According to the United Nations, investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs, or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home. But, according to the UN, women also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. Gender discrimination means women often end up in insecure, low-wage jobs, and constitute a small minority of those in senior positions. It curtails access to economic assets such as land and loans. It also limits participation in shaping economic and social policies.
Here in Guyana, there has always been much talk by policy makers and political parties about creating opportunities for women’s empowerment. There have indeed been some steps taken to ensure that women are better off, but by and large, most would agree that there is still a far way to go— both in terms of policy-making and actual implementation of programmes to ensure that women have full access to resources and opportunities that would enable them to 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 makes it difficult to access the necessary loans. There are a few institutions which give grants and other forms of support, but they are on a limited scale and most of them are Georgetown-based, making it a bit difficult for rural women to have easy access.
The previous administration had recognised that single-parent women are a vulnerable group and had created several mechanisms for them to be lifted out of poverty and elevate themselves so that they would be better off. For example, the then PPP Government had collaborated with the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) to introduce the Women of Worth (WOW) project. Under this programme, single-parent women could have access to as much as $250,000 to start up a business or expand an already established business. This facility was of tremendous help to women as they were able to establish their own small business and, hence, some of them were able to improve their financial situations. In addition, they were able to build their self-esteem and learn new business skills.
The WOW programme was in addition to other initiatives which were implemented towards improving the living conditions of women across the country. For example, in 2008, a national exercise was carried out in order to finalise a Single Parent Register, which the authorities had used to provide financial and other forms of support to single parents, most of them being women. Hundreds of single parents were registered and benefitted from different forms of assistance— including technical and vocational training.
There is need for more similar programmes to be replicated in communities across Guyana. Such initiatives cannot be one-off, they must be year-round and carried out with the support of the private sector and other community and civil society groups.
Regarding the upcoming elections, voters – especially females— should closely examine the policies and programmes of the various political parties to see which one of them offers the most attractive ‘package’ in terms of women’s economic empowerment; meaning better paid jobs, better access to and control over resources, and greater security, including protection from domestic and other forms of violence.
Many international commitments support women’s economic empowerment, including the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and a series of International Labour Organisation conventions on gender equality. Whichever government is in power, therefore, has an obligation to ensure that policies are designed and implemented geared towards ensuring the economic and social advancement of women all across Guyana.