Sep 21, 2020 Editorial
A letter published last week in this paper raised a simple but serious issue as relates to apparent implicit gender bias encoded into the provisions of one the most fundamental government services in Guyana, the National Insurance Scheme. Asked the writer:
“Why is it that only a widow can benefit from survivor’s benefits in the event her spouse dies? This is the 21st century, where both men and women are fighting for equal rights, and in most cases they emerge successful. Women, apart from motherly and widely duties, have taken up the mantle of being a financial provider in homes. Some men have even reversed their roles with women, opting to stay at home and take care of the kids whilst the women work. If NIS checks their records, they can see women make up a huge percentage of contributors. As it is right now, a woman can access survivor’s benefit from NIS if her husband dies, even if she is healthy enough to work and is not disable but a man cannot have access to such if his wife dies unless he is proven disable. Why the double standard?”
The writer, a woman, goes on to explain that she and her husband had agreed that he would stay at home and she would be the working partner in the relationship, a situation that the NIS current rules on survivor’s benefits are discriminatory against. Indeed, if the sort of gender audit that the writer suggests were to be undertaken on public institutions and the rules that govern the provision of services in Guyana, we’d be sure to find an intrinsic and archaic bias, either discriminatory against women or, as in the case highlighted, indirectly discriminatory against by presuming an ongoing patriarchal prejudice when it comes to gender roles.
The same day this letter was published, thousands of miles away from Guyana, a woman died, a woman whose life was spent in deconstructing this exact sort of situation in her own country. That woman was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. As dramatized in ‘On the Basis of Sex’ the biopic about her early career as a lawyer, one of Bader Ginsburg’s early, defining cases ‘Moritz vs. Commissioner of Inland Revenue (1972), saw a man, Charles Moritz, contesting the tax agency’s refuse to provide him a tax reduction to compensate for his hiring of a nurse to take care of his ailing mother, a refusal based on the fact that he was not a woman nor was he previously married. The similarity to the NIS situation the letter writer described above would not go unnoticed.
Bader Ginsburg would go on to win the case for Moritz with the court deciding that the man could not be discriminated against on the basis of his sex in accessing the fundamental benefit afforded to him, and any such discrimination was unconstitutional. Bader Ginsburg would go on to use one defence tactic employed against her – a listing of all the gender-based laws that would be affected of Moritz won – to systematically fight against those same laws. It was this campaign that saw her appointed as a judge in 1980, and then her nomination to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, the second woman Supreme Court Justice after Sandra Day O’Connor.
Bader Ginsburg’s work was not only representative of the ongoing fight for gender equality in America (and by extension the world) but she herself was a shining example of what was possible when the fight for gender representation is successful. America has lost a giant at a critical time, and arguably so has the world.
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