Home / Op-Ed / Op-Ed: Gov’t discrimination against women in the Public sector at an all-time high

Op-Ed: Gov’t discrimination against women in the Public sector at an all-time high

Of the 125 achievements advertised by the APNU+AFC Coalition government for its second anniversary, not one related to the status of women, youth or children in our society. Nothing was stated about whether there was any improvement in the lives of women and children in Guyana. These omissions are most significant.

The APNU+AFC Coalition government inherited not only a healthy economy, but an emerging middle income, democratic nation.

One of several achievements Guyana was noted for internationally related to the progress made by its women.

“In the Anglophone Caribbean, Guyana stands out as a success story; the country elects many women under a gender quota regime, and its constitution and policies reflect the principles of sex equality, freedom from violence, and reproductive health. Other Anglophone Caribbean countries show mixed gains”

Guyana had made major progress towards promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women under successive PPP/C administrations. Certainly the struggle was far from over, but good faith efforts were being made and results were visible.

The 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Guyana at 33 out of 136 countries in the area of overall Political Empowerment. In sub-categories- Women in Parliament, Guyana was ranked at 29th and 24th for Women in Ministerial Positions.

Women Members of Parliament increased from 18.5 percent in 1992 to 32.3 percent in 2013. Women occupied 31 % of the seats in the 10 elected Regional Democratic Councils.

Fast forward to post May 2015, there are now 11 female Members of Parliament in the 33 APNU+AFC Coalition Members of Parliament. Among the 28 member executive there are 9 female Ministers but only 3 are Cabinet Members (10%). Six are junior Ministers and are not Cabinet members.

Noteworthy is that for the first time there are 4 Vice Presidents, and, all are male.
This is a major shift from pre-2015 where women were one third (33%) of an 18 Member Cabinet.

Women were also well represented in public life. Women not only occupied key ministerial and decision-making portfolios, but also senior technical positions in the public service.
Pre-May 2015, one-third of the Permanent Secretaries (PSs) were female. Post May 2015, the number has declined to 3 female PSs (17%), despite an increase in the number of Ministries.

Prior to 2015 May, The Director of Budget, Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Director of Public Prosecutions, Registrar of the Land Registry, Registrar of the Deeds and Commercial Registry, Registrar General of the General Registration Office, the Director of Telecommunications, and three of the nine Heads of Missions were female.

Post-2015 May, the Director of the GRO and the Registrar of the Land Registry have been terminated and the Registrar of the Deed and Commercial Registry has been sent on leave. The number of female Heads of Mission has declined to 2, despite an increase in the number of Foreign Missions and Consulates.

In 2015, five of the ten Judges and 11 of the 18 Magistrates were female. This may be the one area where the presence of women has increased with the acting appointments in 2017 of the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice, both females.

The appointment of Boards in 2015 and 2016 were overwhelmingly male dominated, and, visibly dominated by one ethnic group. Although in 2017, there has been a slight improvement in female representation in the “soft” Boards, the ethnically biased composition remains intact.

The IFC/World Bank Enterprises Survey 2010 (Guyana 2010) found that permanent full time female workers was 39.1%, higher than the average for Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) (37.5%) and lower middle income countries (32.6%). Under Economic Participation and Economic Opportunities, the Global Gender Gap ranked Guyana at 41 for wage equality for similar work. However, the percentage of firms with female participation in ownership was 58.3 %, higher than the average for LAC (42.7 %) and lower middle income countries (37.6%).

These figures attest to the vital and critical improvement of Guyanese women’s participation in the decision making, work force and in the economy. “Vital and critical”as it has long been accepted at the UN that women’s participation in the political and economic fabric of a nation is an absolute prerequisite for its development.

The new Secretary General of the United Nations in his International Women’s Day Message, March 6, 2017, stated the following: “Denying the rights of women and girls is not only wrong in itself; it has a serious social and economic impact that holds us all back. Gender equality has a transformative effect that is essential to fully functioning communities, societies and economies.
When women participate fully in the labour force, it creates opportunities and generates growth. Closing the gender gap in employment could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Increasing the proportion of women in public institutions makes them more representative, increases innovation, improves decision-making and benefits whole societies.”

However, since the APNU+AFC Coalition took office we are seeing the opposite and worse yet, the emergence at an alarming rate of an open level of discrimination against women, most especially of Indo-Guyanese and Amerindian women, particularly in the public sector.

I have personally documented 36 cases of professional women in the public sector who have been terminated for no cause other than being a “suspect PPP supporter” or because of their ethnicity. This is by no means a complete compilation as l know of many others but they are afraid of further victimization and still hope to get a job in a rapidly declining economy.

Twenty-two (22) (61%) of these thirty-six (36) are young women below the age of 40; all have been in the public service for several years, some for all their working lives, and one third of these graduate and post graduate degrees.

In addition, seven (7) others have been sent on leave or transferred. In this category 5 have post graduate degrees (62%).

One of the hallmarks of this government is the public abuse and accusations in the media of women holding high positions in the public service. There are three such cases of women in high positions being subjected to public humiliation by no less than the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs.

There are a number of cases of women in managerial positions being abused and threatened by lower levels of their staff who have been recently hired on the “is ah we dis time” philosophy.
Several resigned as they could not take the abuse and intimidation; several have left the country and quickly obtained other employment.

If one were to calculate the loss to the limited skilled human resources base in Guyana by the termination of these 36 women alone and those who have been sent on administrative leave, the vacuum created will be felt for years and will take years to replace.

The cost to the actual persons who have been terminated must include not only the loss of salary and benefits directly to them and their families, but must also include the cost they and their families invested, and, in some cases government invested, on graduate and post graduate studies and scholarships. A very conservative estimate of such a loss to the women, families and economy would be over USD $1M in the first year alone.

There are also many more women – those who lost their jobs when the government closed down the Integrity Commission, the Amerindian Community Services Officers programme, where 1, 972 Amerindians lost their jobs (of which 40% were female), the Youth Entrepreneurial and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP) (based in the interior regions) and the Amerindian Land Titling Unit, for example.

This discriminatory trend is not only focused on women in high and senior positions but women also at the lower levels of the public service. Women who were in clerical and lower technical areas have been terminated as “suspect PPP supporters” because of their ethnicity or suspect political affiliation.

The state owned sugar industry is the largest single employer in the public sector. The closure of Wales Sugar Estate in December 2016 led to 1700 workers losing their jobs of which 300 were female (field and administration). The 2017 White Paper on Sugar confirms that three more sugar estates will be closed by the end of 2017. Thus another 8,000 workers will lose their jobs of which approximately 2,000 are female.

Since 2015, due to the government’s incompetence in managing the economy and ill-advised decisions, 10,000 workers have lost their jobs in both the private and public sectors and another 10,000 are on the precipice of losing their jobs in the sugar industry.

The multiplier effect of more than 2,000 women losing their jobs coupled with the male workers is devastating at the individual, familial, community and national levels. In a small economy such as ours, their removal is irreparable, unless the government takes corrective measures.

Regrettably, the government churns out a time warped mantra of the 1970s of investing in making and selling plantain chips as an entrepreneurial opportunity! Surely this cannot be the answer!

Even the Minister of Business recently acknowledged that the group hardest hit in the small business sector was businesses headed by female single parents. These include those involved with catering, hair and nail craft, sewing and tailoring.

The short and long term socio-economic repercussions of women being removed from the work force, especially in the case of the public sector, is damaging at many levels:
• Their personal careers and advancement are stymied;
• Their families suffer from reduced incomes and access to goods and services, this is particularly devastating for single parent headed households (29%); their children’s access to health and education are also reduced;
• Their purchasing power has been reduced which impacts negatively on the economy;
• Psychologically the levels of depression and anxiety about their future options weigh heavily on them and their families;
• Contributions to the NIS and income tax are reduced;
• Their dependents, not only in their immediate families but their extended family, are also negatively affected;
• Loans for their education, or houses they built through the housing programmes and or cars or motorcycles they purchased, are in jeopardy, thereby impacting negatively on the banking system and the quality of their lives;
• The demand for access to more safety nets will increase and place greater demands on the budgetary allocations.

Contrast these desperate developments with what the APNU had to say on April 17, 2015 on the eve of the general and regional elections about women:- “The Coalition is not at all satisfied with the quality of programmes and services currently in place for the social and economic development of our women especially in rural areas…whatever national policy is in existence does not seem to be working.”

It is generally accepted in this 21st Century that women the world over are taking the driver’s seat. Through the Women and Youth arms, APNU+AFC intends to institute a comprehensive programme to achieve full empowerment by providing functional facilities for education (general and vocational), specialized skills training, and facilitating financial assistance for small business development.

On the social spectrum, the APNU+AFC Coalition intends to go into full attack mode to confront the incredibly high rates of suicide and domestic violence against women and children in urban and rural communities …we are determined to change the economic and social paradigms in this nation.”

None of this rhetoric has borne fruit. In fact, the exact opposite has taken place; professional women with qualifications in the public sector are being pushed aside for the new favoured political directorate. Women in the sugar sector are mere “collateral damage.” Women who offered and were given contracts providing services to Ministries are now selected based on their “political correctness.”

The government has betrayed the trust of the people, and, in this case the women of Guyana.
Poverty reduction, maternal and infant mortality, sexual and domestic violence, and suicide continue with little or no priority to address these ills. All one hears is old worn out platitudes and calls by Ministers to the people to be “patient as oil is coming”.

Social safety nets have been reduced which were designed to assist the poor and vulnerable, single parent headed households and their children. The public health sector upon which over 70 % of the women depend on for services is in collapse mode.

Reports of sexual harassment and sexual molestation of female public service workers and clients are increasing as are the cases of rape and all forms of sexual violence in the society at large.

Of all the governments this country has had, the APNU+AFC Coalition government holds the record for callous neglect and discrimination against women, especially Indo-Guyanese and Amerindian women who held less than 1% in the public service pre-1992.

This government is comprised overwhelming with males, mainly senior citizens and middle class men and former military and serving military officers at the highest levels. There is little room for young professional women in their midst.

The proud achievements we as Guyanese women have made are being rapidly undermined and reversed.

The government is not only carrying out this gender and ethnic discrimination against women, but it is a policy that is playing out throughout the state sector.

After 2 years of the APNU+AFC government the emerging trend in Guyana is clear, the government is reversing the democratic gains, bit by bit, methodically; the decline in all sectors and the economy, increased poverty and hardships with 200 new taxes, reversals of the social programmes which gave people a chance to go up the ladder including property rights through the housing programme, reversals of social safety nets for children and elderly, and of course, witch hunting of political opponents to the government, and, further threats that this will continue and include freedom of speech and expression, etc..

Maybe just as disturbing is the silence of the women non-governmental organizations, some professional groups and human rights groups.

Many of these organizations had much to say in the past, yet today their tolerance for the abuses and excesses of this government seems to have no bounds.

They have watched 1,700 workers lose their jobs in the sugar sector, including women and have been silent. They have watched 1, 972 Amerindians CSOs, including women, lose their jobs and said nothing. They have watched women in senior positions being publicly abused and humiliated, and said nothing. They have watched senior highly qualified women being terminated, and said nothing. They know of the growing reports of sexual harassment of female public servants and they say nothing. They know of the cases of women being transferred for no other reason than to silence them, and they say nothing.

And they watch women being sent on administrative leave and being accused on frivolous charges and they say nothing.

These victims will not forget this nor will all those who continue to fight for justice and the preservation of democracy in the coming years.

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