By Karen de Souza
I write in response to a Demerara Waves news story which came out on August 4 that at the just concluded PPP Congress, Mr Shyam Nokta reported from his group that there is opposition party influence in the General Registrar’s Office, Gecom, and the military. He then added:
“The group further observed that the opposition was accessing international donor funds through organisations like the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), Red Thread and the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO).”
For the record, Red Thread does not pass on any of the funds it raises to an opposition party and to say otherwise shows a really reckless disregard for the truth.
I assume that this is the old story about Red Thread being WPA, so let’s state what we’ve said many times before. Red Thread was founded in 1986 – over 26 years ago – by seven women who were then all members or supporters of the WPA but who wanted to create a women’s group that was autonomous of the party. Of these seven women, two – myself and Andaiye – remain active in Red Thread. We stopped being members of the WPA at different times but in both cases, more than 15 years ago.
We have heard quite high-ranking PPP members say before that this was a clever ruse to appear independent, but they think this because they cannot conceive of any political ground on which women can stand other than as an arm of a political party.
If Mr Nokta has something he thinks is evidence of his group’s accusation he must publicise it. I assure the public that there can be no such evidence. Instead, the evidence will show that since we ended the period where we focused on income generation (1986 to 1992/93) we’ve spent funds received mainly to pursue three priorities:
1. Protection and justice for women and children in violent situations; activities here include a drop in centre, court and police support, home and hospital visits, referral for legal advice and assistance and follow up, representation, advocacy for improvements in the law and/or its implementation, training workshops, community visits and workshops/ discussions to build active support for women and children in violent situations in those communities, training with magistrates, police and prosecutors on the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act, workshops with other groups including teachers, and facilitation of a Domestic Violence and Rape Survivors Self Help Group. Our training often uses research that we’ve conducted on domestic violence, women’s reproductive health and sex work, as well as material that we’ve produced including video and household guides to the law which have also been used by other groups working against violence, community groups, the police and the Women’s Affairs Bureau. We’ve also attempted (and encountered difficulties with) research into the racial/political violence of the early 2000s.
2. A living income for unwaged and low-waged women; activities in support of this priority have included advocacy for the removal of VAT from essential items, increases in wages for low-waged women workers including domestic workers, security guards, and shop assistants, and increases in old age pensions and public assistance. The advocacy has been backed by research including a time use survey.
This area of work is now to have an increased focus, including via a drop in centre for women workers to get information about their rights and towards this end we’ve begun training in labour legislation.
3. Increased visibility and voice for grassroots women; activities include extensive training with sectors of grassroots women and speak-outs designed to provide a forum for grassroots women to address issues that they identify as critically important, for example, after the flood of 2005 when women who had suffered from the flood presented their experience and demands to representatives of the media, parliament, trade unions, government units, local NGOs and international donor agencies.
As part of addressing this aim we also use other popular forms, including street theatre and in the 1990s, a radio serial and a play called Every body’s Business.
Almost all of our main projects of work related to our three priorities have been carried out in parts of the interior as well as along the coast and we try to ensure that what we do always crosses race divides.
Back in town, for 13 years, we also ran free reading and computer classes with over 80 students from schools in South Georgetown (and a few adults) and we continue to run a library, workshops and camps for youth. The literacy classes included a feeding programme three times a week for which we received donations.
Finally (and here’s the problem for Mr Notka and his group, no doubt), we picket and speak out in defence of the rights of grassroots women, children and sometimes men, but we don’t pay for those: issues have included calls for justice for several victims of violence, especially at the hands of the powerful, and solidarity with the people of Linden and with various other sectors and communities defending their rights.
Karen de Souza