The Achievements Made in the Area of Women’s Legal Rights in Guyana.
“If we stand tall it is because we stand on the backs of those who came before us.”—This is a salient African proverb that has now become common world wisdom. And in this year of Guyana’s Golden Jubilee, we have reason to stand tall and celebrate the achievements made in the area of women’s legal rights. Today, Guyanese stand on a solid foundation created by the countless women and men who, as lawmakers, activists and advocates for legal change, have made significant strides to bring to reality, a society where all are treated equally and women are elevated to their rightful place as equals to men in every way. In that regard, an important starting point in a conversation in this regard is the Equal Rights Act 1990. Section 2 of The Equal Rights Act 1990 boldly declares “women and men have equal rights and the same legal status in all spheres of political, economic and social life.” Women, Business &The Law Let us consider the World Bank Report: Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal. The report affirms that “Women’s equal access to public education, healthcare, social benefits, such as those for low income households, depend on their ability to move freely, prove their identity, and easily and independently contract with others.” The laws of Guyana guarantee women equal access and rights in these aforementioned areas in the public and private sector. These laws establish the foundation for the economic, political and social empowerment of women as declared in the Equal Rights Act 1990. In fact, it is important to note that, the Equal Rights Act is gender affirming – guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities for women and men equally. Some key markers for celebration in this Act are:
• Non–discrimination: Section 2 (2) provides that all forms of discrimination against women on the basis of their sex or marital status are illegal. • Equal pay: Section 2 (3) provides that
women shall be paid equal remuneration as men for the same work of the same nature. Another area of celebration for women is the abolition of the law of “dependent domicile”. In 1998, the passage of the Domicile Reform Act abolished the law whereby upon marriage, a woman acquired her husband’s domicile and provided that “Every married person is capable of independent domicile.” That means, In Guyana, every woman is now guaranteed an equal right to choose where she lives before and after marriage. We can celebrate that in the area of legal identity and freedom to move, there are no existing legal restrictions in Guyana on women’s rights to apply for a passport, to travel outside the home, to travel outside the country, choosing where to live, obtaining a national identity card, getting a job or pursuing a trade or profession without permission or approval from their fathers, husbands or partners. These legal rights and freedoms are to be affirmed and not taken for granted, especially since we still live in a world where in some countries, women are not equally guaranteed these rights. For example, in Saudia Arabia, women need to be accompanied by a male chaperone known as a ‘mahram’ whenever they leave the house. However, while we can celebrate our achievements with regards to laws that provide for equal treatment of women, there is great need to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of these laws to guarantee equal rights for women, especially those women who experience poverty and are made powerless.
Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for Women During the last 50 years, Guyana has done significant work to affirm and improve the sexual reproductive and health rights for women. We can assert and celebrate the laws that criminalise
the acts of rape and violence. The passage of the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and the Sexual Offences Act 2010 are significant legal landmarks in the area of gender equality and women’s rights. It is important to note that the laws mentioned are gender affirming and offers equal protection to women and also to men from acts of rape and domestic violence. We can celebrate also, the passage of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1995 that decriminalised abortion in Guyana to enhance the attainment of safe motherhood by eliminating deaths and complications associated with unsafe abortions. Research shows that Guyana saw a forty one per cent reduction in hospital admissions for septic and incomplete abortions in the first six months after making abortion legally available in 1995. However, there is work that remains to be done to ensure the availability of safe, good-quality abortion services for women with unwanted and unaccepted pregnancies. The Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) has been one of the leading advocates for sexual and reproductive health rights in Guyana. GRPA in collaboration with other NGO’s has expressed its worry over the years regarding the following matters, concerning sexual and reproductive health rights in Guyana: • Disparities in the age of consent and age of majority • Age Restrictions on access to contraception • The limitations and interferences on a woman’s right to seek an abortion. • Limitations on access to quality, credible comprehensive sexual education.
In 2015, Researcher Sherlina Nageer conducted on behalf of GRPA, by way of a representative sample, a study on Sexual Trends- Knowledge, Attitude and Practices, among Guyanese youth. The results of the study presented in January 2016 shows that 42% of Guyanese youth aged 14-25 years are sexually active.