An organizer against injustice for most of her adult life, Andaiye has written about growing up in the inequalities of nation, race/ethnicity, class and sex and how this experience shaped her politics. Born on September 11, 1942, in Georgetown, British Guiana (Guyana), she was originally named Sandra Williams but during the 1970s Black Power rebellion in the region, changed her name to Andaiye, meaning ‘a daughter comes home’. She attended The Bishop’s High School and from 1961-64, the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) at Mona, completing a Bachelor of Arts honors degree in French and Spanish and serving as Secretary of the Guyana Society. Deciding against an academic career she returned to Guyana in 1965 to prepare to join Guyana’s diplomatic service at Independence in 1966, but a brief diplomatic training course led her to change course to education. It was during this period that she engaged in discussions with progressive Caribbean thinkers of the New World Group (NWG) which,formed in the early 1960s, included personalities such as Lloyd Best of Trinidad and Tobago, George Beckford of Jamaica, and David de Caires, Miles Fitzpatrick and Clive Thomas of Guyana;and in Ratoon, formed by lecturers at the University of Guyana (UG) and individuals including Bonita Harris and Pansy Benn. Andaiye later joined the Movement Against Oppression (MAO), another political pressure group which drew members from UG, political parties, Ratoon and the working class community of Tiger Bay. (Nettles 2008, 48; Westmaas 2004, 67-70; Women’s Affairs Bureau [Guyana] 1997, 163; Caribbean Reasonings Conference 2010; Andaiye 2000, 53 and Girvan 2007).
From 1967- 1970 Andaiye taught at the Charlestown Government Secondary School in Guyana, soon promoted to Senior Mistress and then appointed Acting Principal of the South Georgetown Secondary School at age 28; this was part of an experiment by then Minister of Education Shirley Field-Ridley to see whether younger women and men in the leadership of schools could break traditional patterns of teaching and administering discipline. After one year she was forced out due to her involvement with MAO and her contribution to one of its publications which incensed the then government. She then moved to New York, USA where she lectured at the SEEK (Search for Education and Elevation through Knowledge) program at the City University of New York, Queens College from 1972-1977 and while there, engaged in political actions in support of civil rights in the USA and against apartheid in South Africa (Women’s Affairs Bureau [Guyana] 1997, 163; Andaiye 2000, 53 and Nettles 2004, 52).
Guyanese politics had been divided on the basis of race/ethnicity with the breakup of the nationalist movement in the 1950s and since 1968, the country had been under the dictatorial rule of the People’s National Congress (PNC) led by Forbes Burnham. In early 1978 Andaiye returned home to join the multi-racial pre-party Working People’s Alliance (WPA), formed as a movement of opposition to the PNC; its leadership then included Eusi Kwayana, Moses Bhagwan, Bonita Harris, Joshua Ramsammy, Clive Thomas, Tacuma Ogunseye and Walter Rodney. Along with Rupert Roopnaraine, who returned at about the same time that she did, she was quickly elected to the executive of the group and worked full-time as WPA Coordinator and Editor of the Dayclean newssheet through the politically turbulent period from 1978 to June 1980, when Walter Rodney was assassinated. Subsequently, she became first International Secretary and then Women’s Secretary of the WPA. During 1980-1983 she was part of the Caribbean left which coalesced around the Grenada revolution (Scott 2004, passim; Westmaas 2004, 63-81 passim).
Since the mid-1980s Andaiye has been primarily an activist and organizer with women nationally, regionally and internationally. In 1986, along with six other women (Bonita Harris, Karen de Souza, Vanda Radzik, Danuta Radzik, Diane Matthews and Jocelyn Dow), she formed Red Thread – a politically independent women’s network which began primarily as an income generating avenue for women but always had the underlying aim of bringing women together across Guyana’s race divides. By 1992/1993 this phase came to an end because, as Andaiye noted, it was not economically sustainable. A new stage in Red Thread emerged, which focused principally on research and advocacy on violence against women, women’s reproductive health and counting women’s work.