WOMEN’S PROGRESSIVE ORGANISATION
14th Triennial Congress
FOR PEACE AND SOCIAL PROGRESS
On May 27th of this year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the WPO. Today we meet to participate in the 14th Triennial Congress of the WPO. Significantly, twenty-five years ago we met right here on the West Coast of Demerara at Zeeburg when we commemorated our 25th Anniversary and the 7th Triennial Congress.
We are meeting in historic Leonora, a very important place in our country that is synonymous with the names of Sumintra and Kowsillia.
The agents of the colonial government killed these two heroic sugar-working women in 1939 and 1964 respectively. We hope that their supreme sacrifice will serve as a source of inspiration for our important deliberations.
We need to remember that they gave their lives to obtain a better life for sugar workers directly but contributed to the overall struggle for all the working people of our country.
They also remind us that women have always been involved in the struggles not only for women’s rights but also for the liberation of our country and the social well being of our people.
Our country has moved a long way since the sacrifices of Sumintra and Kowsillia. We gained our political independence but the hopes associated with that freedom were shattered by the near three decades of PNC dictatorship. It was only since the restoration of democracy in 1992 that hope was revived under the patriotic leadership of the Father of our Nation, Comrade Cheddi Jagan.
The destroyers of hope are still
at work, seeking to reverse the progress we have made. Let the memory of Sumintra
and Kowsillia inspire us during this Congress to strengthen the resolve of this
dynamic band, gathered in this hall today, of women defending democracy for
peace and social progress.
Since our last Congress in 1999,
the world has seen a dramatic shift in relationship between states. Ever since
the collapse of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries the United States
has occupied the centre stage in world politics. However, this role has become
much more aggressive since the controversial return of the Republicans to the
White House and the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
The terrorists attacks were used to unleash a “war against terror” and to obtain the support of the American public, which was previously reluctant, to increase spending for security and military purposes.
The Bush administration immediately identified the Al Qaeda network and Osama Bin Laden to be responsible for the attacks. Their next response was to invade Afghanistan to remove Al Qaeda and hunt down Bin Laden.
Hundreds of tons of bombs rained down on Afghanistan but the illusive Bin Laden is yet to be found. But maybe the real and more important objective was achieved. Afghanistan is under the firm control of the US administration. The US has spent very little to rebuild the nation and its people are suffering untold hardships.
The next chapter then started to unfold. The next hunt was for biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. More and more the name of Saddam Hussein was emerging and it was just a question of time for Iraq to become the new target.
Prior to the invasion of Iraq, nations all around the world were rallying for peace and urging the US to give the UN resolution a chance. While Britain, Spain and Bulgaria aligned themselves with the US in its aggression against Iraq, most European states questioned the US hasty approach.
The lack of credibility in the arguments of the US President and his coalition partners such as the Prime Minister of Britain led to the resignations of two Ministers of the British Cabinet. In spite of the refusal of the UN Security Council to authorise troops entering Iraq, the US with its allies proceeded to invade Iraq. It became clear that the objective was not to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction, but to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.
These developments reflect a most dangerous trend in world politics, the doctrine of unilateralism. The most powerful state in the world gives itself the authority to act in defiance of the United Nations. The most powerful state in the world decides to tell a sovereign nation that it does not like that nation’s government so it will use its military might to remove it.
The WPO joins with all peace loving people to condemn unilateralism in international relations. We also oppose the unleashing of war that targets innocent citizens of any country. The killing of thousands of civilians during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq places the perpetrators in the same category as those responsible for the attacks on the Twin Towers.
There is a need for peaceful resolution of other bloody conflicts. There must be a genuine effort to bring peace to the Middle East and other regions of the world. The WPO condemns attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of countries in order to incite actions aimed at destabilization and violence.
The global economic outlook is also very distressing. The relatively strong economies are themselves in various forms of trouble. The corporate scams at Enron and other major companies are the tip of a formidable iceberg of deception and misrepresentation of fiscal reality.
The economic impact of September 11th was severe on countries everywhere. The vulnerability of countries, whether large or small, was emphasised as air travel was severely affected with negative consequences also for tourism and trade. A repeat of these effects was experienced when the SARS outbreak took place.
The economic difficulties of developing countries such as Guyana are more deep-seated and structural. The unfair terms of trade are getting worse under the conditions of globalisation and trade liberalization. Preferential markets are being eroded and prices of agricultural products from developing countries are drastically reduced.
The highly acclaimed goals of the Millennium Summit, the World Food Summit, the World Social Summit and the Earth Summit are slipping further away. The gap between rich and poor is widening and the incidence of hunger is increasing.
These Summits are failing because of the dominance of the multinational corporations and their political representatives. The deteriorating security and social situations confirm the global disorder which our late President, Comrade Cheddi Jagan warned about.
Now is the time for a renewed effort to bring about a structural change in the relation among states and among people everywhere. We are happy and proud that the United Nations is considering the proposals of a New Global Human Order. As the Circle of Friends for the NGHO keeps expanding, we need to do more for its promotion. We call on the Government to ensure that all delegations to overseas forums be instructed to promote the NGHO and be equipped to do so.
Long live the visions of our Great
Leader Comrade Cheddi Jagan!
His ideas will continue to guide progressives the world over!
Since our 13th Congress, political life has moved at a very hectic pace. In August 1999, Comrade Janet Jagan who had become Guyana’s first female President resigned because of ill health. Comrade Janet had served in several official positions in Government in periods of the PPP in office. As Deputy Speaker, Minister, Prime Minister or Executive President, Janet Jagan stands out for her patriotism, dedication, efficiency and love for the common people. The WPO is proud of the fact that a founding member of the WPO, who was also a founding member of the PPP, served with distinction in these high offices in our country.
Comrade Bharrat Jagdeo who had the distinction of being the youngest President in the Western hemisphere replaced Comrade Janet. The new President expressed his vision for our country as follows:
“ Guyana is a magnificent land, endowed with abundant resources and an enterprising and resilient people. There are boundless possibilities for myriad economic activities, including industrial development, land cultivation, food processing and a host of traditional and emerging activities.
“ The economic development strategy, which we will embark on, will position the country to attract more investment, further stimulate our people’s entrepreneurial spirit and establish the economic base for a sustainable improvement of our living conditions.”
The process of Constitutional reform, which was developing rapidly, dominated the national agenda at that time.
The PPP-C made efforts since it came into Government in 1992 to start the process of amending the 1980 constitution, which was imposed on the nation by the PNC dictatorship. Just a few days ago, we observed the 25th anniversary of the rigged referendum, which gave the PNC the power to make the imposition.
The constitution of 1980 created the position of Executive President and gave those office extra-ordinary powers. The PNC had refused to include the suggestions of other parties and civil society and used its stolen two-thirds majority in Parliament to create a constitution to suit its political needs.
After its defeat at the 1992 elections, the PNC suddenly found that the 1980 constitution was not good for the country. However, it delayed its participation in the Constitutional reform process undertaken by the PPP-C Government. As a result, the process was not completed in time for the 1997 elections.
When the PNC lost the 1997 elections and started its terror campaign to make the country un-governable, it rejected the constitutional arrangements for government and called again for constitutional change. The Herdmanston Accord set a date for new elections two years before they were due and set a time frame for constitutional reform to be completed before the elections.
A Constitutional Reform Commission was established in January 1999 to carry out the necessary consultations and make recommendations to Parliament for changes to the Constitution. The Commission received 4601 proposals. Shortly after our last Congress, in July 1999, the Constitutional Reform Commission presented its report to the Parliament.
A Special Select Committee of Parliament examined this report and an Oversight Committee was established to prepare the actual text of proposed amendments for the consideration of Parliament.
We need to recall these steps because they show very clearly that the PNC had every opportunity to make all the proposals it wanted for changes to the Constitution and also participated in the decision making process. The elections of 2001 were held under the amended Constitution, which largely included the provisions requested by the PNC.
2001 General Elections
The preparations for the elections were hectic. Members of the WPO joined with Party activists and supporters from the very beginning to carry out the very difficult process of preparing the Voters List. The election campaign showed massive support for the PPP-C and its Presidential Candidate, Comrade Bharrat Jagdeo. WPO members joined in the house-to-house visits to check the voters’ list and encourage people to vote. They were scrutineers with the Party, registration staff and returning officers. They participated actively in the public meetings and the huge rallies, which were held by the PPP-C. Overall, women were involved in all aspects of the electoral process and worked with diligence.
On elections day, many members of
the WPO served as Polling Agents in various parts of the country. The PNC thugs
threatened many but they held their ground. Members also worked in the communities
to ensure that people went out to vote.
The PPP-C once again scored a clear majority at the elections, obtaining 52.7 percent of the votes and formed the Government for the third consecutive term.
After the defeat once again of the PNC at the polls, it started another campaign of violence to prevent the PPP-C from continuing in office. Racist violence was unleashed against Indo-Guyanese in the city and on the East Coast of Demerara. A father and son from Enterprise and a resident of Non Pariel were killed. Business places were burnt in Robb and Regent Streets.
In spite of the wide range of constitutional
changes, which had been made before the elections, the PNC claimed that the
results of the elections would cause marginalization of Afro Guyanese and used
this false position as an excuse for the violence.
In an effort to ease the tensions, a process of dialogue was started in April 2001 between President Jagdeo and the Leader of the Opposition Mr Desmond Hoyte. Out of this process, six joint committees were formed to deal with 1- Local Government Reform; 2- Border and National Security issues; 3- Distribution of Land and House Lots; 4- The resuscitation of the Bauxite industry; 5- Depressed Communities needs; and 6- Radio monopoly and non-partisan Boards.
These joint committees made significant progress but the Leader of the PNC shocked the nation when he declared that he was putting the dialogue on “pause” and the PNC would not be attending sessions of Parliament.
Jail-break and escalation of crime
The outbreak of five dangerous prisoners on Republic Day 2002 triggered the worst crime wave in our country’s history. This wave of terror combined murders, kidnappings, drug gang wars, violent protest actions and political attacks.
Policemen and other security personnel were specially targeted and killed during 2002 and the first half of 2003.
A safe haven for the criminals was created in the village of Buxton. Youths and children were allowed to work for the criminals. Gangs from the village regularly blocked the public roads and attacked people travelling. They also moved to neighbouring villages to attack residents.
The WPO condemns those who have encouraged the criminals. Their activities have led to many deaths and to severe grief and suffering for many families.
Calls for power sharing
Many opposition forces and some spokesmen for civil society sought to explain the criminal activities as the result of political division in the society and have been calling for an arrangement for power sharing at the executive level. This approach is not only based on false assumptions but it is also an encouragement to those who want to use crime to strengthen their political demands.
The PPP-Civic has developed a greater
level of inclusiveness than most governments in the world. The political opposition
and civil society are accommodated in various levels of governance. The Constitutional
Reform process has led to the establishment of Parliamentary Committees to oversee
the work of all Ministries. The PNC is represented in the Boards of Directors
of State bodies. However, the PNC is only interested in getting back political
power. It is not prepared to allow the constitutional arrangements to work.
They want to get power through the back door. They must not be allowed to use
violence to blackmail the government to surrender to their demands.
The campaign of political destabilization has severely affected the growth of Guyana’s economy.
Before the PNC started its campaign to make the country ungovernable, the economy grew rapidly. Between 1992 and 1997, the GDP increased by 6 to 8 percent each year. Because of the violence unleashed from the end of 1997, the growth has reduced to an average of about 2 percent.
Even though such growth is below what is possible and what we need, it stands out in the context of the negative and very low growth which many countries are experiencing in a world economy that is depressed.
The global environment is an extremely difficult one. The prices on the world market of our main export commodities have declined sharply within the last few years. And our preferential markets are being eroded.
Agriculture continues to be the mainstay of our economy. In 2002, sugar production reached its highest level since nationalization. Rice production though affected continues to be more than double the pre-1992 levels. There has been an increase in the production and export of non-traditional crops. Fish export has also increased.
In spite of the higher production levels, the low world market prices place great pressure on the producers. We welcome Government’s Strategic plans aimed at improving competitiveness in these sectors on which a large percentage of our population depend.
Low world market prices are also affecting the forestry and mining sectors including bauxite. These reduced incomes place additional pressures on the communities that are highly dependent on these products.
The Government’s efforts to strengthen these industries have to be fully supported. The political opposition must refrain from those activities that are aimed at driving away investors. There can only be greater distribution of goods and services to people if our productive sector is encouraged to meet the challenges they face.
Only with the success of the productive sectors will we be able to create new jobs and alleviate poverty in our country. The WPO fully supports the Government’s programme to create jobs and is eager to participate in efforts to engage women in the development of economic ventures in various communities.
Poverty Reduction Strategy
In 2000, the Government began the task of developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy placing sustained emphasis on policies and programmes that would markedly reduce poverty. Two processes, which took place before, was used as important background. These were the National Development Strategy, which were first tabled in Parliament in August 2000 and the Business Summit, which was held in October 1999. The IMF and the World Bank accepted the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper in December 2000.
By August 2001, the Strategy was discussed at 108 community consultations. After that, 10 regional consultations were held to prioritise national issues on poverty reduction. In October 2001, a National Review Conference was held.
The resulting Poverty Reduction Strategy
rests on 7 pillars:
• Broad-based, job-generating economic growth;
• Environmental protection;
• Stronger institutions and better governance;
• Investment in human capital with emphasis on basic education and primary health;
• Investment in physical capital, with emphasis on better and broader provision of safe water and sanitation services, farm-to-market roads, drainage and irrigation systems and housing;
• Improved safety nets; and
• Special intervention programmes to address regional pockets of poverty.
The importance of economic growth to the realization of the Strategy is set out in the Strategy Paper as follows:
“ Guyana’s poverty reduction
strategy must be predicated on broad-based, labour intensive economic growth.
In this sense, Government’s policies to stimulate economic growth are
the most important elements of Guyana’s poverty reduction strategy.
“ Over the last decade, Guyana’s economic growth took place in the context of a sound macro-economic framework supported by institutional and regulatory reforms. The Government will build on this progress in its fight to reduce poverty. The goal is to concentrate on programmes that generate quick supply and labour responses and support the private sector in making the investments that are that are critical for economic expansion and growth. In pursuit of this goal, Government will focus on (i) maintaining a stable macro-economic framework; (ii) adopting sector policies to stimulate production; (iii) modernising the traditional economic base; and (iv) providing systemic support for private sector development.”
The success of the Poverty Reduction Strategy is the hope of all patriotic Guyanese. This must be given priority over narrow partisan political interests, which seek to make the country un-governable. Social benefits for all Guyanese can only be possible if the country is governable and governed. Every act of destabilization undermines economic growth and reduces the goods available for distribution. If communities are depressed, they can only be helped if there are goods and services available to give to them. Violence and terror are counter-productive because they erode the source from which to distribute.
The WPO calls on all women regardless of their political affiliation to demand an end to political and other forms of criminal activity, which undermine economic growth. We call on the PNC to channel the energy they use to make the country ungovernable to energy in assisting to achieve the vital goals of the Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Continued improvements in the social sector
The PPP-Civic Government since 1992 has greatly transformed the social sector in our country. Spending on the social sector was 8 percent of the national budget under the PNC. The PPP-C has brought social sector spending to an average of over 20 percent in recent years. The impact can be seen in the tremendous improvements in the social infrastructure throughout the country.
In the Health sector, the PPP-C has rehabilitated all 27 hospitals and most of the health facilities in the country. Many health clinics and health huts have been built. These facilities now operate with better equipment and with a greater availability of drugs and supplies. As we speak, construction of a new hospital is going on in New Amsterdam to serve the people of Berbice with modern and cutting edge health care
There are now over 250 medical doctors compared to 60 in 1992. Heath workers were introduced to hinterland communities. Every health hut or clinic has at least a health worker.
The PPP-C administration has reduced infant and maternal mortalities from greater than 40 per ten thousand to less than 13; reduced malnutrition from 25 percent to less than 5 percent and has significantly reduced the incidence of malaria. More than 90 percent of children are now immunized.
The WPO is happy that the health sector has been transformed from the deplorable conditions under the PNC that created nightmares for women, particularly mothers. In spite of all that has been done in the last ten years, there is a great need for much more to be done to provide adequate health services for the nation. We are pleased to note that the Poverty Reduction Strategy places emphasis on this need when it says:
“Important reforms will have to be implemented to reduce the common causes of mortality and morbidity and to provide equitable opportunities for people to access those sanitary and social measures and services that would protect, promote and maintain or recover health, especially among the poor. To achieve these goals, Government will focus on improving (i) maternal and child health; (ii) the incidence rates of communicable diseases; (iii) management of chronic diseases; (iv) nutritional status; (v) access to mental health services; and (vi) access to quality health care.
The Education sector has also seen a dramatic improvement since 1992. Most school buildings have been rehabilitated. Facilities in schools have also improved throughout the country During the period under review, a total of 850 schools and post secondary institutions, especially in the interior areas, were constructed or rehabilitated. This has helped to transform the physical landscape of the education system and has provided more conducive learning environments.
Access to Secondary education has jumped from 35 percent in 1992 to over 65 percent. Technical education and vocational training have expanded to many parts of the country for the first time. A University of Guyana campus is now in Berbice. Distance education is developing steadily. Computer education has been introduced in many schools.
Teacher’s pay has increased
from $3,100 in l992 to $34,500 in 2002. There are more than 600 teachers trained
annually at the Cyril Potter College of Education and at Centres, which have
been set up in other parts of the country. Technical Vocational education continues
to be provided at the four centres in Georgetown, Linden, New Amsterdam, Corriverton
and Essequibo. The performance of students at the Caribbean examinations has
improved greatly with some of our students topping the region in recent years.
The results of both SSEE and CXC reveal that students doing better in all areas
of the country.
The programme on Youth Entrepreneurial Skills Training reaches out to more than 400 young people per year and reaches students from the interior as well. A student loan scheme is available to all students at the University of Guyana
A special teacher-training distance education programme to improve the quality of education in the hinterland areas was introduced in l999 and is continuing. The first batch of 116 students is expected to graduate from the programme this year.
One of the most dramatic areas of change in our country in the last decade is the housing sector. Over fifty thousand house lots have been given to families spread across all of the regions but more especially in the densely populated ones.
This has been a great relief to many families who lived under conditions of family tension and conflict. They are now able to live independent lives and raise their children in better conditions. This has also helped many poor families who could not afford the high rentals charged in places such as Georgetown.
Many of the housing areas are now fully serviced with electricity, water, drains and roads. Many squatter areas have been regularized at no cost to the residents.
There still remain a large number of families and young couples who are waiting for house lots. Government is continuing to develop new lots to accommodate them.
Most persons have been granted transport
for house lots allocated to them. This includes squatting areas, which have
been regularized. Farmers with cultivations less than 15 acres are also receiving
freehold titles. Titling of Amerindian communities is also proceeding.
The delivery of potable water to homes has extended to many new areas for the first time. This effort has been recognised internationally, with Guyana placed fifth in the world.
The WPO applauds the Government for the success of this programme, which has brought relief to many households. Mothers are particularly relieved of the burden of fetching water over large distances. We ask however, that greater scrutiny be placed over the expansion programme to prevent the situations where the efficiency of the delivery of water is reduced because of the poor management.
There should be continuation of the review of the approach to cost recovery. The Government has taken very positive steps to assist those in difficulty. Every effort must be made to ensure that this approach is properly effected.
We look forward to the continued success of the programme to provide potable water for all Guyanese.
As a continuation of the progress that was made in the period of 1992 – 2001, a number of initiatives were undertaken to create new programmes that were intended to give effect to policies and programmes that were adopted. Measures to remove the street children and street people along with the difficult circumstances programme were intended to help those in society who are sometimes without any form of assistance. The initial momentum of these campaigns needs to be revived.
We must continue to take these measures. Of course, some may argue that countries more developed cannot do that; therefore we should be content with what we have done. The situation is that monies are already spent to help these two categories. With a little more effort, which is not necessarily monetary but going that extra mile, we can achieve such a status. It is certainly a noble task to work for and to achieve.
The situation with respect to families
is a very a very critical one. The Commission on Family that did such important
work in creating a Family Code and proposals for the Family Court are still
in the pipeline although the blueprint for the former was already prepared.
We cannot afford any further delay.
The Commission on the Elderly also did a lot of important work by working towards the publication of a Policy on the Elderly and many other initiatives to help alleviate some of the difficulties of the elderly. This requires closer attention.
The programme that was started to provide Birth Certificates for children with the Probation and Family Welfare Services in l999 in collaboration with the National Commission on Children needs to continue. The school welfare programme needs to be accelerated and aggressively pursued. We cannot let up on this. Quite a large sum is spent on education and it behoves everyone to do all that is required to reduce the incidence of children dropping out of school and to ensure that all children of school age do attend school.
The activism that helped us to achieve recognition in gender improvement measures has slowed down considerably. Programmes have become very few and the many measures identified in the Five-Year Action Plan are not receiving the vision and direction that is required for forward movement. This has to be addressed in a timely manner.
The National Steering Committee that was set up to work towards the Eradication of Family Violence needs to be resuscitated, since there are numerous societal issues that have emerged because of the changes in our lives and the influences of what is taking place in the world. We urge that there should be a revisiting of the programme with a view to getting it in place.
Our contact with the masses has given us a panoramic overview of the concerns of many women and their families. The fact that people are striving to achieve a better standard of living based on what they see on TV or hear from relatives outside creates a sense of despair when many cannot obtain some basic things that they desire.
The proposal for the establishment of the Community Counselling Centre as agreed to in the Five-Year Cooperation between the Government of Guyana and UNICEF in 2000 –2005 must be given priority since this programme provides for the creation of a number of pilot projects that will help to mitigate some of these societal ills. There is need for people to take control of their lives in different ways and they must feel there is something for them to work towards. There must be a multi- sector approach to deal with these.
Negative Social Behaviour
The WPO is concerned about the way in which certain negative social practices have developed and are overlooked by the population and the authorities. Some of these apply to individuals and some are widespread.
People will see their pets knocked down and their bodies left on the roads and show no care. The noise nuisance is another major concern among all people. Children studying for exams, the noise nuisance affects all the sick, the aged and the young alike. We call for immediate action to tackle this problem.
We are concerned with the jungle of plastic thrown everywhere. Some urgent steps must be put in place to deal with this. Perhaps incentives can be given to picking up and depositing in approved areas aback of cultivations. This must be pursued immediately. We call on the Regional Authorities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDC’s) to come up with a strategy to improve conditions.
We are especially concerned about the growing use of drugs and the business of drug trafficking. Too many people, particularly the young, are encouraged into this destructive habit. There must be a more aggressive war on drugs.
Continued Economic and Social Progress
The PPP-C has done very much to repair our country from the collapse of the economic and social infrastructure caused by the PNC dictatorship. Much more has to be done and the Government is working to do all that is possible. But there are many obstacles to development. Some are global in nature, some are politically motivated sabotage and some are caused by gradual individual decline into negative social behaviour.
We must be on guard on all fronts. Our country needs accelerated growth. We must fight against all negative trends and practices. We must support the forward movement provided by the PPP-C through the Poverty Reduction Strategy and other national development efforts.
Let us all play our part in protecting our democracy and ensuring continued economic and social progress.
Status of women internationally
Seven years have elapsed since the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995 that was held on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. More than forty thousand women from all corners of the world, from all backgrounds and from all cultures gathered in Beijing to speak about the diverse problems affecting them.
Women were united in their determination to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere.
The Beijing Platform for action adopted 12 critical areas namely Women and Poverty; Education and Training of Women; Women and Health; Violence Against Women; Women and the Economy; Indigenous Women; Women in Power and Decision Making; Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women; Human Rights of Women; Women and the Media; Women and the Environment and the Girl Child.
The Platform having identified the critical areas also proposed measures and actions to be taken by all the stakeholders. For example, the Beijing Platform for Action set the goal of 30 per cent for women in national decision-making positions, as a milestone toward the ultimate objective of 50 per cent.
In 2000, 5 years after Beijing, the General Assembly of the United Nations convened a Special Session to evaluate the progress and obstacles in implementing some of the issues as outlined in the Platform and adopted by governments.
A study undertaken by the UNDP in 2000 on “Women’s Political Participation and Good Governance: 21st Century Challenges” reported that the level of women in parliaments in the world had increased from 10 per cent to 12 per cent. However, regional variations are significant. They range from 37.6% in the Nordic countries to 15.5 per cent in the Americas, 13.4% in Asia, and 12.5% in Europe excluding the Nordic countries, 11.6 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa, 8.3 per cent in the Pacific and 3.3 per cent in the Arab States
Since Beijing, women speakers of parliament have been named for the first time in six countries. With regard to ministerial and sub-ministerial positions, two countries have reached over 30 per cent representation for women (Sweden and the Bahamas). While at the other end of the spectrum, there are 15 countries in which there is no presence of women in these posts.
The International Association of Local Authorities has set the goal of not more than 60% of either gender represented in the local assemblies. Estimates on women as local councillors are 23% in the US; 20% for Europe, 18% up Canada, less than 5 per cent in Africa and 3.8% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Another positive development relates to the Countries of the Caribbean and Latin America that have passed legislation on domestic violence and violence against women. In a survey done by UNECLAC in 2000, 40 countries were asked whether they had passed legislation relating to domestic violence against women. Of the 40 countries 24 had passed legislations in l995 and after, while 5 had done so prior to l995. The rest did not respond.
The commitment by government was pivotal for the advancement of women since governments and the international organizations have the necessary clout to take decisions to give effect to this commitment.
Another case in point is the ratification of the Convention Against Violence Against Women where 32 countries out of 34 in Latin America and Caribbean have signed the Belem do Para Convention.
International Institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the Organisation of American States have all adopted the principle of bringing more women in decision-making bodies of these institutions.
Women want to influence the decisions that affect their lives, the lives of their families, the political economy and destiny of their communities and nations, as well as the structure of international relations.
Political participation and representation
is essential for the achievement of these ends. This will allow women and men
of all ages and races the full exercise of their human rights. It is also the
avenue for influencing equitable resource allocations for development that shape
the lives of girls and boys, as well as women and men.
There is growing recognition that economic and political participation cannot be separated. Institutional transformations are needed to create the enabling environment for the economic and political empowerment of women. A more profound understanding of the barriers in labour markets and remuneration processes is also necessary as a precondition for their transformation. This is particularly important since women’s economic independence is critical for their exercise of influence on decisions that affect their lives and their families.
There are strong linkages between processes that lead to poverty and those that result in gender disparities. Efforts at poverty reduction therefore need to be informed by a gender analysis. Transforming and increasing the accountability of institutions to women’s interests, and especially the interests of poor women, is necessary for poverty reduction and good governance.
According to the Beijing Platform for Action: “ More than one billion people in the world, the great majority of whom are women, live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, mostly in the developing countries. Poverty has various causes, including structural ones. Poverty is a complex, multidimensional problem with origins in both the national and international domains. The globalisation of the world’s economy and the deepening interdependence among nations present challenges and opportunities for sustained economic growth and development, as well as risks and uncertainties for the future of the world economy. The uncertain global economic climate has been accompanied by economic restructuring as well as, in a certain number of countries, persistent, unmanageable levels of external debt and structural adjustment programmes. In addition, all types of conflict, displacement of people and environment degradation have undermined the capacity of Governments to meet the basic needs of their populations”.
In the past decade the number of women living in poverty has increased disproportionately to the number of men, particularly in the developing countries.
The Fourth World Conference proposed gender mainstreaming as a key strategy to reduce inequalities between women and men. Gender mainstreaming, known also as mainstreaming a gender perspective, is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action including legislation, policies, and programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a call to all governments and other actors to promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programmes, so that before decisions are taken, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men respectively. Gender mainstreaming thus underscores the principle that there can be no sustainable development as long as discrimination of one of the two sexes / gender exists.
The Platform for Action established a set of actions that should have led to fundamental change. However, there are mixed results in different parts of the world and the greatest challenge to all the players, governments, institutions and women themselves is to constantly evaluate and put in place the mechanisms to accelerate this comprehensive programme for women’s advancement.
Status of Guyanese women
The formation of the WPO 50 years ago impacted on the widely held views in the society regarding the role and place of women who were beginning to recognise that they have a role to play in society.
The first decade laid the foundation for women who had no political leadership and who needed an organisation to represent their interests. The WPO joined the fight for independence, for women’s equality and better conditions of life for women and children, better wages and conditions of work for working women, better health facilities, crèches for working mothers, education for women, equal pay for work of equal value, legal rights, against rising prices and for the right to live in a country where the people of all races ad class can live in peace and harmony.
In the period after 1978 when the struggle in Guyana was sharpening we formed alliances with other organisations to expose the atrocities carried out by the administration in various ways, against shortages of basic foods, against shortages of drugs and conditions of the health system, and the deteriorating social services. We joined with other democratic forces to condemn the authoritarian state that was based on diktat and repression of all dissent. The women of the WPO were always in the forefront in the picket lines whether it was against the budgets that always brought tremendous burdens to the people of Guyana or other burning issues affecting workers, children or the poor and under privileged.
Although every effort was made by the state to silence the opposition including the WPO, we never faltered but sought strategies that kept us going. We exposed them overseas especially when the UN declared 1975-1985 as the Decade for Women. Our leaders exposed the hypocrisy and state terrorism at international conferences.
We established bonds of friendship and solidarity with women in all parts of the world and opened up relationships with more than 200 organisations. We were elected to the Bureau of the Women’s International Democratic Federation and participated in many meetings of this body and other affiliated organisations. We joined in solidarity activities for those living under repressive regimes. We introduced the celebration of International Women’s Day in Guyana and are happy to note that almost all Guyanese women know of this Day and occasion.
Although the conditions were difficult, we never faltered in working with grass root women, giving them leadership and helping them to cope with the hardships of those dark days in our history.
We joined all democratic forces to fight for the return of democracy and left no stone unturned like the PPP and others to ensure that our country men and women receive the opportunity to participate in free and fair elections.
Although the struggle was hard and long, we soldiered on. Eventually, after nearly three decades, when democracy was restored, the WPO took up once again the mantle of leadership when some of its finest daughters were elected to high office in the PPP/Civic government. Their political activism, their vision for women and the poor and their commitment to the people of Guyana provided a great catalyst for aggressive change.
A founding leader of the early period, Comrade Janet Jagan, former President of Guyana and present President of the WPO is present with us as we hold yet another Congress.
The WPO can be considered as the trailblazer for women’s involvement in activities in the field of politics and women’s equality.
The contributions of the WPO in these 50 years helped all women to understand their roles better. The statements on different issues sought to explain why some inherent attitudes are not helping in the process of development and there is need for a new and progressive approach. It challenged the old paradigms of relationship between men and women and between the oppressed and the oppressor and provided the leadership that was needed by dealing with fundamental issues related to women’s participation in the decision making bodies of society, in the trade unions and in the country’s development.
Many events unfolded within this time nationally. The democratic forces fighting against the dictatorship were consolidating. More forces had entered the political arena, the process leading to the Patriotic Coalition for Democracy was being nurtured and Guyanese were clamouring for change.
We have seen many changes both positive and negative. In all of this the women of Guyana made their contributions in various ways. With the return of democracy to Guyana many changes were made and people once more saw a return of their political rights and freedom.
Since the PPP/Civic government came
into power it created the impetus for women’s involvement in all aspects
of life. The data coming out for every sector of endeavour attests to the positive
advancement that was made.
When we met in l999, we referred to the many important achievements that were made in the first 5-year period in transforming the conditions of women by creating a more conducive and enabling environment.
The National Policy Document, the National Commission on Women, the Chapter on Women in the National Development Strategy and the 5 year Action Plan for Women were intended to create a framework for a more focused and sustained approach towards the transformation of women in society using the 12 measures of the Beijing Platform for Action.
Having created the enabling environment, the other task was to identify the most burning issues affecting women in society with a view towards the adoption of a strategy to address it. Violence, measures to eradicate poverty and preparing women for leadership roles were considered as some of the issues that needed attention.
The National Steering Committee to eradicate Family Violence was the first attempt to bring on board the stake- holders who had a common task in eradicating family violence. It was recognised that there were many groups who were working to eradicate violence but they were small and too fragmented. Thus, it was felt that with the coming together of all these bodies that had a common purpose it would have made the work much more comprehensive and more focused.
The second task was to prepare more
women in leadership positions using the Leadership
Institute as the entry point for those who were desirous of change but had no access to institutions or groups to help them in this area.
Also, the programme to create Community Counselling Centres was prepared since it was recognised that nationally there were very few institutions catering for the needs of members of society who were affected by many social problems. The advent of these Centres and the attending activities associated with such centres helped to alleviate some of the social problems.
The commitments made on the occasion of the 4th World Congress of Women were achieved since there was the political will and resources available to make these possible.
We need to recognise the support and the contributions of the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan and the then President Mrs. Janet Jagan who understood the importance of bringing women into the mainstream of political life by providing opportunities for growth and involvement in the life of the country.
The raising of the awareness and the activism was unparalleled; so much so that we were rated as the 33rd country in the world using Gender Improvement Indicators to measure development.
The process of positively transforming the conditions of has continuously advanced women continued unabated since the PPP/C took office. Much more could have been achieved if the situation was normal. The fact is that when we should have spent time in developmental matters we were caught up in the throes of dealing with acts of destabilization and another election.
The Constitutional Reform process that started in the first term of the PPP government was in the public domain once more. A number of recommendations were made including a Constitutional Commission on gender and one on the rights of the child. It must be mentioned that these had already existed but were not enshrined in the Constitution.
Among the recommendations contained in the Commission on Gender was the quota system that stipulated that women’s involvement in the Parliament would not be left to the Party only but rather the constitutional requirement of 1/3 as contained in the law would have to be fulfilled. While it was not spelt out clearly women activists and organisations including the WPO are of the view that this should not be only in terms of the list but must be translated in the National Assembly as well.
This was a great development for women and the role of the non-governmental organisations that assisted the lobby for this position. However, it must be stated that Dr, Jagan had already committed his government to 30% involvement of women in the decision-making bodies when he gave the charge to the National Commission on Women in 1996.
This new right was welcomed by all women and has transcended party lines primarily because women see this as a great achievement. We do so not forgetting the role of the men in the different processes who lent their support to make this piece of legislation a reality.
However, there are still those who
are of the view that this quota system is pandering to mediocrity and lowering
of standards. The talk of women not being ready and not prepared is a baseless
one. Over the last decade women are excelling in every area and have made tremendous
sacrifices to compete. The WPO has always considered women’s access to
education and opportunities as a vital one and women were encouraged over time
to continue educating themselves. Today, it has manifested itself where many
women who also are members of our organisation can consider themselves educated.
The proverbial glass ceiling was shattered in Guyana and women have proven over
and over again that they are quite capable to take on any position and perform
The WPO ever since its inception worked to organise, mobilize and educate women politically. It was the vision and activism by the WPO in the early period that provided the catalyst for women’s entrance in the political arena.
We have always recognised and promoted the view that women’s emancipation must be seen in the context of the over-all struggle for fundamental and human rights of all people. If we had no universal adult suffrage women would not have had the right to vote, to be involved in decision making or to be considered for positions in the hierarchy of society.
The policy, legislation, mechanisms, programmes and institutions that were created form the basis for expanded growth. The process if managed well can gave a great fillip to what was laid down before. We have to be alert least we lose the momentum and lose time that is so important to the women of Guyana and to the country.
Women, are educated more than ever about the power of their vote and they are now recognising that who ever is looking for their support must be prepared to give guarantees to their advancement.
In this regard we have to ensure that the gains that were made are not eroded. We have to advance in order to increase support for the Party and government. Government has made changes in all the areas of endeavour that will help the over all development of women, their children and families. Once the society is transformed, women’s lives will also be transformed.
Data on Women in some critical areas
The Labour Force Survey of l998 shows the participation rate was 88% for males and 55% for females. The incidence of poverty is higher among women than men especially among female-headed households. Women’s low participation in the work force apparently contributes to the high incidence of poverty. In addition, many women provide unpaid labour in agricultural and family businesses.
The l999 Household Income and Expenditure Survey indicated a marked reduction in poverty since l993. However, the incidence of poverty in Guyana is still unacceptably high. The survey revealed that 36.4 % of the population live in absolute poverty and 19.1% exist in a state of critical poverty.
In July l999 the Constitution Reform Commission concluded its review of the 1980 Constitution. The Committee agreed that there should be an enforceable fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution providing for non-discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, marital status, pregnancy, ethnic or social origin, colour, creed, sexual orientation, age, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, birth or disability. A Bill to this effect was taken to Parliament. It is hoped that now with the return of the Opposition to Parliament, this matter will be resolved and the bill will be assented to by the President. Also it is hoped that the Women and Gender Equality Commission will also be established.
The lobby by women’s organisations before the Constitutional Review Committee of 2000 for increased representation for women in the Parliament was successful since it is now enshrined in the Constitution for women to comprise at least 30 percent of the list to contest for Parliament. This resulted in 20 women out of 65 Members of Parliament entering the National Assembly following the General Elections of 2001.
Data from the 1999 Guyana Survey of Living Conditions indicate that 71% of household heads were males and 29% were female.
Data from the University of Guyana reveal a continuation of traditional male dominance in fields of study such as Technology and Agriculture and high representation of females in the Social Sciences and Education. In 2000, 82.1% and 62.7% were females. Some efforts were made in changing the traditional training programmes through the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education in non-traditional areas.
Women in Politics and Public Life
Women in Parliament increased from 12 (18.5%) in 2000 to 20 (31%) after the 2001 elections. There was an increase of 2female ministers from 2 in l997 to 4 in 2001. The Deputy Speaker of the House is a female. The highest-ranking position in the judiciary that of Chancellor is held by a woman. One of the three Justices of Appeal is a woman. There are three female judges out of eight. Five out of sixteen magistrates are females and the acting Governor at the Bank of Guyana is a woman. Women comprise 62.1 per cent in the public service and 71.7% of head teachers are women.
In the regions there is no women Regional Chairperson, one Female Vice Chairperson, one female Assistant Regional Executive Officer and one female NDC Chairperson.
The afore-mentioned data while not
comprehensive is just one of the indicators that speak to the advancement of
women. The others include the political will, the allocation of resources for
the social sectors and the various policy measures that are adopted to create
an enabling environment for this to happen.
Evaluating the 3 Year Action Plan 1999-2002
A three Year Action Plan was presented to the 13th Triennial Congress as a framework for the way forward. This was in response to the need to have a vision for the period ahead.
A 20-point plan was prepared for implementation. These were;
* Expand membership to 20 thousand with Regional Targets
* Employ one part-time organiser in those areas that are not easily accessible.
* Carry out aggressive fundraisers
* Recommence the WPO news bulletin
* Resume the publication of Women Unite
* Identify projects for women in order to provide employment
* Expose members to computer technology
* WPO members to become more pro-active in communities
* Members to continuously develop their skills and education
Organise more educational programmes to learn about the roles of the PPP
PYO, WPO and contribution of Dr. Jagan in liberating Guyana
* Work to expand the diversity of the WPO
* Create linkages with professionals
who are prepared to assist in different training
Provide educational programmes for women in order to make them aware
of all the services and laws that are there to help them
* Creation of a fund for members who are in difficult circumstances
* Establish a National Softball team and Circle Tennis team
* Organise more social interaction among members
Do millennium project for WPO on its history and a biography that have
shaped the organisation
* Re-organise the national camps
* Work with the PYO to re-organize the Pioneer Organization.
* Prepare a memorial place for Kowsillia
Expanding the Membership Base
By mid 2001 an aggressive campaign was started by the Central office to visit groups that were not functioning. The General Secretary who worked with some members to revitalize the organisation spearheaded this campaign. The effort was successful and by the end of 2001 the organisation was bouncing back.
By 2002 a new situation had emerged where a group of volunteers from the WPO joined in an outreach programme. Most of the groups in the country were visited at least once and on some occasions twice and thrice by the Secretariat and Central Committee members. We look forward to a more aggressive management approach in order to alleviate some of the difficulties that affected the organisation.
Building our cadre base
This can be considered one of the areas in which we were very successful. We were able to interact and bring on board many qualified and professional women to the WPO and to organisations that were sympathetic to it. Among the ranks of the organisation are qualified women who have expertise in many areas. While we were able to tap into some of these we still have a big challenge ahead in order to place them were they could perform. Many of these women were trained in computer skills, in skills training and in diploma and degree courses. What is important in this area is that women are thirsty for knowledge and they are taking up opportunities whenever these present themselves.
Projects identified as Millennium Project
Three projects were identified as projects for the period under review. These were the project on WPO history, a biography of women who have shaped the organisation and preparing a memorial place for Kowsillia
In the case of the first two we are pleased to note that those were completed and the first document was launched on the occasion of the 50th anniversary. The second is being launched on this occasion and the third will be launched sometime next year.
National Cultural Group
It was recognised that among our membership were many talented persons. Thus, a decision was taken to form a cultural group that will help to promote culture and also to raise funds for the organisation. We were able to bring off four activities with this group. The guiding principle is that all persons with talent will be brought together on different occasions. As such, a programme of a three -hour cultural show will be put together from time to time involving the group.
Fund Raising Activities
This is an area we believe is weakly pursued by the organisation. It is common knowledge that members are desirous of getting involved in social inter-action from time to time. We have not taken advantage of this reality. The examples of 2003 should make us all feel proud of our organisation as we prepare ourselves to take care of our own expenses. Much more could have been achieved if we had political stability earlier in the year. However, the WPO in preparing itself for a much more proactive role has already prepared a business plan to provide the necessary resources to manage the office. It is our belief that if we are to be viable and efficient we need to have the financial capability to do so.
The national camp that was held in 2001 was a success and we are preparing for another before the conclusion of this year. The crime situation ad political instability prevented us from organising others that we had planned
We were extremely disappointed that we were not able to undertake the resumption of the Women Unite newspaper. There were many constraints that were responsible for this, the most important being the lack of resource persons with available time.
Working across the divide in collaboration
We have successfully provided guidance and leadership for women in many parts of the country and we expect to expand this to include more communities. Members of the organisation at various levels have had the opportunity to work with women from diverse backgrounds and were able to share information about the work we have done and have introduced them to many important aspects of our rich history. Many new relationships were created not only among organizations but individuals as well. At the leadership levels we have interacted with various organisations; and successfully collaborated with organisations such as the Women’s Affairs Bureau (WAB) and other non-governmental organisations during the period under review. We worked closely with the National Democratic Institute, the Rural Women’s Network, Friends of the Needy, Guyanese Women in Development, the National Commission for Women, Food for the Poor, National Commission for Disability, Local Board of Guardians and various community groups in order to create closer linkages among organisations.
We also worked closely with government
agencies that are social and representational in order to orient members with
the programmes and work of these institutions. Members participated in many
workshops, seminars, consultations and other educational activities. We participated
in many important seminars organised by the different international agencies.
Consolidating the Organisation
To ensure greater unity of purpose through more inter-action with members of the organisation, we were able to achieve more progress in 2002 because of the personal attention that was paid to many leading members. In this way they preformed better and helped to improve the work of the organization.
The Central Committee and Secretariat functioned with just about 50 percent participation. Although members had area responsibility many of them did not undertake activities or provide leadership to many new groups that were formed. This is not a new situation, although we have kept encouraging those who have consciously agreed to run for CC to understand that it is not about positions but rather about commitment and hard work.
Election work took centre stage in 2000 and 2001. However, we recognized that we were being distracted by too many other responsibilities. Consequently, we had to reassess the work of the organisation. We were able to re-organise and re-kindle interest in the organisation once again and we can consider this year as a year of growth, closer collaboration between the office and groups. It was a year of unity of purpose and the will to surmount any hurdles.
Two regional bodies were organised in Party Region 9 on the Essequibo and Party Region 5 on the East Coast of Demerara. The attempts to create two other regions were not successful and the new Central Committee must undertake this.
Although we have 4 part-time organisers we were not able to see the progressive growth of the organisation in terms of the amount of groups we have on the ground. This situation will have to be re-evaluated for the future.
The members who are entering the organisation are demanding a new type of leadership. Women today, have more options and more organisations to get involved in. If we do no respond to this trend, we may run the risk of losing our members to other groups. Thus we have to confront this new situation whereby the organisation will have to find more resource personnel to work with groups to give guidance and leadership.
We have worked in the last 50 years to encourage women to consciously take a stand and become involved in the activities of the WPO and the Party. It was a very difficult task since many of them were constrained because of culture and traditions. Thus, it took a lot of persuasion to get them to come on board. While thousands of women were content to be on the periphery and to give tacit support, not enough were prepared to come forward and become integrally involved. Those that came forward did so because they voluntarily wanted to help in the process of political change.
This process has not been easy for
many women and the faint hearted could not survive. So all the women who have
stayed throughout these many years with the organisation through thick and thin,
in the good and in the bad times can be considered women of substance. They
had to be, since it was not for money, nor power nor privilege.
The women who stayed did so because of a noble cause and an exemplary leader Comrade Cheddi Jagan, who was able to instil dedication, commitment and a vision for a larger good, motivated them.
We have done painstaking work with women throughout Guyana at different times and by different members of the organisation. What have we given to them? Why is it after so many years many who were part of the family are still grateful for their association and for the opportunities they benefited from? The reasons differ from member to member. Some will tell you of their parent's involvement, or their spouse's involvement or that they themselves were encouraged to become involved. The fact that they were brave enough to come forward and play a role is enough reason for us to be grateful for their contribution and involvement.
We say thank you to all those who are still around and may not be able to contribute for many reasons. The WPO has stayed on course because of the collective efforts of the women who are part of the organisation and who have contributed in many ways.
As we analyse where we are after 50 years we have to recognise the changing world in which we are operating. In the first instance many of those who were motivated by the many principles I have referred to are no longer with us. Many have moved on to the great beyond and some to other shores.
Today we have an influx of many persons both young and old from diverse backgrounds. Our exhortation for women to become educated has paid off since many women more than ever have taken up the challenge to become educated.
We have encouraged women to develop their self-esteem and confidence and by so doing they are able to make representation for themselves and families.
As we conclude our 14th Triennial Congress we need to ensure that the momentum that was created will not be lost. Therefore as members of the organisation we urge you to take whatever actions necessary to promote and expand the work of your respective groups. The responsibility does not rest on a few members only but all who are part of the collective
The time is now for us to make some challenging decisions in order to shape the direction of the organisation.
Recognition is given to the fact that women of today have more options and organisations to get involved with. Also, the availability of many TV soaps and movies are competing for the time of women. Ever so often the women prefer to allow the status quo to remain and they prefer to forego involvements that are intended to improve their knowledge base and standards of life. Another challenge for countries such as ours is the migration and cultural imperialism that is changing the identities of people of many cultures. We ourselves as a nation are affected by this trend, since many people have put their lives on hold by waiting for the much-awaited visa. Many are dreaming of the land of opportunities and get-rich-quick syndrome. This has created an ambivalent situation for many Guyanese who are preparing and hoping to leave this land
Women of today are looking for answers to many of the problems that affect them. By providing them with the knowledge to fish and not providing the net is also problematic for us since the sense of hopelessness creeps in so easily. As we strive to encourage women to come out of their homes and become involved in the WPO we have to recognise the organisation must have the requisite resources and time to provide the much needed leadership for members of the organisation.
The question that confronts us is whether after 50 years we are properly equipped to provide the leadership that is so badly needed in today’s context. We need to re-organise the way we function as an organisation if we want to grapple with difficulties.
Structurally we have the Central Committee, the Regions, the District, Groups and cells that are intended to deal with the different layers of managing from the top to the bottom and vice versa. In terms of getting information and decisions and policies to these bodies we found that we have worked well. The Regions and Districts are two areas where we have not been successful. The task for us in this regard is to work towards the realisation of these structures in the next 3 years ahead. Organizationally, we have the requisite numbers of groups in Region 3, 4,5 and 6 to see the setting up of these before the completion of 2003.
Are we in a position to get District Committees to function? There is no reason why this should not be possible by the end of 2004. There are many capable comrades who need to be groomed ideologically in order to manage these bodies.
The situation in terms of groups has been mixed depending on the realities that surround them. Firstly, they often need the Party group or organiser to be visible and to give leadership to the communities. The second is whether the people have benefited from the government in terms of their immediate social needs. If the former is present and the second is absent we will still face a set of disgruntled citizens. If the second is present we may be able to make a breakthrough once comrades are prepared to go in and do the groundwork. We have many classic cases on the lower East Coast where we have 3 WPO groups functioning and no Party group. The experiences of 2002 have helped us to understand that there are too many communities in this country that are badly in need of leadership and are not getting it. If we are prepared to go in and provide answers to their many problems they will support us. In all communities that we visited, we found this to be so. There are many examples of women and men coming out to listen to our discourses. We need to use this fertile situation to our advantage more effectively.
Our Fourteen Tasks
Our first task therefore is to go in to communities and provide leadership.
The second task is to ensure that all the groups that are present have the necessary guidance to do their work. The Group Guidance Kit must be reworked to looked at the needs of groups and prepare the necessary guidance in a user-friendly format. This must be completed by October of 2003. All groups must be provided with these as their working document.
The third task is to organise as much weekdays and weekend training programmes using the group guidance kit. We need to identify people who have skills within our groups and communities to assist in training. A few persons must be prepared in some crash courses in conflict resolutions situations to assist communities who are in dire need of such guidance.
The fourth task is the establishment of The Box Hand Saving Scheme to assist each other to a small business, to do basic repairs or any emergency situation. This scheme can be organised in our groups and you may wish to include others. This is a very old way of savings, which many of our grandparents used effectively to help in doing different things for themselves.
The fifth task is at the central level to urgently implement the proposal that was incorporated in a position paper that was prepared by the General Secretary of the Organisation early in this year. The document addresses the structure that is needed within the Office to grapple with the multidimensional activities of the organisation. This document must be discussed at the first meeting of the new Central Committee for adoption and implementation.
The core issues raised in the paper addresses the organisational structure of the Office where one person had responsibility to deal with the day-to-day matters of the Office. If we want to expand and give more responsible leadership to our groups throughout the country the present structure cannot work. The proposal is to have 3 Co-ordinators to do the following: -
(i) Political and Ideological Development
The work that was done historically to bring us this far must continue because it is still relevant. One co-ordinator must be employed in this aspect of the work. This must b e someone who has the ideological background to understand and interpret the changing scenarios in the country and in the life of the party and WPO.
(ii) Finance Co-ordinator
The task of this person is to take the business plan once agreed to and begin an aggressive programme to undertake and give guidance and help in the implementation of the programme.
(iii) Social and Representation Work
Manage all aspects of social work affecting WPO members. We must help those with disabilities, those needing advice, and those with special needs. Organise donations from institutions and groups overseas to those who are in difficult circumstances within the organization.
The sixth task is to complete the history of WPO Part 2 1965-1992
The seventh task is to re-visit the need for the initiation of sports activities within the organization. We have failed in this area and need to pursue this task vigorously.
The eighth task is the preparation of a WPO Cookbook to be completed by end of 2004.
The ninth task is the preparation of 35% quota for women to be prepared in local government. All groups are required to submit names of potential women who will be called upon to take part in a number of training programmes organised by the WPO.
The tenth task is to begin the publication of the Women Unite publication, which we were unable to undertake through lack of personnel to take on responsibilities.
The eleventh task is to conclude the Monument Park for Women to coincide with the 40th death Anniversary of Kowsillia.
The twelfth task is to start the compilation of all data and information on the work and life of Comrade Janet to be printed in a book form by the next Congress.
The thirteenth task is to assist the Friendly organisations that are working with the WPO with the necessary resources to make them competitive. The details need to be worked out and implemented by the Central Committee.
The fourteenth task is to pursue the creation of a Fund for Members in Difficult Circumstances.
The proposed 14-point plan- will be the blueprint for the work of the organisation in the next three years.
We recognise that there will be many other activities that must be undertaken but we need to show tangible movements in terms of actions that can be lasting and visible to all. As an organisation with 50 years of experience we must be able to become the role models for other groups. We must stand out as people who are not afraid to take chances and accomplish our goals. Thus, we from the leadership must be able to provide that type of guidance.
The WPO can build upon our present successes to grow even much stronger. The women are eager to come out to get involved and to overcome any hurdles. Our women have shown their abilities in many areas. They have the discipline that is necessary for success. We have in our ranks women who are not afraid to take on responsibilities. Let us inspire them to play a greater role in the process led by our glorious Party of rebuilding our dear land of Guyana.
Our country is going though a very challenging period of its history. We are living in a very hostile global environment that undermines our traditional exports. We are also faced with the actions of a desperate political party, which is hell, bent on making the country un-governable.
Their evils designs must be defeated!
We must develop the greatest unity among all Guyanese women to work for a peaceful environment that will allow the productive energies of our people to succeed.
We must oppose all attempts to promote racism and to incite racially motivated actions.
We must recognise the tremendous gains that have been made in the last ten years under the people oriented Government of the PPP-Civic and do not take these benefits for granted.
We must defend our achievements and recognise that we have a hard road to travel and still a very far way to go.
We must never allow ourselves to be diverted.
We must be faithful to the legacy of our Great Leader and Father of our Nation, Comrade Cheddi Jagan!
We must keep on marching forward, guided by the noble objectives of our glorious Party.
Long live the revolutionary unity of the WPO, PYO and PPP!
Let us leave this congress as a more dedicated team of women defending democracy for peace and social progress!