of the child, this husband must maintain the child to the exclusion of the natural father who, therefore, shoulders no responsibility for his child. While the husband is required by law to maintain the child, it suggested that something should be done to bring these "deadbeat dads" to account by contributing and not leaving it to a stepfather.
Also, the amounts fixed for maintenance are ridiculously low. It should be left to the discretion of the court to decide on a sum bearing in mind certain matters which should be clearly outlined in the legislation. At present, some magistrates ask the putative father what he can afford and he usually agrees to pay more than the $250.00 per week that is required by law. However, if the putative father ascertains that he is not required to pay more than $250.00, then he can cease to pay the increased sum he agreed to and he cannot be penalised for doing so.
5. Status of Children Legislation
There is urgent need for this type of legislation which would clearly set out provisions for the determination of paternity. At present, contrary to a widely held view, there is nothing in the laws of Guyana which has specifically removed the distinction between children born in wedlock and those born out of wedlock. There is nothing stating that all children are to be treated equally for all purposes. The Children Born Out of Wedlock (Removal of Discrimination) Act is silent on this issue and merely amends and repeals legislation to say that children born out of wedlock are to be treated equally for the purposes of certain specified Acts mentioned.
6. Amerindian Women
Apparently Amerindian women are discriminated in relation to the preservation of the identity as Amerindian women once they marry non-Amerindians. However, this is not the case for the Amerindian men. Women, therefore, lose their rights which accrue to them at birth. This situation needs to be addressed in collaboration with Amerindian representatives.
1. Obviously, a practical programme may have a strategic impact (and vice-versa). For example, a traditional income generation scheme for women may increase her power within the household.
2. 2This chapter incorporates the Women's Affairs Bureau Report on the Situation of Women in Guyana: 1980-1993, research by Basmat Shiw Persaud.
3. 3 This figure is derived by calculating the wages of women and men as a ratio to the average national wage and multiplying this ratio by their shares of the labour force (UNDP, 1995: 74).
4. The Ministry of Housing (1986) estimated a deficit in the national housing stock of 25,000 to 30,000 units by the year 1984. There have been no substantial new housing projects or increases in developed land until recently.
5. The indicators used are the percentage of seats held by women in parliament; the percentage of female administrators and managers; the percentage of female professional and technical workers; and women's share of earned income.
6. A UNICEF pilot survey found that a large number of women must of necessity participate in three or more income-earning activities, in addition to "reproductive work" (cited in Ministry of Health, et al, 1994: 12).
7. These groups should be provided with counselling and legal services. This is done, for example, in El Salvador, where the support groups are formally empowered to take legal action against abusive husbands if the victims agree.
8. The Grameen Bank has had great success with its five member saving/credit groups in Bangladesh, reflected not least by repayment rates in excess of 95 percent. Group members (mainly women, who are found to be better at repaying) contribute a small amount of savings to a central fund, from which they borrow in turn (without the need to provide collateral). The ability of one person to borrow depends on the repayment record of the previous borrower in the group. This system combined with the Bank's close involvement with borrowers ("bringing the bank to the people") has proved very successful and has served to fill a gap created by the fact that most banks require collateral to which the very poor do not have access. The dispersed nature of the poor in the interior of Guyana will mean that the Grameen Bank model will have to be adapted.
9. According to the UNDP (1995: 112), "experience shows that to be responsive to the needs of low-income women, financial services need to provide an informal banking atmosphere; small, short-term loans; non-traditional collateral requirements; simple application procedures with rapid turnaround; flexible loan requirements; ownership and mutual accountability; convenient mechanisms for small savings accounts; participatory lending and savings structures; and participatory management of institutions."
A number of women's organisations (such as Guyana Association of Women Lawyers) are currently looking into necessary legislative reform. The list of reforms presented here should be updated in the light of their findings.