October 20 marks the 99th birth anniversary of former Executive President and co-founder of the People’s Progressive Party Janet Jagan. During the course of her long and illustrious struggle, Mrs. Jagan managed, despite the odds, to set a number of records including that of becoming the first female Executive President of Guyana. She was also the first female Prime Minister, the first female to hold office as Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, the first female to have won a seat as a Councillor of the Georgetown City Council and by no means least the first among three women to be elected to the National Assembly following the PPP’s victory in the 1953 elections.
It is no exaggeration to say that Mrs. Jagan broke the glass ceiling with respect to women’s participation in national politics in a way no other woman has been able to do. Together with her husband Cheddi, they gave over a century of dedicated service to Guyana at the highest political and executive levels. Both were former Presidents of Guyana which is another record in terms of husband and wife combination in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Mrs. Jagan served in numerous Party capacities such as International Secretary of the PPP, Executive Secretary, Editor of the Mirror Newspaper and the Thunder, theoretical organ of the Party among several others. She also represented the PPP in the Elections Commission during which she fought vigorously, though unsuccessfully, to avert rigged elections.
Mrs. Jagan confronted numerous challenges including being imprisoned for six months under British colonial rule. She was later greeted with hostility by the political opposition when she was elected as President in 1997 following the passing of her husband. Several protest actions and derogotary remarks were made against her due to the colour of her skin as a White American-born woman but she took it all in strides and bore it with dignity and without rancour or any loss of love for the people of Guyana to whom she dedicated her entire life.
Mrs. Jagan, like her husband Cheddi touched the lives of countless Guyanese in deeply profound ways. Known for their integrity, modesty and simplicity, they influenced and shaped the political architecture of Guyana in ways that impacted positively on the lives of all Guyanese in particular the working people. For that we owe them as a people a deep debt of gratitude.
Guyana is today much poorer for her passing ten years ago but her vision for a free, democratic and prosperous Guyana continues to live on.
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