Phenomenal Women – Janet Jagan

Irrespective of your political persuasion, no series looking at notable women especially Guyanese women would be complete without mentioning Janet Jagan.  Janet Jagan was the first female president of Guyana which is no easy feat considering that it is an extremely patriarchal society.  It is so patriarchal that she was only able to take the role of President after her husband’s death in 1997.

An avid activist and women’s rights organiser, Janet was dedicated to progressing equal rights for women and founded the Women’s Political and Economic Organisation in 1946.  Born in Chicago to Jewish immigrant parents her dedication to Guyana was even more remarkable because it was her adopted home after her marriage to her Guyanese husband.

In yet another tribute to her adopted homeland, Janet was one of the early and staunch objectors to the British rule in Guyana and along with her husband and many others she actively fought for independence and was subject to house arrest and jail by the British government in their efforts to undermine the challenge to colonialism.

A heroine to some and a bitter political foe to others she received polarised opinions in Guyana, but ultimately she still stands as an example fo what a tenacious woman prepared to challenge stereotypes can achieve.

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Phenomenal Women – Rita Williams & Ramona Nedd

Today it is Mother’s Day in the UK, and it is also the 17th anniversary of the passing of my grandmother.  I only ever had one grandmother, so it was heartwrenching when she passed.  Her story is one of strength and resilience she was a domestic for rich plantation owners in Guyana and was descended from the indentured East Indian labourers who were duped into moving to Guyana after the abolition of slavery.  A single mother to 6 children she made immense sacrifices for the good of her family including sending my mom and her sister’s to live in a Catholic orphanage giving them the opportunity to have a good education and raise their aspirations.

My mother obviously got her work ethic from her mom, and she took the opportunities given to her through being placed in the Orphanage a focused student and avid athlete she balanced school work with netball, swimming, and cycling.  As soon as she could start working she sacrificed higher education to begin working to support her younger siblings and to enable her mother to stop working in other people’s houses.

So today I wanted to honour both these women who set the blueprint for the other women in our family, as one of my favourite quotes says,

“Here’s to all the strong women, may we know them, may we be them and may we raise them!”

 

50 Women: 50 Years

In 2016, we published a book about Guyanese women.  Today on International Women’s Day we wanted to celebrate the women who were part of that book.  The thought-process behind the book was that we wanted to showcase ordinary women leading extraordinary lives and use the book as a way to inspire the next generation and force this generation of women to step into their own spotlight and acknowledge their greatness.  To do this, we asked each woman three simple questions:

  1. What is your earliest/most significant memory of Guyana?
  2. What has been your greatest achievement/proudest moment?
  3. What words of advice would you give to other Guyanese women?

To say that we were blown away by the responses would be an understatement.  The inspirational quotes were insightful and uplifting, and the achievements of these women ranged from overcoming adversity, nurturing children, siblings and other family members to developing businesses and achieving academic success.

To build on the success of this book, we are proud to announce that we are opening calls for contributions to our second book which will be entitled “Women of Kaieteur – strength, grace, and endurance.  If you or someone you know want to be profiled in the book, please ask them to send to complete the attached form.

Why not grab a copy of 50 Women: 50 Years from Amazon and help us to continue our good work.  All funds raised are used to help women and girls in Guyana.

Phenomenal Women – Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto was twice elected to be Pakistani Prime Minister, first in 1988 and again in 1993.  Not only was she the first female Prime Minister in her native Pakistan but she was also the first woman to be head of a democratic Muslim nation.  Her achievements are even more notable because of the time during which she achieved them.  In recent times we have seen more acceptance for female heads of states, but years ago the battle was even harder.

As we near International Women’s Day we thought that a female political pioneer was a fitting profile to include in our Phenomenal Women series especially because as an accomplished and educated woman she proves one of the fundamental principles that Women of Kaieteur was built on.  “Education is key, with education doors will always open for progression”  We want every woman and girl to remember that the key to their success lies in education, both formally and informally.  Statistically, a woman who is skilled and/or educated will have an impact on so many lives including her own, her family and the community to which she belongs.

We particularly liked this quote from her demonstrating the strength of a woman:

“Being nice should never be perceived as being weak.  It’s not a sign of weakness,, its a sign of courtesy, manners, grace, a woman’s ability to make everyone ….. feel at home, and it should never be construed as a weakness.”

Phenomenal Women – Dr. Maya Angelou

Our fourth profile needs no introduction Dr. Maya Angelou was a critically acclaimed poet and author, a survivor, a civil rights activist and an inspiration to men and women alike. My introduction to Maya Angelou was at age 13 when I read the first part of her autobiography “I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings.”  The book changed my life, and I was suddenly hyper-aware of the privilege I had through my comfortable home and loving parents.  It made me grateful and determined because her story started with so much pain and yet she overcame this pain and arose as one of the world’s greatest female inspirations.

Born in 1928 to parents who eventually separated Maya was sadly raped at the age of 8 by her mother’s new partner.  She told her brother who raised the alarm with the rest of the family and when the man in question was only imprisoned for one day her relatives meted out their own brand of justice, and he was found murdered.  Convinced that it was her fault that her abuser was dead Maya stopped speaking as she was afraid that her voice caused harm.  As we know from her numerous appearances, she eventually found her voice and went on to use that voice as a force for good.

At Women of Kaieteur, we know that sexual abuse and interference are all too common and we always advocate for women and girls to use their voices to highlight injustice and help break the silence that often haunts victims.  One of our favourite quotes from Dr. Angelou is

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Phenomenal Women – Dr. Faith Harding

Writing this profile was bittersweet for the team at Women of Kaieteur.  Dr. Faith Harding was by far the most prolific and outspoken advocate for Women’s Rights in Guyana.  It is my belief that she was the first true feminist in Guyana.  She worked tirelessly to improve conditions for women and girls and was also a child psychiatrist, educator, and a political activist as well as a wife and mother.

This particular profile is more poignant because for years many of the team knew her as PJ’s mom because she was also the mother of one of our high school friends.  She was warm and kind as well as fiercely committed to the causes that she chose to support.  Her phenomenal journey was cruelly cut short in 2015 but her legacy lives on through all the people both women and men who she helped through her activism.  She is gone but never forgotten and we are proud to hail her as one of our heroines at Women of Kaieteur.

Phenomenal Women – Malala Yousafzai

Our second phenomenal woman is Malala, an activist who stands out because she dedicated her life to the fight for education with a zeal that many women more than twice her age fail to display.   Born in Pakistan and determined to go to school and gain an education as well as campaigning for education for girls she was an anomaly in a society where parents usually focused their educational aspirations on boys her parents supported and encouraged her to gain an education.  A fervent challenger to the Taliban regime at an early age Malala was blogging for the BBC about life under the Taliban under a pen name.  In 2012, Malala paid a high price for her beliefs when the Taliban targeted her and shot her while on the way to school intending for her to die.  Luckily for us, she survived to continue her campaigning, relocated to the UK and was the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.  Malala is a beacon of hope for women and girls across the world and is an obvious choice for our Phenomenal women profiles.

As she says

We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”