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.
SASOD’s Advocacy and Communications Officer, Ms. Schemel Patrick, who leads the organization’s portfolio for women and gender issues, introduced the forum sharing that women’s advancement and leadership are central to economic development, but, workplace discrimination based on gender and sexuality is rampant in Guyana. “This hinders productivity and advancement for all workers. Transgender women especially face unrestrained discrimination when accessing employment because of their gender identity,” Patrick lamented. She added that those who go through their transitioning during the period of employment are often denied promotions or fired unjustly with no real consequences under the law for discrimination based on their gender identity. Guyanese lesbian and bisexual women have also reported discrimination in the labour market which results in joblessness, unjust denial of promotions or unfair dismissals.
Participants at Lunch Talk
The Women and Gender Equality Commission
Commissioner Chuck-A-Sang expressed her vision and that of the Commission – an environment where the rights of women are recognized as human rights and gender equality is realized in Guyana – which are goals of the Commission since it was established in 2003.
“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. But despite this, there still is sexual harassment in workplaces and no policy or laws specifically directed at this heinous act perpetrated against all genders, especially women – not saying that men are not subjected to these offences but if men aren’t even protected, imagine how vulnerable women are,” Chuck-A-Sang said.
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." This provision was not raised by any of the panelists during the Lunch Talk discussions.
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. It is unfortunate that people, women especially who identify as lesbian, bisexual or transgender, do not have any legislative backing but 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.”
Chuck-A-Sang further called for the public to be involved in the Commission’s work. “Write a letter, set up an appointment on the date when the Commissioners meet monthly, approach us on these issues – get your voices heard, stand up.”