Today, August 26, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary since the U.S. Congress ratified the bill that granted women the right to vote. Although women won the right to vote on June 4, 1919, it took another year before they could elect representatives of the government. While the United States was not the first country to grant women the right to vote, this significant milestone in the Women’s Suffrage Movement paved the way for many other countries to follow.
With the election of Eleanor Roosevelt as chair of the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, women’s right to vote was subsequently enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Six years later, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Political Rights of Women thereby allowing equal rights of women to vote for government representatives of their choice, hold public office, and access public services.
Despite gaining the right to vote, however, women in both developed and developing countries are seldom respected or treated as “equal citizens” under the law. Hence, equality and equity still remain elusive across the world today. This is especially the case in developing countries where women are renowned for effectuating meaningful change at home and in their local communities but are notoriously underrepresented in leadership positions at the national level. This directly impacts the formulation of development policies expected to benefit all citizens.
In Guyana, as in many developing countries, women are often seen as inferior instead of citizens capable of making a meaningful and equal contribution to the growth and development of their country. This is not to say that women do not hold high public office in Guyana. However, in comparison to their male counterparts, it seems that they often have to work twice as hard and overcome multiple obstacles to make it to the top. And even after making it to the top, they often face ridicule.
While I was hoping for broader female representation, it was nonetheless refreshing to see ten women selected by President Ali to serve as Members of Parliament (MPs) and one to serve as a Technocratic Minister. What is impressive about the current batch of women representing the government is the delicate balance of experience and youth. Equally important is the fact that eight of these ladies are Ministers of Government holding important portfolios crucial to Guyana’s development. Perhaps what is absolutely uplifting to see is that there are several young and assertive women in the group which bodes well for young women across Guyana aspiring to hold public office.
The opposition also boasts thirteen female MPs, several of whom served as Ministers of Government under the previous administration. Together, this represents some serious female power in the National Assembly. As such, it is imperative that the current batch of female MPs across the political divide distinguish themselves by being good role models for young women (and men) across Guyana. It is also incumbent on the Ali Administration to introduce policies designed to empower women in and out of government so that they can further contribute to the social, economic, and political development of Guyana.