Sexual harassment, Access to Health Services Still Challenging Issues for Women

On Thursday March 17, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) – Guyana Project held their seventh monthly “Lunch Talk” forum. This month the discussion focused on “Women and Workplace Discrimination” as part of a series of activities being held to commemorate International Women’s Day 2016 observed on March 8.

Under the theme “Pledge for Parity,” Commissioner Renata Chuck-A-Sang on the Women and Gender Equality Commission (WGEC) sat with Ms. Renuka Anandjit, Programme Director of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) and Mr. Nicholas Persaud, Stigma and Gender-Based Violence Specialist at APC to discuss how women still struggle for equal rights and opportunities, particularly in the workplace. The session was moderated by Secretary of SASOD’s Board of Directors, Ms. Alana Da Silva.

(l-r) Moderator Alana DaSilva, SASOD; Commissioner Renata Chuck-A-Sang, WGEC; Programme Director Renuka Anandjit, GRPA and Gender Specialist Nicholas Persaud, APC. (Photo Credit: Theresa Campbell, APC)

Not enough being done to address Gender Inequality

APC’s Stigma and Gender-Based Violence Specialist Nicholas Persaud called for strong policies to be implemented, not just drafted and sitting on paper. “A National Policy on Sexual Harassment does not exist but even if we do have legislative support there needs to be a unit to oversee that this policy is adhered to and that everyone follows the guidelines. We have transgender people being shunned and facing discrimination for simply being who they are by “cross-dressing” to attend court.”

Cross-dressing is only illegal if done for an undefined “Improper Purpose” – Persaud pointed out. “This too doesn’t have a policy but where is the Unit to support people who are discriminated against? Women being sexually harassed in the workplace have no unit, nowhere to go to and it reaches the media before any authorities take action.”

He highlighted the need to educate and enlighten colleagues about discrimination and harassment in the workplace, direct concerns to administrators and encourage anyone who can address concerns through realistic policies and most of all work towards respecting and implementing them.

“Another thing we have to look at” according to the Stigma and Gender-Based Violence specialist, “is the gender disparity – there are differences in accessing healthcare, attaining services, employment and pay. We need equal gender spread in the National Assembly, electing not only based on ethics and qualifications but diversity of our leaders; we need more diversified representation in institutional bodies because Boards and Governments of mostly men are a disadvantage to social progression in all forms.”

Access to health services

Programme Director of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), Ms. Renuka Anandjit, spoke on equity and equality of genders in society, calling for the involvement of all in policy development and implementation but also, importantly, education and public relations.

She made a point of medical termination of pregnancy being legal in Guyana since 1995 but this knowledge and even the institutions that offer abortions are not widely known. This she described as shocking that for two decades healthcare specifically for women is not widely available, and even moreso, that there is a complete lack of awareness.

GRPA, an organisation that provides a range of health-related services vulnerable groups such as disadvantaged women, sex workers, sexual and gender minorities, has partnered with the Ministry of Public Health in several projects on sexuality and family planning.

Women can now access abortion services from three national healthcare institutions: Suddie Hospital in the Pomeroon-Supenaam area (Region 2), New Amsterdam Hospital in the East Berbice-Corentyne area (Region 6) and at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation in the capital (Region 4). The Diamond Diagnostic Centre and Linden Hospitals are preparing to implement these services.

 “We need to enable greater access to services for women and  girls; we need to reduce these rates: the highest rate of suicide in the world, the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the Latin American and Caribbean region; sexual violence and domestic abuse – we are only increasing the vulnerability of women if we do not strengthen policies and have these services across the board and this need to be of top priority,” Anandjit  added.

Participants at the Lunch Talk (Photo Credit: Theresa Campbell, APC)

Pressure the Judiciary, Hold the Government Accountable

Commissioner Chuck-A-Sang of the Women and Gender Equality Commission expressed that Guyana has some strong laws, like the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and particularly the Sexual Offences Act 2010 which are modern, progressive and gender-inclusive legislation. Section 8 of the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 prescribes that "any act of sexual harassment against any employee committed by an employer, managerial employee or co-worker shall constitute unlawful discrimination based on sex within the meaning of section 4 of this Act."

In her response as to what the Women and Gender Equality Commission is doing to tackle gender inequality in the workplace generally and workplace discrimination against lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women who are often forgotten in these conversations the Commissioner made a strong charge for the public to test the legislation and pressure the judiciary to hold the government accountable.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity are not included from the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997. She called this unfortunate on the premise that people, women especially who identify as lesbian, bisexual or transgender, do not have any legislative backing. “I encourage anyone to find a lawyer who is willing to test the laws. We do not have many lawyers in Guyana with such interests, but the people need to test the laws and hold the government accountable” the commissioner said.