How many more?
Violence, including sexual violence, against women and girls is sweeping across Guyana like an epidemic, leaving in its wake tombstones and grave markers, scarred and traumatized women and children, mute legislators and a justice system that is apparently unable to cope.
On Monday last, Mohini Gobin, a 46-year-old mother of four was beaten to death with an iron pipe by her partner, who later ingested a weedicide and died. Ms Gobin was battered in a public place, at her partner’s worksite, during an argument over a cellular phone after she reportedly refused to say how she got it.
And even as media houses were getting information about Ms Gobin’s death ready for publication that night, Akeila Abrams, a 23-year-old mother of three was being beaten in the streets of an East Coast village by her common-law husband because she left their house without his permission.
It was reported that Ms Abrams was beaten about the head with a padlock and furthermore no one went to her assistance. Villagers reportedly stood by and watched after merely telling the man to leave her alone, to which he was alleged to have responded that she was the mother of his child and he could do whatever he wanted to her. From Ms Abram’s own account, this was not the first beating she had received at the hands of her partner.
On Sunday, 32-year-old Rhonda Thompson was killed by her estranged husband, who later succumbed having ingested poison in addition to slitting his own throat and wrists. The Thompsons had separated 3 months prior to this, following a misunderstanding and it was reported that Mrs Thompson seemed averse to reconciliation.
Just over a week earlier, on May 26, 49-year-old security guard Donna Thomas was stabbed to death, allegedly by her partner, with whom there had been a history of abuse. The man has since been charged with her murder.
The next day, May 27, another woman, 38-year-old Sharon Howell, a mother of ten, was hammered and stabbed reportedly by her partner, who then ingested poison. Ms Howell survived the attack during which she was stabbed multiple times about the body, including in her shoulder, neck, stomach and head and also injured with the claw of a hammer. Her partner also survived and was expected to be charged this week.
A day later, residents of West Berbice were up in arms over the sexual abuse of an eight-year-old girl reportedly by a male relative, who had been arrested by the police, but subsequently released. And a few days later, again in West Berbice, a mother was appealing for justice for her 3-year-old, who had been raped by a 17-year-old relative.
Meanwhile, during May also, a 12-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather gave birth to a baby via Caesarean Section. The stepfather has been charged.
On May 21, a 16-year-old girl was brutally chopped by her lover, a miner in the North West District after he reportedly caught her in a compromising position with another man whom he killed. The badly wounded teen remains a patient at the hospital.
Several other women and girls were killed and battered or raped for this year so far, including Leonaka Natasha Johnson, whose fiancé was charged with her murder; Bibi Shameena Khairoodin, whose husband was charged with her murder; and Sita Reddy, whose death remains unsolved. These are by no means all the females who either died or were injured as a result of gender violence for this year. Several elderly women were found murdered and there is a steady stream of domestic violence related cases passing through the magistrates’ courts around the country on a daily basis.
If there was a physical ailment injuring and killing women to this extent, alarm bells would have rung and there would have been a mad dash by health and government authorities to contain it. It would be dubbed an epidemic. However, despite the grim statistics listed above, the authorities would appear to have shunted the responsibility for this epidemic to the ill-equipped Human Services Ministry. How many more women and girls must be abused and killed before it is recognized that this is also a public health crisis with far-reaching social implications? How many more women and girls must be abused and killed before a real attempt is made to use the law as a deterrent by imposing lengthy sentences? How many more women and girls must be abused and killed before, as in the case of the East Coast villagers last week, we all stop being spectators and act to save our women and children? How close to home does it have to hit before we realize that curbing this scourge is in our collective best interest?
This has ceased to be an issue for activists and women’s groups. Collective action is needed. Now.