The issue of women and their role in development has always been a topic of interest, not only in Guyana, but in countries around the world. The debates have centred around the challenges women face in getting access to the same opportunities as men, and in a general sense, programmes and policies that could be implemented to ensure their economic and social advancement.
Women, over the years, have made tremendous progress, not only in terms of their own advancement, but by playing a key role in the development of their own communities and, by extension, allowing other women opportunities to develop themselves. However, many challenges remain, and these must be tackled to ensure that women have access to the opportunities and resources needed to allow them to lead more productive and fulfilling lives.
We believe that when women are allowed to develop their full potential, it is not only women who gain, but the entire society. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.
According to the United Nations, investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication, and inclusive economic growth.
Here, in Guyana, women have made tremendous progress at every level of the society, and they enjoy rights equal to what their male counterparts enjoy. This country deserves commendation for the advances it has made in ensuring that in addition to women being protected under the law, they are also given relevant opportunities for their personal and professional advancement.
However, there is still a far way to go before we can safely say that women have access to the resources and opportunities, they need to fully develop themselves. For example, our single-parent mothers have, over the years, found it very difficult to make ends meet. Many of them have found themselves in a position where they work from month to month and there seems to be no end to the financial hardships they experience.
In some cases, they lack the necessary skills and qualifications required to get suitable well-paid jobs, so that they can earn enough to provide for themselves and their children.
For some, who would like to venture out into establishing their own small business etc, the strict criteria set by banks and other lending institutions make it difficult to access the necessary loans. There are a few institutions which give grants and other forms of support, but that is on a limited scale, and most of them are Georgetown-based, making it a bit difficult for rural women to easily access.
There is also the issue of the high level of domestic violence affecting countless families, with women being at the receiving end of the violence most times. There were numerous dialogues, with the involvement of the relevant stakeholders, to tackle the issue, but the number of cases of women being abused or killed is going up.
We believe that policy-makers should revisit the issue and come up with practical solutions to address this scourge in a holistic manner, with greater focus being placed on the root causes of the problem.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also worsened the situation, as it continues to have serious socio-economic repercussions on the lives of women. As a consequence of the partial lockdown, significant sections of the female working population are now unemployed or are receiving reduced pay, and those include single parents.
Many women-owned small businesses are no longer operational, and women in the private care industry have lost their jobs because they can no longer work at the homes of their employers, due to fear of COVID-19 transmission.
The Human Services and Social Security Ministry recently announced that it would soon be funding projects for cottage industries led by women, so that they can secure their livelihoods. According to that ministry, in addition to other measures, funding for cottage industries is among long-term measures to be implemented against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Certainly, the economic and social advancement of all women, including those in hinterland and rural communities, should remain a priority for this Government.