Congratulations to everyone belonging to the female class of the human species. Today belongs to you. Make good use of it and protect yourself from violence.
Ever since the observance of the first International Women’s Day over a century ago, the world has seen many changes which continue to define and re-define our roles and contributions as men and women operating in a global environment.
Many things have also changed since the first observance of IWD and great improvements have been made to better the lives of women. The world has witnessed women travelling to space, women leaders of nations, women accessing higher education, and women penetrating male-dominated professions. In retrospect it would seem that women have been provided with real choices and equality has been achieved, at least in part. Hence the tone and nature of IWD globally has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.
However, we in the Caribbean and more particularly Guyana cannot be sure that the tone of our observations of IWD can enjoy that shift just yet. As long as there are impediments to economic efficiency, social justice and individual security and liberty there will always be reason for highlighting the negatives in society. Until basic female rights to a violence-free life are not violated then Guyana will be able to rejoice in the euphoria of positive achievements.
In the meantime, however, we need to examine closely what is there within our nation that is demanding that we ignore the domestic crimes against women. It is something that cripples us from developing concentrated solutions to this problem. Even sometimes in cases where those crimes are being addressed, it is usually on a superficial level. National responses basically take the form of the ‘we’ and ‘them’ approach, as was discussed in my report. Or better still it is usually in response to some international requirement to prove to the rest of the world that something is being done about the problem.
Although violence against women is perpetrated in every given society, there is a definite increase in incidents in Guyana. Therefore for us in Guyana, to observe International Women’s Day without acknowledging the presence of violence against women would be insincere. We need to commit to do something about it. I invite every one of us to think about it this way: the next victim might be your mother, sister, aunt, niece, cousin or some female acquaintance.
Otherwise we would all be guilty of insincerity if we operate with the false notion that Guyanese women are fully protected from this disaster. This endemic violence somehow remains silently and tolerantly contained in the home, its unspoken nature making it difficult for research to measure let alone to identify and address. Violence against women has manifested itself in many forms such as domestic violence, forced early marriage for girls, forced pregnancy, rape, sexual harassment and human trafficking. And although Guyana has not recorded cases of honour killings and sati, they are certainly other manifestations of VAW that we need to watch closely –with the advent of free movement of people through globalisation.
Certainly these crimes have evaded our most meticulous social planning and policy. We need not be naïve and behave as if it will all go away by the wave of a magical wand. On the contrary, we need to see changes in the attitudes of both men and women who are determined to divorce themselves from their prejudices, stereotypical misconceptions about the societal status of women and embrace the ethics of human equality. There needs to be a clarion call for change in this area where both male and female will be bequeathed with power and privileges to contribute significantly to the progress of the Guyanese society, with no violation of individual rights.
In concluding I wish to draw attention to a quote from one of the world’s most influential leaders, Nelson Mandela, who said, “As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as a nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.” Women participating actively will help find the best solutions for the challenges that the country is facing today from economic recovery, to the food crisis, to the energy crisis to climate change. As Guyanese, the power is with us to determine the kind of society we want to build in this new millennium.
Women’s Studies Unit
University of Guyana