Paternity leave among recommendations from Gender Commission

as 5th and 6th annual reports tabled in National Assembly

By Jarryl Bryan

The fifth and sixth annual reports of the Women and Gender Equality Commission,

The Commission is chaired by Indranie Chandarpal

covering 2015 to 2017, was recently tabled in the National Assembly.

Paternity leave for men is among the 22 recommendations the Commission wants the Government to take action on.

According to the reports, the Commission wants the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to implement this measure, a move that will be seen by many as a progressive one. At present, only women benefit from any leave covered under the law, specifically for early child care.

In fact, even the three-month maternity leave currently being offered runs counter to calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for six months’ leave.

Last year, then Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence had identified the extension of maternity leave and the provision of paternity leave as two likely items on the parliamentary agenda for this year.

Better for all

In 2015, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) had called for more employers to support breastfeeding mothers in the Caribbean and the Americas. The Organisation stated that the employers were more than likely to reap the benefits for their businesses and their countries’ economies.

PAHO had stressed the need to support women in balancing work and family, especially where breastfeeding their babies was concerned. Empirically researched public health recommendations have articulated the health benefits of breastfeeding, which ranged from reduced infections and improved IQ (intelligence quotient), in babies, to lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers.

The Health Organisation stated that promoting breastfeeding in the workplace increased benefits for employers, including employee loyalty to companies as a result of gratitude and satisfaction, and reduced absenteeism because breastfeeding employees’ babies get sick less often and less severely.

Therefore, it recommended that employers employ policies, specifically paid maternity leave, paid breaks for breastfeeding, a dedicated room for breastfeeding in the workplace that is private and hygienic, and flexible or reduced working hours for breastfeeding mothers.

Domestic violence and

juvenile justice

In the wake of the recent murder of 17-year-old Parbattie Lakhpal, allegedly at the hands of her paramour; the additional recommendation from the Commission for the full enactment of the Domestic Violence Act gains added weight.

The Commission also recommended the vigorous enforcement of protective orders and that breaches be dealt with accordingly. In April, a protective order was not enough to save 29-year-old Dhanwantie Ram of Parika, East Bank Essequibo, who was found strangled with a bed sheet. Her husband has since been charged. Her case is not an isolated one.

The Commission also urged the speedy enactment of the Juvenile Justice Reform Bill. The Government has taken action on this, as it is expected to be laid in the National Assembly in October.

There were also recommendations for Government to sign on to the optional protocol of women. The Commission also recommended that Government initiate pilots of Counselling Centres and Friendship Benches in communities.

Other recommendations

The other recommendations from the Commission are for Government to enact legislation and formulate policy that caters for sexual harassment in the workplace and to strengthen gender focus in the Public Service. In fact, all programmes and policies should reflect gender mainstreaming for all Government employees.

Parliament is not left out, however. According to the Commission, it wants gender parity in both Parliament and Local Government bodies to be instituted and maintained. This, it stated, is in keeping with Guyana’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number five: achieving gender equality.

The Commission also wants more comprehensive sexual and reproductive age-appropriate health and rights education to be included in schools. It also called for “gender mainstreaming” to be incorporated into the school curriculum.

“Promote parenting skills training in pre- and postnatal clinics in all health centres,” the report urges. “(And) encourage more male-friendly health centres such as the pilot project in Region Five.”

“Gender sensitivity training should be mandatory for all judicial, protective services, health and social services personnel, especially those who interact with the public as part of their job,” the report recommends.

The report also chronicles the need for a National Gender Advisory Committee to be established, for Government to implement more “gender responsive” budgets and for a workplace policy on flexible working hours for all caregivers.

Not forgetting those with disabilities, the Commission recommended that all public buildings should be made accessible to persons with disabilities. In addition, it called for all Government documents to be clearly understandable. It identified the use of braille as an example.

The Commission is chaired by Indranie Chandarpal of the Women’s Progressive Organisation. The Deputy Chairperson is Cheryl Sampson from the National Congress of Women.

The other Commissioners are drawn from the labour unions, regional women’s affairs committees, culture and ethnic groups and the Private Sector.