On International Women’s Day 2008, Help & Shelter salutes and extends warm greetings to all those women from all ethnic groups throughout Guyana who continue to fulfil their numerous roles as mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, daughters, caregivers and breadwinners.
We especially extend our support and solidarity to those who lost their loved ones in the killings at Lusignan and Bartica.
International Women’s Day 2008 comes at a time when there is a security crisis in Guyana and citizens are living in fear of further attacks. In Guyana, as with all conflicts everywhere, women are either victims or, traumatised themselves, have to also deal with the trauma suffered by their children. Women have also found themselves at odds with the law while attempting to protect families and communities and in some cases have been victims of discrimination because of their gender or where they live. It is essential that in attempting to deal with the violation of human rights, the security forces are not themselves guilty of such breaches and as a country, we should not stand idly by if they are.
IWD 2008 also comes at a time when increases in the cost of living are making it more and more difficult for women to make ends meet. The increase – in some cases by as much as 100% – in prices of basic food items, together with the rising cost of utilities and depressed wages and salaries has resulted in hunger and increasing poverty among many Guyanese women and their families. The international theme for this year’s IWD is “Investing in Girls and Women” and we call on those in authority to find urgently, appropriate mechanisms for reducing poverty and the feelings of hopelessness it engenders. We also call for investments to be made in specialized programmes for girls and women to learn marketable skills so that they can become financially independent and contribute to the development of themselves their families. We know that poverty does not itself cause inter-personal or domestic violence, but it is often a contributing factor and, coupled with the lack of existing support services and economic opportunities, will give rise to yet further increased levels of domestic violence against and sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls.
As an organisation committed to the bringing about a society where attitudes to the use of violence and practices of violence are transformed, Help & Shelter welcomes the references in the recently announced national budget to funding for the completion of the reform of the sexual offences legislation and for continuing the national campaign against domestic violence. We note with concern, however, that there seems to be no budget for a comprehensive strategy against domestic violence, and that even the much touted Citizen Security Plan ignores all the calls and previous commitments for the establishing of special units in police divisions around the country to ensure effective intervention to alleviate the occurrences of domestic violence. Let us not forget the numbers of women who are killed by domestic violence every year: for thousands of women, an effective national domestic violence prevention policy is a matter of life and death.
Finally, on IWD 2008, we urge that the issue of gender-based violence and how it contributes to the wider security crisis facing the Guyanese people be placed on the agenda of the national stakeholders’ conferences. The seeds of violence are usually planted in us as children and it is therefore essential that we examine and change the way we socialise our children if we are to put a stop to the reproduction of attitudes that lead to conflict and crime.