The Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) says that it rescued some 29 women and girls who were being trafficked in 2013 but that only a few cases reached the courts. Out of the 29 women rescued, 16 of were under the age of 18 and the GWMO has lamented the quality of the care given to them.
In a report titled ‘Lifting the veil on modern day slavery’ launched to coincide with the GWMO’s second anniversary celebrated on January 24, the organisation said survivors of TIP continue to be poorly treated, eight years after the law to protect them was introduced. It said that the authorities have failed to provide assistance specific to the needs of trafficking survivors and that the provisions of the Combating of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Act 2005 have not been implemented.
“The authorities are still in denial about the scale of the problem ‒ largely ignoring it ‒ and are neglecting the victims of trafficking who are trapped in mining communities across the country,” the report said.
According to the GWMO the sexual exploitation of young girls is widespread in interior locations and equally alarming is the number of women above 18 years who are forced to work against their will in brothels. And even those who are sex workers are also vulnerable as they are often stripped of personal power during business transactions, the organisation said.
Charging that the ministries of Home Affairs, Human Services & Social Security and Education have failed citizens and victims of TIP, the report said the callous treatment meted out to victims by the police points to a failure on the part of law enforcement to offer adequate protection to survivors. And the Child Care & Protection Agency (CC&PA) was also singled out for mention as the agency has failed trafficking victims because it has no structure in place to specifically meet the needs of survivors, and this includes adequate housing and access to counselling.
“The common practice of placing young TIP survivors in foster care ‒ as advocated by the CC&PA ‒ is not the solution to providing them with a second chance. Their circumstances would have been different from the neglected and abused child and this should be taken into consideration when deciding where to place them,” the report stated.
The victims have been denied a second chance, the report continued, adding that many were forced to return to the interior and in some cases were re-trafficked. The organisation said it has witnessed pregnant survivors being placed on the streets, those infected with HIV not being able to access treatment, and many who would have been severely abused being neglected, even after turning to the authorities.
According to the GWMO the large majority of survivors it interviewed within the last year have grown up in economically disadvantaged homes and were vulnerable from their infancy; they were girls who were constantly looking for quick escapes out of poverty. The girls are also dropping out of school to work in both the formal and informal sectors and their failure to complete secondary school has left them susceptible to trafficking schemes often romanticised as a “better opportunity in the gold bush.”
The GWMO feels that education can be critical in helping young women in Guyana to make better choices, as is the presence or a concerned parent since many survivors grow up in broken homes and at different periods in their lives would have experienced the absence of one or in some instances both parents.
Meantime, it said its data have revealed that several of the victims of trafficking are young girls and older women who would have been under the protection of the state for a period of time. Some of the young girls would have been rescued by the state from broken homes and were expected to live their lives sheltered from abuse and the cruelties of the streets, but instead they are rescued by the GWMO from the interior where they are exploited and trapped in a vicious cycle of hurt, neglect and mistreatment.
Meanwhile, the GWMO said while women are making important contributions to the mining industry and are legitimate contributors to the economy, the Guyana Geology & Mines Commission (GGMC), the highest decision-making body in mining, is still to name a woman to its board.
The organisation said that women in mining were not comfortable with the status quo and as a result the GWMO was formed with the primary goal being of improving their conditions in the industry and expanding their opportunities. Since its formation, the organisation said it has pressed for women to be considered in the development of the industry. It had also articulated the need for gender-sensitive assistance initiatives and for increased awareness of health and security issues affecting women in mining.
According to its 2013 report, the GWMO said that the involvement of women in medium and small-scale mining has been poorly documented, and there is no readily accessible information that could aid in fully quantifying the extent of the participation of women in the industry. While the GGMC has a database of miners it was not designed to capture the level of involvement by gender. The organisation said it has pressed for changes to the existing database during meetings with the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud, and an agreement has since been reached to create a new database.
“The information deficit on women’s involvement in mining has led to the dangerous perception in Guyana that women who work in the sector are here to handle secondary jobs and trade in sexual favours. As this perception becomes entrenched, women miners are finding it more difficult to fight the stigma,” the report said.
It noted that the focus on women who work as panners, ore carriers, and providers of goods and services (cooks, shopkeepers) overshadows the involvement of women in mining as women are not viewed as economic actors; nevertheless, many are mine operators, buyers and dealing agents, and equipment owners. Women, the GWMO said, are often overlooked by initiatives and development programmes directed at transforming the industry. It suggested the need for a more inclusive approach that empowers Guyanese women miners and promotes their involvement in the industry as economic agents and not as prostitutes, domestics on dredges, cooks or miners’ wives.
The GWMO said there should be better social conditions for women in the industry. It noted that bathroom facilities and proper accommodation are absent from many camps and women work under rough conditions, although they are coping. There is also a culture of drunkenness and assault in the industry, which together with the high levels of crime results in social problems for the communities and camps.
The organisation said it is working to ensure that domestic abuse and sexual assaults are reported even though its efforts are sometimes stymied by the lack of police interest in the cases.
On the issue of treatment accessm the GWMO said that women and men in the industry operate in areas where healthcare is either limited or non-existent. It said that the presence of health clinics in some areas has not proved reassuring over the last year owing to the lack of staffing and limited supplies.
“Mining communities are not treated as if they are part of the country as far as health [care] access goes ‒ the absence of doctors and basic drugs says otherwise ‒ and women in particular find it difficult to cope in an environment where a medical emergency could involve hours of travelling before being able to access adequate healthcare,” the report said.
The organsiation said that it is also concerned about the troubling state of affairs with regard to security, and will continue to advocate for greater protection and more responsive law enforcement. It said that the industry if far from attaining a goal of minimal harm and offering women miners adequate protection.