The firing of three female officers from the Guyana Constabulary, because they became pregnant during their two-year probation period, was a top news highlight in recent weeks in Guyana.
It sparked public outrage, causing women's rights activists and groups to stage protests calling for their reinstatement. With the City Constabulary coming under this much fire, the three female officers were reinstated on August 6.
The sacking of the officers came after the chief constabulary officer, Andrew Foo said they were in breach of the law. His action was defended by superintendent Laurel Gittens, who is attached to the training department of the City Constabulary.
According to Gittens, the Constabulary's regulations stipulated that a member has a probationary period of two years, and during their time of recruitment, it is highlighted women members are not supposed to be found pregnant.
In a media report she was quoted as saying: "We ask our female applicants not to become impregnated during that period which puts a burden on our organisation. The City Constabulary is a paramilitary organisation, with two-third of members being females. And we are not extended in the large capacity, in comparison with the Guyana Defence and Guyana Police Forces."
She was adamant that the action was not discriminatory in anyway.
But Commissioner of the Women and Gender Equality Commission, Nicole Cole and Leader of the Independent Party, Mark Benschop, said it was in fact a clear case of discrimination. Benschop said it was a violation of basic human rights while Cole sated that such a policy or regulation should never be enforced as it infringes on the rights of women.
She said also bearing in mind that Guyana was a signatory to the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), the sacking of the officers because of their pregnancies were in breach of that.
She believed the policy was one of pure discrimination that stemmed from the colonial days and was adamant it should be reviewed.
T&T activists speak
Weighing in on the issue, human rights and LGBT activist, Colin Robinson of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (Caiso), said: "First of all, it is interesting to note that the Georgetown City Constabulary is made up of two-thirds women. Human rights obligations aside, it would just seem common sense and good business practice for an organisation with such a workforce to have a different policy on pregnancy.
This one, Guyanese tell me, dates to the 1800s. If men got pregnant, there'd be all kinds of workplace accommodations for it.
"Cedaw, the UN convention on discrimination against women, which Guyana has ratified, seeks to ensure that pregnancy isn't used to unfairly deny women employment. And it seems that's exactly what happened. If, as news reports say, pregnant recruits have the option of taking pregnancy leave, why weren't these women simply offered that up front?
Saying you're a paramilitary organisation is like our army in T&T saying the National Workplace Policy on HIV doesn't apply to them and they are still going to test people and reject them," Robinson reasoned. He said our policies need to provide equitable access to employment for everyone, whether they are four feet, eight inches tall, left-handed, can get pregnant, or use a wheelchair.
"At the end of the day women ought to be reasonably be able to complete or to terminate pregnancies, and not be punished for either. I'm pleased that the national government has announced it is reviewing the matter and look forward to the outcome.
"At the end of the day, if we truly valued the work of rearing and raising our nations' children, these women would not have to choose between employment and pregnancy."
Human rights lawyerDanielle Mc Clashie said...
"Well, clearly this is an issue that deserves a lot of outrage, but there is a very sound legal argument that should make whatever activism planned easier and more effective.
"In any case, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) wasn't mentioned in the articles written on this issue or the original letter, I've included the specific violations here that can go together with the Cedaw."
McClashie pointed to articles 12, 16, 22, 23, 25,28 and 29 of the UDHR, to argue how in fact this action could be seen as an infringement on human rights. (See side bar on Page B33)
Nataki Kerr, Corporate Communications Manager, Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development said: "In relation to the matter, T&T is also a signatory to the Cedaw Convention but we also have the Maternity Protection Act, which really seeks to protect women during their pregnancy, including making provisions for them to visit their doctors and not lose any pay for the time off. This is one of the safeguards.
"Additionally, the OSH Act also provides for women in industrial situations/ workplaces during pregnancy.
"The problem here in T&T though, is enforcement and this is an ongoing issue."
Following the firing and rehiring of the three female officers, discussion has already begun on reviewing the contentious policy.
�2 No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks
�2 Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
�2 Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
�2 The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
�2 Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organisation and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
�2 Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
�2 Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
�2 Everyone who work has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
�2 Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
�2 Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
�2 Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
�2 Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.
�2 Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
�2 In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
�2 These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.