Women Could Play a Key Role in Politics
by Sheila Holder/AFC

This piece is addressed to women across the political spectrum. We, more than any other group in Guyana , have the electoral power to bring to an end the deleterious impact of the political fracture in our society as mainstream politicians make all kinds of excuses not to do the right thing by making paramount the welfare of all Guyanese.

Apart from arranging for Constitutional reform, sustained dialogue between the PPP/C and the PNCR, etc., the Herdmanston Accord measures were to have been introduced ‘for the improvement of race relations in Guyana, including the contribution which equal opportunity legislation and concepts drawn from the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society can contribute to the cause of justice, equity and progress in Guyana'.

Failure to address these crucial issues by successive PPP/C administrations have brought our country into disrepute, and caused our people to continue to flee these shores in large numbers to be scattered around the world and subjected to inhospitable treatment in some instances. Clearly, politics as has been practised by these dominant political forces, the PPP/C and the PNCR have failed us. So what could we as women do in view of the fact that the 2006 elections are upon us?

Women across the political spectrum should mobilise, as other women have done elsewhere in the world, to impress upon the major political players that we desire an end be brought to the political bickering they have engaged in for generations; to end the misuse of state resources and institutions by the current PPP/C government to allow for truly free and fair elections; and for peace and harmony among our people to prevail during this elections period. Women should position themselves between the old political forces to prevent the realisation of the predictions by the prophets of doom, so that an environment of political stability could develop in order to bring in the dawn of a new era to end the physical deprivations of our people and the mental shackles of racial politics. Women must debunk the myth that the PPP/C owns East Indians voters and the PNCR owns voters of African descent. This political and mental slavery must end because it is the root of all Guyana 's problems. To continue to accept it is to accept the generational sentence of political irresponsibility and disregard for our people's desire for peace, harmony, physical safety, justice and socio/economic development.

A little noticed statement made some time ago by the First Lady, Varshni Jagdeo, is deserving of public attention, since it provides one of the keys for general societal action that could lead us down the road to achieving that which we all crave but have eluded us. The First Lady said that the most important ingredient she found to be missing in our public, social and political commentaries is patriotism.

We must understand that the political process in a democratic environment is expected to enable the achievement of some basic characteristics such as:

• A government elected by the people to serve all the people in a manner to evince a general feeling of equal treatment and equal opportunity.

• A government that exercises power with the understanding that it has a duty and the responsibility to protect citizens' rights to life and safety denied us in recent times.

• In turn the citizens grant government temporary power to make decisions on their behalf through a process of participation in the life and governance of the society.

Definition of a Democratic Government

The democratic system of government should be organised in such a way as to prevent an individual or one group or one institution from becoming too powerful and prevailing over others on issues. Thus, the adoption generally around the world of the principle of separation of powers into different branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial - which is perceived to have been eroded in Guyana. By dividing these responsibilities, and placing checks on power and influence, a democratic society limits government abuses and helps ensure the rights of individuals. A democratic government is therefore inclined, organisationally and procedurally, to make decisions that benefit the society as a whole, rather than a particular interest group - a signal failure of successive governments in Guyana .

Prior to the formation of the Alliance For Change (AFC) there was developing among the Guyanese society a perception that it was more virtuous to be a member of a civil society organisation (CSO) than a member of a political party, so discredited had politicians and political parties become. Today, just after seven months of existence, the AFC has attracted thousands of members from all ten regions of the country.

In a publication titled ‘Democracy out of Balance', Ivan Doherty, one time General Secretary of Ireland's Fein Gael Party, said that: “Without strong political parties and political institutions that are accountable and effective, that can negotiate and articulate compromises to respond to conflicting demands, the door is effectively open to those populist leaders who will seek to bypass the institutions of government, especially any system of checks and balances, and the rule of law.” He could be speaking of Guyana today.

In an NDI National survey on Increasing Women's Political Participation that comprised a population sample of 446 women, representative of the 10 administrative regions of the country based on the population distribution by administrative regions, ethnic and religious samples in proportion to the country's social, religious and ethnic demographics, it was revealed that: -

• 68% of women surveyed felt that they could make a major difference in their community if new and honest approaches were the style adopted by the political leadership.

• Many held the view that politics was too ‘dirty and ugly', while others perceived Guyanese politics with the two major contenders the PPP/C and the PNCR as confrontational. Women felt that these parties were contributing and benefiting from the social and political fracture in the society, and stated that changing the political culture in Guyana was a fundamental prerequisite to their future participation.

• The survey asked if women thought there would be any benefit of a network of women politicians from all political parties in Guyana . The general view was that networking was desirable but difficult, because women politicians would have competing claims on their loyalty. In the words of a woman interviewed: “the leaders at the top must approve of this approach, otherwise no benefits will occur.”

• Overall the women interviewed felt that the issues affecting women would be better dealt with if there were more women in parliament. As much as 86% felt hopeful about the impact of increased numbers of women MPs, even though general dissatisfaction with the aggression and assertiveness of the current political culture was expressed. Women felt that issues related to crime and unemployment, were accorded insufficient attention by the last parliament. On the other hand, women felt that an equal distribution of men and women in the Parliament would allow women's issues fairer attention and treatment.

It should be pointed out that in our electoral process the electorate don't vote to elect individual candidates, they vote for a party list. As a consequence, the decision rests with the party leader who has control of the list who should enter the National Assembly. The AFC is committed to changing this and returning to the people the right to directly elect Members of Parliament as was distinctly expressed during the Constitutional Reform Process in 1999 that would allow for more direct accountability. The Alliance For Change is also committed to revising the Guyana Constitution to allow for a re-distribution of presidential powers.

Some Factors Impinging on National Development and Progress

It is instructive that some of the women interviewed in the NDI survey held the view that benefits in the form of electoral support accrue to the political forces that advance insecurity among their supporters. ‘Better the devil you know than the one you don't' best exemplifies the argument usually advanced by people who willingly fall prey to this illogic, come national elections time. The fact that such an unethical proposition has gained mileage among large sections of the Guyanese electorate tells us either about the gullibility of the Guyanese people or about their unabashed double standards. It is said most succinctly that a people get the government they deserve. Whatever the reason, the result that is evident in this country has exacted a commensurate punishment on the Guyanese people in the form of half a century of protracted political unrest, social and economic stagnation and the reason for half of the population opting to flee the country. In closing, I return to the First Lady's comments mentioned earlier about the absence of patriotism in the local political discourse. and call on Guyanese women to join in the effort of nation-building by getting involved politically.

[Editor's Note: Repreoduced from Kaieteur News, July 2, 2006.]

July 3, 2006
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