International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8 every year, is a day dedicated in celebration of the triumphs of ordinary women around the world and to bring to the forefront, the socio, economic, and political matters that infringe on their rights. In this edition of Government in Action, we explore the meaning of womanhood, as defined by five Guyanese women, as they strive to see the emergence of a gender inclusive and balanced Guyana.
Ms. Nonadai, Market Vendor: “Being a woman means a lot of things. You have to be responsible. You have to focus on your dreams. You have to be self-conscious and think about the future”
Ms. Adrianna Chappelle, Translator: “I am a mother of three wonderful kids… Andres, Telisha, and Adane. My profession is translating. My first language is Spanish so, since I had that asset, I just went into the translating field… I’ve always [thought] about being a woman as a very hard task… I define myself as a bird with a broken wing that had to learn how to fly… You know, most people [see] women as this fragile something… [They say,] ‘She can’t do this and she can’t do that’ when [women] are like a bomb. You don’t know a woman’s full potential when you see [her]. She could be walking in heels, but you don’t know if she does construction work. She could be all delicate but you don’t know what she’s been through. That’s the thing with women. I think women’s day should be every day because when a man can up and just leave, a woman has to stay.”
Dr. Ruth Benjamin-Huntley, Medical Practitioner: “I believe that being a woman is a really blessed experience. God has made me a woman and… my faith has helped me to define my estate in a deeper manner. I also believe that it has… empowered me to fulfill my role, to understand that there is a purpose to why God made me and all women, women. It has helped me to fulfill part of that purpose, first as a helpmate to my husband and a helper to people in general.”
Women at work
Over the years, women have shattered glass ceilings in almost every field, some of which are still dominated by males, and often times while juggling the management of a household. These women cite the hard work and varied sources of inspiration that fuel their drive for success.
Ms. Amna Ally, Minister of Social Protection: “I started my political career since I was age 14… It started with my father who was then an active politician, insisting that I have to be involved in politics and so I took my cue from that. I got involved with the [People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR),] the Young Socialist Movement… and I worked my way up to right where I am today.”
Ms. Nonadai: “I [have been] selling here [Bourda Market in Georgetown] for about 50 years… I was just nine years when I came with my mother and I’m 61 now. I enjoy it. It wasn’t easy [at] first. It was hard. Some days you don’t even get a meal, but [in] the long run, you enjoy it because as you get [older] the work gets easier.”
Ms. Maxine Graham, Deputy Commissioner of Operations: “In my younger days going to school I always… admired the discipline of the police force and I always had a passion for serving my country… So, I said I will make the police force my career because I have a passion for serving my country and actually doing work for people… In my profession, I [have] done a degree in social work and I’m completing my masters in social work and that tells you that I have a passion for dealing with social issues and dealing with people generally. I’m a people person.”
Dr. Benjamin-Huntley: “Believe it or not, when I was a young teenager, I saw a movie… and in that movie there was a young doctor. He was male and I was impressed with his attitude with his patience. He was young. He was married. He had a young family, but he showed a heart of compassion. He understood what he was dealing with. It really reached my heart and I said to myself, I would like to be a doctor, and I would like to be a doctor like that.”
Ms. Nonadai and Ms. Chappelle have prioritised the care of their children and credited their stable upbringing of their children as the driving force behind their success.
Ms. Nonadai: “[Women] should know who they are and what they really want in life. They should focus on their dreams; what they want and work [toward] it. You have to work for whatever you need in this life. It doesn’t come easy. You have to work on it… [My children] mean a lot to me… That is why I’m working so hard. They mean a lot. As a woman [when] you have children you have to look out for them. [Even if] they don’t look out for you, you have to look out for your children.”
Ms. Chappelle: “Every time I look at them [my children], each step that they go through, I tell myself I cannot give up because if I give up… they [will] go through the cycle that I went through and that’s not what I want. I want them to have a better future and I owe them. They don’t owe me anything. I owe them. For bringing them in the world, I owe them a future… I always tell myself you have to be good. Today, it’s a bad day, but you get up tomorrow, you comb your hair, you put on your makeup, you put on your fancy shoes, you walk [on] the road like nothing happened and you do it because they deserve it and because you deserve it as well as a mother. You deserve it as a person.”
Gender Parity: A national priority
Since taking Office in 2015, President David Granger and his Administration prioritised gender parity, a stance that is deliberately reflected in the appointment of ministerial positions and the selection of National Awardees. This year, Dr. Benjamin-Huntley will be counted among the national award recipients.
Dr. Benjamin Huntley: “Of course, I was elated. I was so thankful… When I got the phone call, it was given to me before I got the official announcement so, I was told to keep it quiet… Oh, was it difficult to zip my lip, but I kept it quiet until it became official… It feels awesome… I’m so thankful that the country of Guyana has honored me because… I’m not from Guyana. I’m from Jamaica, but I’ve always felt it my duty and responsibility to serve wherever I am as best as I can and it was no different here. I was so welcomed. I was so in love with Guyanese that it wasn’t a challenge to serve them so I’m thankful that they have sought to reward me this way.”
Minister Ally: “We have an Acting Chancellor who is a woman. We have a Chief Justice [Ag] who is a woman. You have many women who are frontliners in the political scenario. So, women in Guyana they have much to be proud of.”
Deputy Commissioner Graham: “I find that there is no difference between a male and a female. It is the Guyana Police Force as a whole and it’s what you want to make out of the organisation… Coming into the organisation, even though there [are] more males than females, there is scope [for] a woman if you want to be a part of it… If you choose to… go out and work in the field, work at stations and get that experience [or] work on the patrol, all of these things will build your capacity and make you a strong woman.”
President Granger has said that the Government is working assiduously, through the Ministry of Social Protection and through women’s organisations, to ensure that true gender parity is achieved in Guyana. Ms. Chappelle has been a beneficiary of one such programme, implemented by the Women Across Differences (WAD), for several years since becoming a teen mother. She strongly feels that the empowerment of women should begin as early as possible.
Ms. Chappelle: “[WAD] is like home away from home for me… I learned with [Ms. Clonel Samuels-Boston (Coordinator of WAD)] how to be grateful for the little things [that] you have… So, with WAD, yes, I’ve learned to be confident, to stand up for my rights as a woman, and to say that yes, I can do this. Anything that a man can do, I can do… [Change] has to start from the small ones, not just the big ones… We have to start with the younger ones. Target schools, target the small ones at home.”
Woman to woman: A word of encouragement
Dr. Benjamin-Huntley: “I would like to encourage [women] to be very thankful that they’re made women. That’s a special calling from God and regardless of where you may be, professional, home, [or] working on the street, whatever you’re doing, you’re still a woman. Go forward with certain grace. Begin to recognise inside of you, that God has made you for a purpose.”
Ms. Nonadai: “I think all women should get up and work and think for themselves. They should be independent. Don’t depend on anybody and life will be much better.”
International Women’s Day Message from First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger
“Sisters, let us live the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day celebration. Think equal, so that we will accept no less than equal status in our homes, our workplaces, our clubs, our communities. Build smart. Seize every opportunity for relevant training and development so that we continuously move forward and upward, sharing and building on the skills we acquire. Innovate for change. Refuse to be defined by others. Rather, think outside the box and never be afraid to choose new paths for our social and economic growth and development. The struggle continues. Happy International Women’s Day, my sisters of Guyana.”
The Government of Guyana is behind women, all women and will continue to push programmes and support organisations that elevate women from every strata of society until the scales are balanced in favor of a future that is female.