Govt’s single-mother night shift policy misguided – Red Thread

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Outspoken women rights activist Karen DeSouza has said Government’s recent policy decision to prevent single mothers from working the night shift offered by security firms is “misguided”.

Minister Keith Scott

DeSouza told Guyana Times on Wednesday that while the policy was implemented following some form of consultation with a few private security firms, she believes that these consultations should have been held with women instead.
“I think the Minister (with the Social Protection Ministry, Keith Scott) is a little misguided. His heart may be in the right place, but I think it’s a leap that cannot be justified on the basis of either women rights or in the interest of women and children…You are talking about an issue that affects women’s lives, then you need to talk to women about it and not be too selective with the guards you talk with,” DeSouza asserted.
The head of Red Thread said instead of imposing this new measure, the Minister and, by extension, the Government should pay some attention to ensuring that the minimum wage was paid to all women, including those in the security services and sweeper/ cleaners at schools.
“I think that in so far as single mothers are concerned, the Government should be doing a lot more, particularly the Ministry of Labour, to ensure whatever financial assistance is needed is given to those women in whatever form, including public assistance,” she added.
DeSouza also views the move as one in which Government was abdicating its responsibility to private companies. “This is how I see it. They are removing themselves from ensuring that the infrastructure and the protection of citizens are there and trying to throw it on private security firms.”
She argued that while the Government has made a huge leap to take women off the night shift, it was not doing anything to ensure that sexual harassment was stopped in the security services.
“It’s a very strange leap for me to ban women from the night shift. Yes, we have problems with it, but they are structural, and not answered by saying women should not be made to work night shifts. There are many things that the Government needs to do, many things that they promised to do.”
Further, DeSouza told Guyana Times that when groups such as hers speak of providing equal rights for women, they were not doing this on the basis of asking for ‘paternalistic protection’, but rather they were looking for employers to understand women’s unique biology.
She said, “And you can’t use that biology as a means as well to penalise or as an excuse because a woman has to bear and give birth and breastfeed children. We want you to recognise that there is a life cycle that has to do with child bearing and it has to be taken account for in all the economic arrangements in the country.”
The Red Thread head continued, “So when we speak of caring for workers, those are some of the things that have to be considered and hopefully, our Government could get on board and begin to think in a more progressive way in terms of how you protect women’s rights and ensure that simple families are protected and cared for.”
Asked whether she believed that this new policy would affect women’s chances of securing future employment with private security companies, the women rights activist said she did.
“Whatever dictates the Government will send out, I would be amazed if security firms would be willing to employ women at the same rate if they are not able to put them on night shift.”
She also thinks that it could be used as another way of penalising women. “This is because the reason Guyana has so many security guards is because our education system has determined that if you come from a certain income bracket and a range of disadvantages in terms of the education system, that you are not going to be able to get the qualifications to get better paid work.”
“So what are the options opened to a woman who has very little formal education and who has to provide for their children, not very many. And that is why we have seen in the last many years such a growth of women in the security forces and it keeps increasing.”
DeSouza said notwithstanding some of the very good laws in Guyana, Government must recognise that women were still seen as unequal in society. “I would say nationally, we have a long way to go in terms of the work towards equality and respect for women and the contribution they make to the economy, not just in terms of the formal employment but in many other areas,” she added.
Government had made it clear that it planned to minimise and eventually eliminate night work for single mothers within the private security industry.
Meanwhile, the Guyana Association of Private Security Organisations (GAPSO) on Wednesday condemned the night-shift ban on single mothers in the private security sector.
The organisation stated that Minister Scott’s choice to selectively dismantle and target single mothers within the private security sector was a “cruel and arbitrary attack” on the sector.
“GAPSO feels that it is a high-handed and unilateral approach being adopted by the Government and definitely lacks insight or thinking outside the box. It remains unclear why only the private security sector was selected while other professions are excluded and what suggestions, if any, there is to solve the inevitable unemployment that will arise therefrom,” the body said in a statement.
The GAPSO is, therefore, calling for an immediate independent review of this proposal, widespread consultations with stakeholders and a functioning welfare system that provides benefits according to different situations.(Samuel Sukhnandan)