His Excellency Brigadier David Granger: Ministers of the Government, members of the Diplomatic Corps, special invitees, members of the media and of course we have to thank the police force for that warm welcome- it may be too warm.
Ladies and gentlemen, Guyanese women have moved forward since the presentation of the State paper on Equality of Women to the National Assembly on the 15th of January, 1976. The State paper which at that time was described as forward looking, was aimed among other things at making sex discrimination unlawful in employment, recruitment, training, education and the provision of housing, goods, services and facilities to the public.
That was forty-one years ago, legislation was passed- discrimination did decline, political participation did improve and policies for the promulgation of women’s equality were made. Women advanced economically, politically and socially in our nation. Guyana today happily joins the rest of humanity in celebrating International Women Day. We endorse totally the United Nations theme of this year’s observance “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”
Ladies and gentlemen, Guyana at the Global Leaders Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the United Nations headquarters in 2015 reaffirmed its commitment and I quote “To build a country in which women and girls can expect to live in safety to be protected from abuse such as trafficking in persons, Domestic, Violence and Workplace Hazards.” Guyana that year adopted the United Nations resolution transforming our world- the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
Guyana today reasserts its total commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals including Goal No.5 that is, to achieve gender equality to empower all women and girls and Goal No.4 to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and to promote lifelong learning.
Guyana will honour its commitment to achieve gender equality and to empower women and to educate and protect girls. Guyana will continue to work towards eliminating inequality, unemployment, illiteracy and poverty and we will work towards promoting political empowerment.
Guyana, however, must move beyond the mere passage of legislation; it must move to dismantle the structural impediments to gender equality in order to fulfil its commitment under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Guyana’s approach is to move forward along forefronts; first, along the forefront of equality. Gender equality must remain a paramount policy of government.
Gender equality cannot be achieved in the absence of a more equal society. Enforcement of legislation to protect women to prevent abuse and to promote greater equality must be more robust; the disparities between hinterland and coastland and between rural and urban communities, for example, must be reduced.
The second front is education-(hope nobody is going to be arrested. We have had enough arrests for the week). Gender equality can be achieved mainly by ensuring unimpeded access to education; education will open opportunities for women and allow them to rise more rapidly to the highest levels of occupations and professions. The surest and quickest means of enhancing the status of women and providing them with greater opportunities for upward mobility is through education.
The third front is employment. Gender equality can be achieved also by breaking the cycle of poverty; poor people produce poor children, and poor children, in turn, produce more poor children. It is a vicious cycle of hereditary poverty.
The burden of poverty falls heavily on women; the vicious cycle of poverty can be broken in order to create a virtual cycle of gender equality employment is necessary. Jobs must be created to enable poor women to enjoy sustainable incomes and to have a chance of exiting from that cycle of poverty.
And the fourth front is empowerment. Women must be empowered to embrace their role in political decision making. Women must be empowered to assume leadership in their communities in the non-governmental and state organisations.
Citizens’ constitutional right to participate in the governance of their communities at Local Government Elections was restored last year when we had Local Government Elections- (thank you for that applause, small but significant). Okay, thank you again. A lot could be achieved with some encouragement. Local democracy now is empowering women by encouraging their participation in the political process in our indigenous villages, in our neighbourhoods and in our municipalities.
Ladies and gentlemen, we can work to move the process much further and much faster. We would have noticed that on the 23rd of February I released nine women from jail. It is a change in philosophy. I believe that women belong with their children, with their families and not in jail. Last year 2016 out of thirty women who received the Golden Arrow of Achievement fourteen were women; not to mention the judiciary, (never leave the cheerleader behind-thank you).
We have to change our attitude to gender equality. I do believe that we could do so by creating an educated nation by ensuring that every girl child completes primary and secondary school. In that regard I’d like to pay special compliments to my own wife Sandra and Minister of Bicycles who have been doing so much to help children to get to school and to stay in school by providing bicycles, buses and boats. We can move much further by removing the barriers to gender equality by ensuring that geographical, occupational, political and racial differences are diminished.
We can do so by empowering women, by ensuring that our communities; that our committees, that our commissions and that our councils at all levels are more representative. We can do so by providing more opportunities for women’s employment by ensuring the development of small and micro industries in villages and communities and by encouraging corporations to promote qualified women to executive positions.
Ladies and gentlemen, Your Excellencies, Guyana is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Sustainable Development Goal- Number # 5. We can, we must and we will achieve greater gender equality to empower all women and girls.
Today I’m happy to extend best wishes to all the women in Guyana on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2017.
The struggle for equality and parity continues.
God bless our women, I thank you.