Gender Neutral1343 12 Jul, 2012
Minister of Education [Ms. Manickchand]: May it please you Mr. Speaker. This afternoon we have a grand opportunity to join Minister of Legal Affairs, the Attorney General, the young and energetic, Mr. Anil Nandlall, who is this afternoon going down as acting on behalf of a Government who is friendly to women. I know this Bill is gender neutral. This Bill is gender neutral, but we would be hiding our heads in the sand if we did not recognise that the persons who would benefit most from this piece of legislation, once enacted, would be Guyana’s women. This afternoon I invite the National Assembly as my learned friend, Hon. Nandalll, just did to join us and declare ourselves in this House, openly and proudly, that we are a House who would support Guyana’s women.
Article 149 (D), says:
“(1) The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection and benefit of the law.
(2) The State shall, for the purpose of promoting equality, take legislative and other measures designed to protect disadvantaged persons and persons with disabilities.
(3) Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms guaranteed by or under this Constitution or any other law. “
We have this guarantee in our supreme law, the Constitution, of this land and yet we had this grave inconsistency in our pieces of legislation which proved difficult for persons every single day. When Minister Nandlall spoke, I did not get the impression, he was very holistic in his presentation but what I did not hear from him is something which lawyers who practice in this field will tell you, and that is, when I was in practice, not a single week went by without mostly women, I would say all women, suffering because this piece of law was inconsistent. The piece of law I speak about is the piece of law that says that if you are not married to each other, a party cannot benefit Most of those applications, or most of those persons who suffered were persons who came to the Legal Aid Clinic. Legal Aid Clinic acts for persons who cannot pay the regular fees. So, it was not only women, but poor women who were suffering because of this law.
What is this law saying? Very clearly it is saying, if you are a single man, and I prefer to use one example, living together with a single woman or a single woman living together with a single man and you have been living together for more than five years, and you have not married under the marriage act, i.e. to sign papers officially, and one party dies then the other party can benefit if that party who dies did not leave a will. You could apply to benefit.
A practical example is that if John where living home with Mary and they are both single and they have been living together for forty years and John dies after Mary invested her entire life, worked in this marriage, brought up children in this marriage, worked in a field, contributed to buying the house and keeping it clean, contributed to decorating it and bringing up these children, contributed to making the man all that he was and all that he became because she loved him and she cared for him and she pampered him. If he dies and they did not get married, then she has nothing to get, except that she has a good lawyer who would struggle under Family Dependence and Provision Act (FDPA) which does not entitle her to something; it leaves the Court with discretion to award her something. That is the height of unfairness.
We know in our country that persons choose to live home and shack up. I would say that this House should not take that choice away from people. We also know that many persons, particularly Hindus and Muslims, have entered into a marriage believing themselves to be married because they did all of the religious rituals that were required to be married. They lived together in good faith believing themselves to husband and wife, and that husband dies, the wife has nothing to get sixty years later. That is the height of unfairness. I do not believe anybody hear would say differently.
What is even worse is that during the course of the lives of those persons, John and Mary were married and twenty years later they decide to split up, and they are both alive, they could have come under our Married Persons Property Act. Mary could come under that Act and benefit depending on whether she worked outside of the home in which case she would be entitled to half of what the party owned. If she worked in the home, she would be entitled to one-third with discretion to the Court to award more than one-third. During the lifetime of the couple this woman would be entitled, but as soon as he dies, not only does she suffer the vulnerability of being without a partner, but as soon as she dies, the State, this legislation and everybody throws her aside and says we have nothing to do with you, we want nothing to do with you, we will not protect you. This afternoon we have an opportunity to correct that. I am saying that we must correct it.
I have heard some discomfort expressed by certain members, not members of this House, but expressed by citizens, that this Bill somehow or the other encourages parties to live together rather than to get married. I do not believe this Bill encourages that. Right now Guyana recognises that we have common-law unions and Guyana caters for common-law unions. Guyana, in the Married Persons Property (Amendment) Act says a spouse is a single man living together with a single woman for more than five years. So, we recognize this and we cater for it. We were just leaving these widows really to the hands of faith after their partners died by not passing this piece of legislation.
I believe this piece of legislation will do nothing more than to make women more equal. We have signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. It is an international convention that Guyana signed and ratified since 1979. That convention prescribes that we must do all that we can as a nation to ensure we bring equality to our women and that we attain this equality which we seek to do here today. The reason for that these things are not formulated or singed by our country in a vacuum is because we understand that the only way that we can progress as a country is if we take care of more than half of our population, our women. So, this afternoon I take great pleasure in supporting this Bill and commending to the National Assembly that we vote for this unanimously, which will send a message right across Guyana.
I thank you. [Applause]
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