The Grenada Revolution Online

Phyllis Coard - Address/from the National Organising Committee for International Women's Day rally, 8 March 1980

Comrade Chairperson
Distinguished Sisters from overseas Women's Organisations
Comrade Ministers of Government
Distinguished Ambassadors Present Today
Your Excellency, Cde. Julien Rizo, Ambassador of Cuba and Mrs. Rizo
Sisters representing our Local Women's Organisations
Invited Guests
Sisters and Brothers all

In a few days we will celebrate the first anniversary of our victorious People's Revolution. And it is no accident that just a few days before the event we are holding the first mass rally of women ever to be celebrated in Grenada. It is also no accident that there are so many thousands of women here today, and that so many of our brothers are also here today. It tells us several things, sisters and brothers:

First, the overwhelming popularity of our Revolution.

Secondly, that we women understand that the Revolution stands firmly in our defence, stands ready to assist us in ending discrimination against women, in solving the many material problems we face, and in gaining true equality for women.

Thirdly, that many of our brothers are also beginning to appreciate that we have been given an inadequate role to play in the past and that our struggle to end discrimination against us is a just one.

Fourthly, the numbers of women here today tell us that we are now becoming conscious that we as women have many new parts to play in revolutionary Grenada. This first year has taught us that in addition to our roles as mothers and homemakers there is no end to the other things we will also be called upon to do in defence of our Revolution.

During this first year we have worked as carpenters and painters in the voluntary repair of our schools, we have cutlassed, cleaned and painted up our communities, not just for the festival but every Sunday throughout the year; we have patrolled our beaches and our communities as part of our militia, thousands of us have acted as voluntary intelligence officers for our national security section, by passing on immediately any information we receive which we see as a threat to our Revolution; more thousands of us have attended political meetings, seminars, films. We have participated actively in discussions on the many matters affecting us as women an dour society as a whole. And as revolutionaries we are becoming everyday more conscious that for our revolution to move forward, all who support the revolution must work tirelessly to ensure that we move forward ever and backward never.

As women we have full confidence in the commitment which the leadership of our revolution has to banish from our society all traces of discrimination against women. We are also conscious however, that this discrimination against women, implanted in our society during nearly 400 years of slavery, colonialism and a vicious, backward dictatorship cannot be removed overnight.

We know, for instance, that one of the chief factors which prevents our full participation as workers in our society is lack of day-nursery facilities - a place where our children can be well cared for while we work. Not only does this prevent many women from taking up a job; women agricultural workers are often forced to take on a smaller task for the day in order to leave work early, to care for their children and under these circumstances they cannot receive equal pay.

Lack of day-care facilities also has other serious results. As a group of us sisters passed through many of our communities last Wednesday, advertising this rally, we were struck by the number of 12 and 14 year old girls, not in school, who came out to greet us. The reason why they were not in school was obvious, because each one carried in her arms a baby whom she was looking after in order that her mother should be able to work, in order that her family should be able to eat.

This must stop, sisters and brothers. In 1980, Year of Education and Production, we cannot, we must not, have our little sisters shut out from the opportunity for education. But it cannot stop unless we have day nurseries for our babies and small children. The People's Revolutionary Government will this year begin a serious programme for the building of day nurseries. But day nurseries are expensive to build and maintain and our need is immediate.

In the meanwhile we must find new and creative solutions to this problem. We must get together in our communities, find out how many children need day-care, find a sister who is willing and able to care well for the young children who need this day-care, and approach the People's Revolutionary Government for assistance in employing such a sister.

We women in our communities must think of raising the funds to provide toys, and other equipment for such 'community day-care centres'. We must supervise the care of our children in such centres. We must assist each other as women in this way and we must ensure that allour teenage girls are in school this year.

Those girls who have lost some years of education because of this problem, we must assist them in making up for lost time by providing extra classes. Our slogan for this year must be 'every child in school'. If we want true equality for women, our women of tomorrow must be equipped now with the skills they will need to take an equal place in the society.

We as women are also aware that there are many other material problems which we face, but often we are not fully aware of how much these hold us back in fully participating in our society.

The long hours which women must spend doing simple household tasks - walking miles for water because there is no piped water, the extra time spent carrying clothes to the river to wash, the long hours spent cooking on coal pot, - all of this often in addition to a normal eight hours work a day.

All of this leaves us so exhausted that many of us are prevented from playing an active part in our communities, and in our Revolution. We need to be more aware of this, and of the importance of moving to solve these problems.

We need also to be fully aware of the importance of library facilities in rural areas and of electricity, in enabling us to obtain and read all types of materials in order for us to educate ourselves.

We need to be aware that we must work actively in ensuring adequate maternity and health care, not just at the hospital but right where we are, in our communities.

We must be aware that our women in rural communities, especially those off the main roads, suffer most and we must move to ensure that women and girls in rural areas obtain equal access to education, health care, piped water, electricity and other services.

We must also be aware, sisters and brothers, that 400 years of colonial brain-washing have left us all with attitudes on the subject of women which hold us back in our struggle for equality. Some of these backward attitudes have concrete results which we see operating in many institutions of our society. How can we produce more women doctors, dentists, agricultural scientists or engineers, for instance, when the teaching of science in girls secondary schools is so inadequate compared with that of boys schools? When domestic science subjects are available but not agricultural science?

The greatest problems which we face, however, as we move to end discrimination, sisters, are the problems within ourselves, our own attitudes.

Many of us still see ourselves mainly as mothers. We pass on this view of what a woman is to our daughters. And then we quarrel when our daughters growing to womanhood become pregnant at 14 or 15. But sisters and brothers, if we teach our girls that the most important thing in a women's life is motherhood, shouldn't we expect our young daughters to seek to prove themselves as women by becoming mothers?

We must show our daughters that in a progressive society there are many other tasks that a woman has to do - she must educate herself, she must enter the battle for greater production, she must work actively to build her community, she must struggle to improve conditions for women, she must prepare herself to defend her country and her Revolution. And sisters, how better to teach our daughters than through our own example, for as we ourselves say, 'Action speaks louder than words.'

Sisters, it is also time that we as women begin to re-think many of our old attitudes, and look again at many of the existing laws, and practices which affect us as women.

For instance, at present a schoolgirl who becomes pregnant has to leave school permanently; her education stops there. But do we really want to put a premature end to the education of so many teenage girls each year? Does it serve us as women, does it serve the development of our society, that so many of our little sisters are each year denied further educational opportunities in this way? Can we produce an educated society in this way? Isn't it time that we started thinking about providing further educational facilities for such schoolgirls?

Sisters, every day we are seeing more and more clearly that we ourselves are holding back ourselves by backward attitudes and by our lack of action to improve our conditions.

In recent months we have begun discussions with groups on the issues of equal pay for equal work and maternity leave. And we have been startled by the responses of some sisters on these matters. Some sisters who work all day picking up nutmegs, for instance, bending their backs in the hot sun all day, and then go home and do all their housework (for which they are not paid, remember) still do not agree that they should receive pay with the men who open the drains or cutlass the bushes. Some sisters who crack nutmegs in the nutmeg pools believe that they should not receive equal pay with the men who raise the nutmeg sacks. Yes, their work requires less physical strength but is requires more sustained concentration, and more strain on the eyes.

Yet how can the People's Revolutionary Government pass an equal pay law for women if women themselves do not want it? There are many thousands of progressive women who do want equal pay, and the People's Revolutionary Government has already begun moving to give equal pay in cases where women are doing the same work as men. But we women must not sit down and wait on the People's Revolutionary Government. We must begin immediately to make our views known, to hold discussions in our communities, and to put forward recommendations to the Government. For this is equality sisters.

If we want equal rights we must exercise first our new right to propose solutions to our own problems as women. That is the first step towards our achieving equal rights.

On the issue of maternity leave, it has become clear that while the majority of women firmly support the coming into being of maternity leave with pay for women, there are certainly some problems which need to be ironed out. In the case of part-time workers, there is the question of how to provide maternity leave.

This is also the case with domestic servants and workers in very small establishments - a section of our sisters most in need of maternity leave with pay, yet their employers may experience difficulty in making such payments while also paying someone else for the period they are away. We need to find a solution for this problem which would avoid suffering to either party.

Then there is the issue of maternity leave with pay for student nurses. How do we ensure a high quality nursing service which in part depends on students completing their training in the time required, without penalising these sisters unfairly.

Lastly, there is the issue of unmarried teachers who become pregnant. At present such women are forced to go home for nine (9) months no-pay leave. The People's Revolutionary Government believes that the health of both mother and baby require that these sisters should obtain maternity leave with pay. Yet the mixed responses of women teachers at the education seminar held in January show that teachers themselves do not hold a united position on this matter. This is an issue on which they will have to speak out, for this government is not going to force maternity benefits on women if they themselves do not wish it. For democracy demands that when laws are passed these should reflect the wishes of our people, in this case our women.

So sisters, there is much work ahead for us to do in this second year of our Revolution. We will have to come out and - actively consider and discuss not only all the problems which affect us but also propose solutions and together with our organisations and our revolutionary Government we will have to begin to carry out those solutions.

Our Revolution provides us with the conditions for our liberation but freedom and equality cannot be imposed on us. In this year, year of Education and Production, second year of our Revolution, let us reach out and grasp the equality which is being offered us, and let us use that equality which is being offered us, and let us use that equality to work towards justice and progress for women and towards social progress, peace and justice for all our people.


Delivered by: Phyllis Coard,
National Organising Committee, for Women's Rally.

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