Formation of the WPO

WPO was formed on May 27th l953 nearly 3 years and 4 month after the PPP was formed.

WPO formation must be seen against the background that the founders of the Party believed in the involvement of women. Perhaps it is necessary to understand the role of Cde Janet Jagan in influencing this thinking especially since she came from a country where women had more rights than the women in Guyana.

The philosophy of the Party was that of Socialism and the tenets of Marxism. This philosophy situated the role of women on par with men as explained by Marx in the Origins of the State Family & Society. He showed the role of women in the home and pointed out that unless women were removed from the confines of the home it was not possible for her to be liberated.

The historical reality in the period when the PPP was formed was characterised by the following:-

1. The world had come out of the Second War
2. Socialism as a system was gaining stronger ground especially after the liberation of countries after the war
3. Colonialism as a system was being questioned and countries were making choices in terms of their independence.
4. Guyana was a colony of the British and had no right to exercise her sovereign decision;
5. The people had no right to vote at elections since adult suffrage did not exist at that time;
6. There was no political party existing at that time
7. There was a need to have a woman’s organisation to cater for the needs of women especially since the Party was in its formative years.
8. Women were not included in society in a just way. Many women were without a proper education and had limited access to jobs and involvement in the decision making in society. There were still segregation; there were women who had no access to own property, to marital support and to access opportunities for women.

Thus, the need for the WPO.

WPO is formed

In April 1953 the first election held under adult suffrage saw three women Janet Jagan, Jane Philips Gay, and Jessie Burnham being elected to the Legislative Assembly. It was an exciting period for the Guyanese people and the nationalist Party the PPP that was able to unite the working class people.

WPO was formed on May 27th l953 by Janet Jagan, Jane Philips Gay, Jessica Huntely, and Ms Aukland.

In the same period Mrs. Jagan left Guyana to participate in a meeting of the Women’s International Democratic Federation - an organisation that came out of the ravages of the Second World War. These women came together in Europe where the people faced the brunt of Hitler’s aggression and genocide. Also, it showed from the onset that the WPO believed in internationalism and wanted to be identified with the international peace movement that was set up.

At that meeting Cde Janet referred to the situation in Guyana when she called on the participants to give support to Guyana in her quest for independence.

Role of the WPO

The role of the WPO in the period after the formation was to assist the Party in ensuring that women were involved in the different aspects of work some of which were:-

• Distributing Party literature especially in the period after the suspension of the Constitution in October 1953;
• Collecting funds for the Party,
• Assisting work at the Party headquarters
• Educating other women and their families about what was taking place in the country.

The period from the suspension of the Constitution from October until 1957 saw the machinations of the colonialist in dividing the PPP which came together uniting the working-class and people of all ethnicities.

The media and the divide and rule tactics of the colonialist encouraged division, which saw the split of the PPP in l955. The division also affected the WPO when some of its former members joined with the PNC.

1957- 1961

Elections were held for the second time under adult suffrage when the PPP won the election. In the same period Ms Patricia Benn who was in New Amsterdam came to Georgetown and took up the chair of the WPO.
The period of relative stability encouraged the organisation to take up its mandate once again in ensuring that the objectives it set itself were being carried out. The tasks identified were as follows; -

• The building of groups across the country
• A campaign to encourage mothers to send their girl children to school.
• The move to establish organisational principles and ensure the functioning of those,
• Promoting the awareness of women by ensuring that they were aware of their rights and the role they ought to play in society.
• Educating women about the basics tenets of Marxism and Leninism and proletarian internationalism.
• Preparing women for their involvement in the Party.

1961- 1964

• This was a very traumatic period for the Party as well as the Country.
• The destabilizing process that started in the early 50’s was accelerated in the 60’s as the country was preparing the country for self-government.
• Those forces hostile to the government used ideology i.e the government was socialist therefore Guyana should not be granted independence.
• The world was divided into two camps the socialist and the capitalist. Guyana was considered to be in the socialist camp and the PPP government was perceived as a government that had to be gotten rid off at all cost
• Local reactionaries, including the Catholic Church, The Trade Unions, the newspapers, those Guyanese who were supportive of the colonialist, the British and Americans all worked together to remove the PPP government.

The WPO work - during this period

1. They had to support the Party and government and to undertake the various roles.
2. Simultaneously they had to ensure that women in the country were informed about the situation.
3. They had to help in the collection and distribution of foodstuff for striking sugar workers.
4. They had to work with those thousands of Guyanese who were displaced during the riot that took place in l964.
5. They joined in the freedom marches, they came out at rallies and they were involved in fund-raising activities to help in the election campaign.
6. Women activists were terrorised and beaten.
7. They supported their husbands and sons and were even involved in safeguarding the Party and its supporters
8. They helped to check the voters list they were scrutinizers and polling agents. They worked with the men to ensure that every potential voter went to cast their votes. They cooked the food and were involved in different areas of work. The women who supported the Party showed that they had come of age and were already involved in political work to ensure that the PPP won the election.

Evaluating the impact of the WPO as the vanguard women’s movement in the political landscape from 1953-1964

WPO was the first women organisation form to advocate for the political, economic and social needs of women.
Women had entered into areas that were formerly dominated by men.
Societal barriers were beginning to break down slowly.
Women were writing and speaking on fundamental issues.
Women were agitating for equality and opportunities
Women were being exposed and educated to political and economic issues
They were being prepared by the Party to enter into active political life.
WPO was raising issues in the public domain in order to educate women.
Women were exposed to solidarity and proletarian internationalism
Women were trained and prepared at the Party School and some even went overseas for higher education
Members were exposed to conferences and meetings overseas through the WPO role as a member of the Women’s International Democratic Federation

The Period between l964- 1992

This was the most dynamic period of the organisation history for a number of reasons
The government was removed from office and every effort was put in resuscitating the Party and its sections.
Some members who were with the organisation for a variety of reasons were no longer prepared to give the support. The civil unrest and the loss of life, limb, property and sanity pushed some completely out of the Party. Others became more committed. Some opted to migrate and some decided to stay on course. In all the many scenarios women were called upon to make decisions for themselves and families. The organisation lost cadres again and had to begin the re-building process.

• This period saw the growth of the structures
• The sustained political education of women and girls through the Party school and overseas scholarships
• The grass root work among different communities were multi-faceted
• The opening of bilateral relationships with organisations around the world.
• Responding to different abuse and violations of rights by the PNC.
• Worked individually and collectively with local and international women groups and organisations through alliance.
• Taking up a very proactive role in exposing negative policies against women and any transgressions against women.
• Worked with the Party and all its affiliated organisations to unseat the PNC from office
• Worked closely with other women groups who shared similar positions i.e. Progressive and anti-PNC
• Created a niche for the organisation through it election to the WIDF Executive Committee.
• Worked in collaboration with the PYO to strengthen the Pioneer Organisation
• Building a strong band of women cadres for the Party
• Played a pivotal role in the restoration of democracy.

The WPO playing its vanguard role in transforming the society

When the PPP was returned to power in l992 the WPO was placed in a position where it could have helped in transforming society through the placing of some of its leading members in strategic position.

The benefits of such a strategy helped in the following way:-

• Providing the national vision for the women’s movement in creating policies, mechanisms and the various institutions to give effect to the polices that were put in place.

• Involving women who were marginalized during the PNC tenure by creating spaces and opportunities for them to come forward

• Working in close collaboration with NGO’s across the divide to do things for women

• Establishing strategic alliances with women groups and agencies to provide support for women

• Providing strong and dynamic leadership for women at home and abroad

• Implement policies and programmes to bring stronger cohesion between the women and government

• Ensuring that our international commitments were met

• Ensuring that the relationship between the Party and government was a mutual one through closer working relationships.

• Creating a viable cadre of women leaders for higher offices and involvement in decision-making bodies.

The Challenges of today

To ensure that women remain committed to the vibrant and democratic development of our Party. The Party is the training ground for future governmental leaders and are critical for advancing equal rights and opportunities for women in society.

Increased women’s participation is critical in efforts to increase political stability in society as well as the stability and continuity of political parties. Women’s participation will strengthen the accountability, transparency and credibility of political parties.

The more women participate in political life as voters, political party leaders or government officials, the more public policy reflects women’s concerns and perspectives.

We need to work closely with the Party to ensure that more women are brought into the decision-making bodies of the Party at its highest levels.

Women as a strong group of electorate are more articulate, have more clout and can have a credible support
based on their leadership styles.

The women of today are not prone to be followers but prefer to use their judgement in making decisions

Women have taken their opportunities very seriously and are not prepared to accept mediocre leadership.

In the absence of a philosophical and ideological policy women can become distracted from a larger cause.

Address gender issues through manifestos and platforms. Work within the Party to identify and discuss concerns and priority of women voters.

Tasks of the WPO in the period ahead

As the women section of the Party the WPO has to do the following:-

1. Ensure that the Party has an official policy of promoting women candidates
2. Recruit more women candidates to run for public office
3. Provide specialized campaign skill targeting women needs.
4. Ensure that more women are involved in programmes that can help them financially and educationally
5. Create stronger networks of women groups across the country with women who share common ideology
6. Expose the harmful effects of outside cultures in our society
7. Work closer with men to get them to support women issues
8. Work with all to educate society about the disintegration of the family and societal values
9. Teach women about the protection of the environment, about negative social practices and attitudes.
10. Encourage women and her families to see education as a priority
11. Teach women and her family to love her country and to serve country.
12. Imbibe women and her family with enthusiasm and positive attitude to Party and its section.