High Commission of Canada to Guyana and Suriname celebrates gender equality and raises awareness
In Guyana, as in most of the Caribbean, feminism and women’s movements are still frowned upon as efforts to erase men. The question ‘Why do we still need a Women’s Day?’ comes up every year around March 8. High Commissioner of Canada to Guyana, Lilian Chatterjee, wanted to bring attention to the issue of sexism and discrimination against women – but she also wanted the event to be a celebration of how far women have come and what they have achieved.
A clever International Women's Day event ensued in the form of an expo and concert. The High Commission of Canada in Guyana hosted the IWD "Balance for Better'' Concert & Expo at the Everest Cricket Club Grounds in Georgetown, Guyana. The event featured Canadian-Guyanese jazz singer Aretha Fraser as well as multiple local performers, including indigenous and Indian dancers, African drummers and more. This event successfully mixed awareness raising with a celebration of the women’s movement. It also served as a reminder that gender equality is about balance, not dominance. Collaborative fund-matching was secured from the private sector for this impressive event.
Approximately 3,000 people attended and supported the event including the First Lady of Guyana, government ministers, diplomatic heads of mission, and many more.
IWD concert celebrating indigenous communities
The concert had a strong indigenous component with its formal program beginning with an indigenous blessing with dancers and a singer, who is a teacher in the community. The event also saw a Caribbean regional soca superstar from Trinidad, Nailah Blackman. The audience were treated to a spontaneous performance by Ms. Blackman which demonstrated another side of her rarely seen – she gave an acapella performance of a song she had written when she was 15 years old entitled “No Barbie", extolling the virtues of being imperfect.
Showcasing local NGOs and enterprises
The event grew from 21 booths in the previous year, to 35 booths representing local NGOs, government agencies, international development organizations and women-owned enterprises. The event was so popular that, in the weeks leading up to the event date, people were calling, writing and visiting the High Commission to request booths at the expo and to identify opporttunities for participation and volunteering to support the event.
Local NGO booths included: women miners who rescue victims from human trafficking in mining areas; the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs; a group of girls from Guyana’s local science, technology, engineering and math organization (and their robots); Guyana’s International Planned Parenthood Federation affiliate sexual and reproductive rights NGO, and many further groups.
The Ministry of Social Protection had representatives from their Sexual and Domestic Violence Unit as well as interactive games on misconceptions about gender. The Ministry of Public Health organized free health testing, including for diabetes which is a huge problem in Guyana, with doctors on site. Two companies that provide loans for start up businesses, Go-Invest and Small Business Bureau, featured women-run small business owners and showcased their products and services at booths.
Calling for a balanced approach fighting for equality
The High Commission added a number of interactive elements to its event. In addition to uplifting entertainment and powerful commentary on violence against women, it held an important panel discussion regarding what gender equality means in 2019, a kids’ zone, a workshop on confidence building, free zumba, yoga and arts and crafts sessions and a dedicated networking zone.
All speakers on the program called for a “balanced” approach to the fight for gender equality. One speaker asked all the men in the crowd to show their hands and stated that people can’t move forward without men supporting the cause. Such a large and visible celebration of women’s achievements, and the advocacy for equality issues, was significant.
Every year, the High Commission organizes an event for the Day of the Girl. For IWD, they enlisted the support of the Day of the Girl participants as ambassadors to promote the event. The girls participated in radio interview in the lead up to the event and were in videos during the event. One of the girl ambassadors made a promotional video for the event and also a special promotional video for a booth to highlight a range of Canadian projects benefiting Guyanese women.
Through the event, the High Commission wanted to convey powerful messages but they wanted to provide practical impact and support for low income women.
A highly successful and popular IWD event
The impact of the event is evident in the size of the crowd that showed up. High Commission was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who came - 3,000 is believed to be a conservative estimate. The IWD Balance for Better expo was certainly packed and the concert was overflowing with people. High Commission is already receiving requests from participants regarding an further event again next year.
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