Minister Gaskin Commits to Examine Challenges for Marginalized Groups Starting Small Businesses

On Wednesday, March 29, a delegation from the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) met with the Minister of Business, Honourable Dominic Gaskin, M.P. and his Personal Assistant, Pheadra Williams, at his South Road office in downtown Georgetown. Sabine McIntosh, Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG), Danuta Radzik, Help and Shelter (H&S) along with Joel Simpson and Schemel Patrick, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), attended the meeting to discuss some of the collective challenges their constituents face realizing the right to work, in terms of entrepreneurship and employment.

After Minister Gaskin welcome the GEF delegation to the meeting, DAG’s Sabine McIntosh started the discussions by informing the meeting that her organization’s constituents consists of a large number of students and early school leavers. She noted DAG’s partnership with the Board of Industrial Training (BIT) and the successes of a number of their skills-training initiatives with deaf persons. To date a number of deaf youth have been trained in sewing, cosmetology, auto-body work, among other areas. The challenges that the group faces are in fortifying employment and in accessing capital for their own employment ventures. McIntosh emphasised the need for youth-friendly systems to be adopted which ensures that young persons are able to successfully access capital to create their own businesses. With regards to employment, she called for more organisations and private sector companies to employ more deaf persons. McIntosh urged Minister Gaskin to work on making start-up capital for young persons with disabilities more available and accessible for them to develop micro-enterprises, either through the Small Business Bureau or other state-supported programmes which fall within his portfolio.

Radzik in her presentation to the Minister emphasized two important areas for action. Firstly, she noted the struggle faced by many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as a consequence of dwindling financing. In light of this, many NGOs are attempting to become involved in business ventures as a means of securing funding to continue to deliver services. Radzik asked for the Ministry’s support - through its on-going programmes and trainings – in assisting NGOs that are not traditionally business oriented to develop income-generating capacities and become more sustainable, in a manner that does not conflict with existing laws and policies governing their remit. Secondly, she noted Help and Shelter’s work with abused women and their commitment to ensuring that these women become economically independent. One of the challenges faced by the organisation’s clients is the difficulties in accessing capital to initiate micro-enterprises. She also noted their clients’ needs for training programmes that would equip these women with the skills needed to become successful entrepreneurs.

Lastly, Simpson noted incidences of discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers also occur frequently in the private sector. He stressed that with the absence of specific prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997, LGBT persons in Guyana are left unprotected and made susceptible to discrimination in the workplace, with essentially no consequences under the law. Simpson requested Minister Gaskin’s commitment to support an amendment to the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 to include “sexual orientation and gender identity” as grounds for discrimination.

In photo from left to right: Schemel Patrick, SASOD; Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin; Joel Simpson, SASOD; Danuta Radzik, Help & Shelter and Sabine McIntosh, Deaf Association of Guyana

In responding to the issues raised by the GEF delegation, Minister Gaskin described the scope and work of the Small Business Bureau as a mirco-financing agency and accepted that more needs to be done as it relates to ensuring the ease of access to funds for marginalised groups. He underscored the importance of ensuring that employment opportunities are available for these groups. “A healthy society is one where you get contributions from every individual,” Minister Gaskin noted. These contributions aid in developing the economy and nation-building, he added. Minister Gaskin said his Ministry and allied agencies would look into developing more tailored programmes for NGOs to help them to develop income-generating strategies and become more self-sufficient. The Minister categorically stated that he does not support discrimination against any group. Specifically relating to the including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, while signaling his general agreement in principle, Minister Gaskin noted that he would appreciate seeing a draft of the amendment that SASOD and the GEF are proposing. Minister Gaskin urged the GEF groups to follow up with him to ensure their concerns are addressed and that they are connected to the state agencies mandated to assist them in achieving mutual goals. The GEF delegation committed to holding the Minister accountable to his words.