While Parliament is yet to have a female Speaker of the National Assembly, it has had several women who have filled the post of Deputy Speaker. The late former President and longest serving member of Parliament Janet Jagan was the first female Guyanese to become Deputy Speaker of the House and she was the first female Deputy Speaker to be appointed in the world.
In 1953, after she successfully contested the Essequibo constituency, Jagan became one of the first women to become a Member of the British Guiana Parliament. Following the election, she was appointed Deputy Speaker of the Legislature.
Attorney-at-law Clarissa Riehl also served as Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly from 1997 to 2011. Riehl holds the distinction of serving as the acting Speaker of the National Assembly from October 15 to 23, 2010 following the death of Speaker Derek Chunilall Jagan. She served within this capacity until a new Speaker was elected.
Deborah Backer, the late PNC Member of Parliament, also served as Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly. She was appointed during the 10th Parliament in 2011 and served until her resignation in February 2014.
Through her active work with the People’s National Congress, Backer entered the National Assembly in 1997 and served until January 2011 when she was elected Deputy Speaker. She was also the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Foreign Relations, and a member of various Parliamentary Committees.
It should be noted that Backer came closest to being the first female Speaker of the National Assembly in Guyana. In 2011, she was nominated by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) for the post of Speaker. However, her nomination was subsequently withdrawn by APNU after the party decided to back the nomination of Alliance for Change Member Raphael Trotman.
Backer pledged her support to Trotman and was later nominated Deputy Speaker. Her party’s support was critical in having Trotman elected as the first Opposition member to serve as Speaker of the National Assembly.