By Kaieteur News Staff
The Red Thread organisation has completed a ground breaking survey of women’s time use in several communities across Guyana with a view to among other goals, spur officials to value and measure unwaged work in official statistics.
In updating the media and other stakeholders on the project yesterday, member of Red Thread, Andaiye, explained that the project idea was born out of a decision taken at the 4th World Conference on Women in 1995, that unwaged work, which is mainly women’s work, must be measured and valued in official statistics.
The struggle for this agreement was led by the International Women Count Network (IWCN) and among governments, by CARICOM.
Andaiye however noted that apart from Trinidad and Tobago , no other Caricom country, including Guyana , has begun to implement the relevant clauses.
“This is in spite of the fact that the reason we led the fight among governments at Beijing for the recognition of women’s unwaged work was that during the preparatory meetings for Beijing, we made the analysis that women in the Caribbean carry a heavy burden of unwaged work, and that invisibility of unwaged work is a discrimination against women which fuels other forms of discrimination against women.
We said then that any campaign against poverty which does not begin with the connection between unwaged work and poverty is a campaign that will not make even a dent in poverty,” she noted.
The survey, which represents the first measurement of women’s time use in Guyana , was done by and with a purposive sample of mainly grassroots women across race in several communities. It was funded by CIDA.
The four women who conducted the survey are all employees of the Red Thread Organisation.
One of them, Joycelyn Bacchus, explained that the study which was conducted over a period of 15 months targeted women in Charlestown in Georgetown, Central Mahdia, Coop Farm and Campbelltown in Mahdia, Rising Sun, Bath Settlement, Number 40 Village and Number 41 Village in West Coast Berbice, Kara Kara and Constabulary Compound in Linden, Uitvlugt and Den Amstel on the West Coast Of Demerara and Buxton, Annandale and Better Hope on the East Coast.
Bacchus said the survey managed to achieve a good race\ethnic balance, with diaries completed by 37 Indo-Guyanese women, 31 Afro Guyanese women, 14 Amerindian women, 18 mixed women and one Portuguese woman.
“We were not attempting what people call a scientific study. We were pioneering a way for grassroots women to work with other grassroots women to record the details of the unwaged and low-waged work we do, which has been left out of the official statistics and is not considered by those with power when they make policies.
We went to women we knew of from the work we’ve been doing as Red Thread on the coast and in the interior. Since we were not setting ourselves to look at other women’s lives and not our own, we started by recording our own time use. Each woman we contacted did between one and three days diaries. We ended with a total of 151 days diaries from 101 women. Because this kind of survey has never been done before, it took us 13 months because there were many problems that had no previously worked out solutions. We invented solutions for people doing time use surveys in the future,” Bacchus said.
She explained that the majority of women who completed diaries were mainly housewives. Other occupations included self employment in the informal sector, domestic work, teaching, security guard work and small farming. In addition there was one each of a salesperson, bartender, cashier, counter clerk revenue collector, hairdresser, sex worker and a nurse. About half the women who participated in the survey were single women and grandmothers; the other half are women with husbands. The age range was from 17 to 70.
Another of the persons who conducted the survey, Halima Khan, said some of the problems encountered included overcoming hostility from some male partners, and working to build confidence in some women about the usefulness of the exercise as well as trust in how the information would be used.
“Once women started doing the diaries, we began to realize how much work we do and how essential our work is. In this way, the survey fulfilled its first aim.
It empowered all of us doing the diaries by enabling us to participate fully in defining work as we know it and producing information about work which is usually hidden and even treated with contempt,” Khan said.
She said it was realized during the survey that because women in the interior who are mainly Amerindians often have no access to running water or electricity, their work was hardest.
Khan said they met women who have to fetch water from as far as seven miles away to do their housework.
“In one Amerindian community we met a single mother – a widow with five children – the oldest is 8 years old and the youngest 4 months old – living in an open bottom house with what seemed to be a makeshift stage as their sleeping area and sand all around them,” Khan said.
The Red Thread Organisation says that now that the survey is completed, they will continue to work with IWCN to write up and publish a detailed report and the results, then immediately use them to seek recognition for the work of all women in the statistics and policy of CARICOM governments, and to urge officials to look at the implications of their policies and plans on women’s time use.
The organisation says, locally they will begin with the Poverty Reduction Strategy.
The organisation is looking for funding for their publication and also has plans of organizing a women’s anti-racist conference.
‘“ We intend to continue to use time use as a basis for developing understanding and communication among women of different race/ethnic groups of what we have in common as providers of unwaged and or low-waged caring labour, and what we are entitled to, can demand and together win as providers of this labour, on which the survival of the whole society and economy depend” Khan reiterated.