‘Women must not abandon fight for gender equality’ – First Lady


International Women’s Day 2022 Message H.E. Arya Ali – First Lady of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Women have been fighting the longest battle known in human history – the battle for gender equality. And today, on International Women’s Day, that battle continues.

We are soldiers armed with knowledge and a resilient spirit which refuses to surrender to patriarchy. Our battlefield is not confined to geographic or social spaces – it is everywhere – in the home, at the office, in the gym, at the restaurant, even in religious institutions.

Everywhere we venture, our ‘woman-ness’ is either viewed or treated as less than. Yet, we wake up each day, determined to be vessels of change, actively seeking to create a fairer world for our women and girls to exist in.

So I wish to recognise the efforts of every woman and girl today and commend them for not laying down arms and abandoning this fight. The fifth Sustainable Development Goal speaks to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. But the sobering news is that at the current pace, none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 reminds us that it will take nearly 100 years for the world to attain gender parity. The area of greatest concern, as highlighted in the report, is women’s economic participation and opportunity.

For this metric, the study found that progress has actually regressed, and we are facing a massive 257 years before gender parity can be achieved. There are a myriad of reasons why this is happening. Women face greater hurdles than men in almost all spheres of economic activity, including access to finance, assets, technology, good quality jobs, and peer-to-peer networks.

Let us look at what the data tells us. Only 55 percent of women globally are engaged in the labor market, as opposed to 78 percent of men. Women, on average, devote 1 to 5 hours more a day than men in unpaid domestic work and childcare, and 1 to 6 hours less a day than men in market activities. And the list goes on.

With our country experiencing unprecedented growth and rapid transformation, it is incumbent on us, particularly leaders and officials, to ensure that our women and girls are not excluded from these exciting opportunities which are life changing.

Our women and girls require the tools that are necessary to ensure that they are able to fully participate in every sector of our economy and every sphere of life. They must be educated, trained, nurtured, mentored, financed, and supported in every possible way to guarantee their advancement.

I have not shied away from my responsibility as your First Lady, and I believe solemnly in what I preach. That is why last year I launched the Menstrual Hygiene Initiative which seeks to end period poverty in Guyana. I want to ensure that no girl child ever misses school because they couldn’t afford or access sanitary pads.

And we are well on our way to achieving this, with the government having allocated $50 million for the purchase of sanitary pads to be distributed to every single school girl in Guyana. More recently, my Office successfully negotiated with a local maritime training school for 100 scholarships which will benefit our Indigenous women.

This will provide them with technical skills needed for the maritime and offshore industry or the oil and gas sector. I started by saying that we have been fighting the longest battle in human history and it is because we continue to face systemic barriers which are designed to exclude or limit the participation and advancement of women.

So we need to keep fighting. On one front, we need to routinely engage in activities like these which amplify the role of women in society and raise awareness about the issues which affect us. On the other hand we, as women and leaders, must continue to create opportunities to support the advancement of other women and girls.

Our fight will be long and brutal. It will continue to face resistance from every corner where patriarchy raises its head. But we must remain steadfast and unshakable. It is only by doing that will gender equality be achieved and victory guaranteed. Thank you!

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