Amerindian women at critical historical point

by Irene Goorahoo
Guyana Chronicle
September 15, 2000

AMERINDIAN women are at the critical turning point in their history. On the one hand a range of issues threaten to further undermine their situation. On the other hand, there are indications that a growing number of these women are demonstrating the will and capacity to redirect their lives in ways which, in the long run could impact positively on their communities.

But even in the process of seeking to improve the equality of their lives at basic levels, these women are experiencing challenges, some of which, they are ill-equipped to deal with.

Exploitation of Amerindian women:- this issue was recently raised at the level of the National Assembly. Following reports and initial investigations into specific cases, an Amerindian Parliamentarian asked the Government to further investigate the level of exploitation of Amerindian women who seek employment outside their communities.

Often, Amerindian women who leave their village in order to earn cash gain employment as domestics, or in similar low-income jobs.

Reports of the withholding of salaries, ill-treatment and sexual exploitation, including the possibilities of gang rape, have reached the attention of Government officials.

The Ministry of Labour, in collaboration with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, has begun to address this matter.

Women's Reproductive health:- Another issue which seems to be surfacing and which requires further investigation relates to the reproductive health of Amerindian women.

Some persons who seek medical attention in Georgetown are expressing concern at the possible increase in the number of Amerindian women who are experiencing various kinds of problems relating to their reproductive health.

Among these is the problem of cervical cancer which is difficult to deal with at the community level because of the lack of necessary facilities and expertise.

Illiteracy:- The situation of high illiteracy rates among Amerindians, particularly women is a trend which should be reversed as quickly as possible.

One needs not discuss all the implications of illiteracy to underscore how critical this issue is to that of the advancement of the status of Amerindian women.

Women and the environment:- An issue which is likely to emerge as an important aspect of the role of Amerindians in matters relating to the environment is that of the role of women as repositories of specialised knowledge.

The involvement of the Makushi women in an ethno-botany project for the International Rainforest Programme has highlighted this matter. Imparting skills for researching and documenting information are among the first steps which would have to be taken in order to allow interested Amerindian women to contribute meaningfully to future scientific cultural studies.

In addition, their understanding of the application of the concept of intellectual property rights is another matter which requires attention.

The following measures are necessary for the full emancipation of the Amerindian women:-

1. Promote the awareness of gender-issues among Amerindians.

2. Develop mechanisms which would assist Amerindian women to meet in larger collectives to begin to interact share knowledge, consult and seek solutions to their problems.

3. Encourage women to become involved in cultural and scientific studies which would enhance their capacity to play important roles in matters relating to the protection of their environment and the pursuit of sustainable development.

4. Assist communities to seek alternative livelihoods within their communities in an effort to curb the problems of male absenteeism and migration out of the communities for employment.

5. Seek to involve the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs in playing a central role in gender-related issues and encourage better net-working of all Government Ministries and non-governmental organisations on similar matters.

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