Remarks as prepared
Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch
Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce Guyana’s ‘SIP the Tea” Event
The Marriott Hotel
March 9, 2023
Good afternoon, everyone! And, Happy belated International Women’s Day to all the wonderful ladies out there! I would like to start by commending the organizers of this important event on selecting such critical and timely topics to discuss and debate today. And, I would very much like to thank the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry Guyana for inviting me to speak today on issues that are near and dear to my heart. A very special thank you to President Rowena Elliot and her team for the hard work of not only bringing us together today, but also building strong partnerships throughout the year. Ladies, I’m excited to “Sip the TEA” with you all – some of the most impressive and influential women in Guyana. Of course, by “sip the TEA”, I mean explore the potential of technology, empowerment and “advocacy” to help Guyana along its incredible journey as it undergoes a rapid transformation. And, women, ALL women – need to be actively participating in that journey. You need to be knowledgeable and have access to the technology that will give you the tools to help shape that journey.
You need to be empowered to help shape that journey. And you need to “advocate” for yourself and other women to constantly be at the table to shape that journey. As you’ve spent the morning talking about technology and empowerment, I was asked to speak to you about the importance of “advocacy.” Advocacy can be tough work. And it’s work that never ends. It’s work that needs constant attention. It’s work, however, that is crucial to achieving results and having success. Many have come before you/me to “advocate” for tangible results on behalf of women and girls in Guyana. But, is that work done? No. It is constant work. Are you where you want to be yet as a nation with relation to empowerment of women and girls? I don’t think so. Again, it is constant work. But, what does it take to be a strong “advocate?” I believe there are three ingredients: passion, persuasion, and partnership.
Ladies, do you believe that empowering women and girls is an important and laudable goal in Guyana? [What did you say? Can you say it louder?] Okay, ladies, you’ve got the passion. Check! Ladies, have you ever successfully convinced someone/anyone to change their behavior? Maybe a family member – you convinced to improve their diet? Maybe a child – you convinced to do their homework? Maybe a colleague – you convinced to work with you on a project? Have you ever convinced anyone to change their behavior or do something that they hadn’t intended to do? [What did you say? Can you say it louder?] Okay, ladies – you are persuaders. Check! So, you’ve got passion. You are persuaders. What do you need? Partners! That’s where the government, the private sector, civil society and the international community come in.
First, the public sector has to be engaged, and it is. You already heard from Minister Persaud about Guyanese initiatives to empower women and girls. And, as the U.S. Ambassador to Guyana I am proud to note that advancing women’s economic security is a key priority for the Biden- Harris Administration. I’m so proud of my team’s work at the U.S. Embassy. They are constantly asking “who is not in the room; why are they not in the room; and, how do we get them in the room? As such, we are always trying to meet with more and more impressive women, whether they are already in positions of power or not. Advocating for people is always easier if they are in your network, so the U.S. Embassy always works to build a broader, more inclusive network. This means being intentional about who is on your invite list, and not just inviting new people and voices into the room, but intentionally creating a space where they feel comfortable and free to engage. For me, that means considering and empowering women in all our efforts. We make sure we widely share and highlight opportunities for economic empowerment, leadership development and academic pursuits like the Young Leaders of the America Initiative, the International Visitor’s Leadership Program, the entrepreneurship and mentorship training program called the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, and the Fulbright and Humphrey scholarship programs. We want to attract a diverse audience and especially encourage young women to apply. So, the public sector in Guyana has a big task: provide women – and everyone, actually- with a quality education. And, I want to applaud the government for increasing education funding in Budget 2023 – that’s great. But more can be done to attract and retain talented teachers.
Guyana’s hard-working teachers, most of whom are women, deserve to be fairly compensated for their work and have appropriate incentives to continue their work or they may seek other jobs, and you don’t want to lose those talented teachers. Appropriate pay and incentives should be applied elsewhere, like the healthcare industry, because beyond educating young women we also have to keep them healthy and safe. Healthcare is also an area that disproportionately affects women. The government’s announcement of salary increases for healthcare workers last year was a significant step for healthcare professionals, the majority of whom are women. Investing in healthcare is a win/win that provides better outcomes for not only individuals, but also Guyana as a whole.
The public sector clearly has a major role to play in the development of these sectors and I am thrilled to see so many public institutions advocating for the continued support of women here in Guyana. But, the government can’t do this work alone. The private sector has a key role, and I would argue a responsibility, to play in “advocating” and enabling the contributions of women. This is a critical time in Guyana’s development. With such an urgent need for talented people, Guyana cannot afford to leave anyone behind, especially its talented women. Women need a safe, welcoming place to work that is free from harassment, free from inappropriate comments, and free from ANY form of discrimination. Companies that offer such a workplace will likely find that they can retain a committed and talented workforce. Companies who don’t offer a pleasant workplace will likely suffer negative consequences like high staff turnover. “Advocating” for women is not just the right thing for companies to do, it is good business and helps companies achieve better results. On the legal front, in the United States and, increasingly in Guyana, women are protected with certain legal provisions. Additionally, many private sector firms, including some of the leading international firms operating here in Guyana, have specific reporting provisions and support to address any claims of sexual harassment. Additionally, they have programming to actively promote women, like SLB’s effort to bring people together around topics like “women in technology;”; or, Baker Hughes’ program designed to support and mentor rising female leaders; or Edison Chouest’s effort to partner with the Women in Maritime Association; and, there are so many more initiatives. We applaud these efforts and hope more companies will follow their lead!
But, there is still work to do, ladies. According to the most recent Guyana Labor Force Survey in quarter three of 2021:
• Women account for 52 percent of Guyana’s working age population, but only 42 percent of the total labor force.
• And, on average Guyanese women earn 14 percent less than their male counterparts for similar jobs.
There is work to do here. And, Guyana is not alone.
Countries all over the world, including the United States, struggle with gender equity. But at a time when we constantly hear about the struggle to find quality staff, “advocating” for the equitable treatment of women is an important step that will help Guyana better sustain its economic growth and help ensure its success. Access to finance can also be a crucial barrier. Too often, women-owned businesses cannot get the financing they need to get to the next level. I greatly admire the work you’ve done here at the Women’s Chamber to guide women entrepreneurs through the loan application process. But, it should not be this difficult. Clearly, we need to work together with both the private and public sectors to address access to capital and improve how women understand their options and apply for loans. Maybe we can even find new ways to finance women-owned businesses. Many in the private sector are looking at solutions, and we look forward to hearing your ideas and working together to obtain results because women need to play substantive roles in shaping Guyana’s future. And to be clear, it is only by working together, in partnership, that we can create an environment where women feel respected and empowered in the workplace.
We ALL (government, private sector, civil society and the international community) need to actively create and actively “advocate” for an environment and culture that values,respects, and yes, appropriately compensates women. And, ladies, don’t forget to “advocate” for yourself, and for your peers. When I look around this room, I see resilient, successful women who have faced hardship and persevered. Women across the country look up to many of you as important role models.
As I said at the outset – there were women (and men) before you/us that advocated for many of the issues that we have discussed today. There will be women (and men) after you/us to continue the fight. But, now is YOUR time. Now is OUR time. And, please take this time – to be a mentor, to encourage each other, and to challenge each other. Sometimes the brief conversations you have at events like these can have a big impact on someone’s life.
With Guyana’s rapid economic growth, we need to see more passion, more persuasion and more partnerships to ensure that ALL of Guyana’s citizens enjoy the successful future they deserve. Together, in partnership, we can go VERY far. And, the United States Embassy is honored to help you, in any way that we can, along your important journey.
Passion, Persuasion, Partnership, Ladies – we’ve got this! Thank you!!