IWD picket: Red Thread says women MPs ignoring burning issues
Written by Kwesi Isles Thursday, 15 March 2012 20:56
The Red Thread activists brace a police barrier outside Parliament
Building while legislators met inside. (picture by Kwesi Isles)
The Red Thread women’s organisation is calling on female parliamentarians to start representing the interests of grassroots women but female MPs feel that the body’s characterisation of their efforts to date is unfair.
About three dozen women affiliated with the organisation on picketed Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly as part of observance to mark International Women’s Day commemorated a week ago.
They carried signs and banners that read “Campaign for increase in old age pension and public assistance,” “Domestic workers need a living income,” and “Stop forcing mothers to leave their children to get $ to feed them.”
“We want to call the women parliamentarians to account, we don’t feel that they’re speaking on our behalf as grassroots women in the parliament. While we know that all parliamentarians are raising other issues of accountability and transparency and all of that they’re supposed to also be consulting with us as grassroots women, as poor people since we are responsible for them being in parliament,” spokeswoman Joy Marcus told Demerara Waves Online News.
The economic situation facing the common woman, she added, should be treated as a priority.
“We are tired of being forced to choose between sending our children to school and feeding them, we have to choose between paying the rent and feeding our children; this is the reality of how poor people live.
Poor people are the majority of this country and as women, as mothers we are the foundation of this country, we are the ones that produce and reproduce the labour force,” Marcus said.
According to her, while talking about the national economy is good, they also need to address the “household economy.”
Other issues highlighted as priorities included, housing and the cost of building, violence against women and children and improving the education system.
“When you look at the violence situation you can take it right back to the economic situation because many times poor women would like to walk away from violence but they have to think about where would I go, how am I going to take care of my children,” Marcus said.
Speaking to DemWaves afterward PPP/C parliamentarian Indra Chandarpal, who also chairs the Women and Gender Equality Commission, said the contention that they do not address the issues affecting grassroots women is untrue.
“We are representing organisations that are from the grassroots women. The women in the opposition, from the PNC, they have grassroots women organisation, the WPO is national and grassroots so we fully understand the problems of those women, have been representing them. The impression that is being created that we don’t represent grassroots women is so unfair and not true.”
She added that the social sector committee in the parliament has been dealing with such issues as pension, NIS matters, school dropouts and violence against women and making representation on them.
Acknowledging that more could always be done Chandarpal pointed out that it is a matter of the availability of finances and singled out the call for increased pensions.
“When you talk about increase in old age pension you’re carrying 43,000 people every month and you have to look at the accumulated amount of money, you not giving them an honorarium for a year, you’re talking about giving them an increase for 12 months.
I’m not saying that the amount of money is enough because there is always room for more money for everything … but the government can only give based on what is available because what is available means you have to sustain it overtime,” Chandarpal stated.
According to her, it is not right for people to portray female MPs as being unaware and uncaring of the plight of poor women, children and the elderly.
“But what can you, do you can only give what you have.” AFC parliamentarian Cathy Hughes also deemed the organisation’s charge unfair.
“I think what has happened is that in the two sittings that we’ve had we’ve had a very specific agenda and we have been pushing especially at this point provisions in the budget which we are hoping and demanding will come although we’ve been locked out of the budget discussion,” she said.
The budget is to be presented to the House month end.
According to Hughes, they are pushing to see special programmes that can provide funding for women in situations of domestic violence so that they can move on.
“I don’t think it’s a fair comment because we are advocating that this budget needs to show a lot more funding allocated for shelters, a funding programme to give women economic and financial support in a programme of transition out of abusive situations.
We have been talking ad nauseum about things like increasing the level of pension for old people, we are talking about reducing the VAT because it’s the women that go to the supermarket and the market that have to make the money stretch so I don’t necessarily think that they are informed about what’s happening,” Hughes said.
She noted that they have not met specifically with Red Thread but added that that does not preclude the group or any other from reaching out to the MPs to find out what is being done on their behalf.
“I think it’s a two-way street so certainly if anyone from Red Thread was to pick up the phone and say Cathy come talk to us about what you’re doing, no problem, I keep my door open and my phone open to anybody.
According to Hughes, she is committed to ensuring that she raises issues that are important to women throughout Guyana.
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