"...women must join in the struggle to bring about political and socio-economic changes so that there will be equal opportunities for all..."
|Photos courtesy of Reuters News Service
A woman president?
Many American women have bravely, but unsuccessfully, run for President of the United States: Victoria Woodhull, Shirley Chisholm and Geraldine Ferraro to name a few. But when an American woman named Janet Jagan ran for President of Guyana, she actually won.
Janet Jagan was a trained nurse from Chicago. In 1943, when she was 23, she went to Guyana to work in the dental office of her husband, Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
Janet Jagan immediately became involved in the Guyanan labor movement, and in 1946, helped to found the Women's Political and Economic Organization (W.P.O.) and the Political Affairs Committee (P.A.C.), and began editing the P.A.C. bulletin. In 1950, she co-founded the People's Progressive Party(P.P.P.) along with husband, Cheddi Jagan. This party was instrumental in attaining Guyana's independence from British rule.
While her husband gained prominence in the P.P.P., Janet Jagan continued as a leader in the struggle for workers' rights. In 1970, she was elected president of the Union of Guyanese Journalists (UGJ), and from 1973 to 1997, edited the Mirror, a national newspaper.
The People's Progressive Party had boycotted the government for many years to protest the rigging of elections. In 1992, after the first free presidential election, Dr. Cheddi Jagan became president of Guyana.
|Images created by ABCnews.com / Magellan Geographix
In 1997, President Jagan died, and Janet Jagan ran successfully for the post. On Dec. 19, 1997, Janet Jagan was sworn in as the first woman president of the Republic of Guyana. Unfortunately, she was only able to serve for 20 months. On Aug. 8, 1999, Janet Jagan resigned from her ground-breaking post for health reasons.
Writer Krishna Persaud has compared Jagan to Nelson Mandela stating:
"With characteristic selflessness, Mrs. Janet Jagan has passed the torch. The diminished vigour she cited as the reason for her resignation has prompted few statesmen to relinquish power at the height of their popularity. The only other notable example of this magnanimous gesture, is of course Nelson Mandela, who like the Jagans, fought for decades to win democracy for his country..."
In office, her presidency was defined by a sense of vision and wider purpose. While consolidating on the gains made by Dr. Jagan in the fields of health, education, rural electrification, housing and the provision of potable water, Mrs. Jagan boldly pursued a policy of continentalism, fostering ties with Brazil and Venezuela, making overtures towards members of the Mercusor and Andean Pacts, while maintaining Guyana's traditional links with the Caribbean community.
During her time in office, Jagan was an outspoken advocate for the full emancipation of women in Latin America, including equal education, equal housing opportunities, equal pay for equal work and free maternity leave. Truly it is a hero of freedom who can dedicate her life to building the political and economic independence of a nation.