Multifaceted response to violence against women needed

It is not enough therefore for Human Services Minister Priya Manickchand to have implied in her latest interview with this newspaper,  that if women reported every incidence of violence, “the slightest attack against them” the situation would somehow miraculously improve. To me this is akin to blaming women for the violence they are subjected to, which only serves to shift around the responsibility men should have for managing their anger, controlling their jealousy and learning to let go and move on, and does nothing really to address the problem. Of course, women also need to be responsible for their personal well-being; every adult bears that responsibility. However, when one considers the effect on a woman’s psyche of fear, poverty, ignorance, low self-esteem and the other factors that collectively contribute to and perpetuate what is known as battered women’s syndrome, the truth is that personal responsibility and even self-preservation, which ought to be instinctive, are way down behind the back burner.

The response that is required to curb partner/domestic violence involves the complete cooperation of all involved; a network of systems that automatically click into gear the instant a report is made. For example, a call to the police with a report of even “the slightest attack” should see officers dispatched to the scene, the assailant arrested and the victim taken to hospital for checks or medical treatment if necessary. Depending on the circumstances, charges should be laid and referrals made for counselling for both parties. A special court with a properly sensitized magistrate to ensure that the sentence fits the crime; the enforcement of restraining orders; moving women into shelters where necessary and maintaining confidentiality with regard to their location should also form part of the response.

Guyana is very far away from achieving all this, which though it might curb the incidents of partner violence and save some lives, would not completely wipe out what has been referred to as a global curse. But neither can we sit smugly on our hands and point to the fact that we have legislation and a policy; in the face of the current sloth/lack of action, those documents remain nothing but documents.

Those documents were unable to help the 1,609 women who reported incidents of partner violence for the year so far and had their assailants warned and sent away to, mostly likely, try it another day. They could not help the scores of women who have died since they have been written, including those who were killed this year, like Savitri Arjune of Herstelling who was stabbed to death by her former partner whom she had left after years of abuse. Nor did they help Nekecia Rouse and her sister-in-law, Alexis ‘Keisha’ George of Smythfield, New Amsterdam, who were stabbed to death by an unknown person. Deborah Allen and Latoya Conway also did not benefit from Guyana having laws and a policy; they are both dead, allegedly at the hands of men who had claimed to love them.

However, if more pro-activity were employed now, they might be able to help Kalwantie Kumar, who was badly hurt last week when an ex-lover ambushed her and managed to do her as well as her mother, sister and baby daughter significant harm with a piece of wood. There are thousands more who need to be removed from the list of possible statistics.

Meanwhile, as well as having a surfeit of violence (with impunity) against women in this little corner of the woods, practically at the rate of seven incidents a day (last year’s statistics) we are faced with the insidious condescendence of letter writer Abu Bakr in not just one, but two lengthy missives to the press on the issue recently. No woman could be blamed if after reading them she felt the urge to file charges of abuse of her sensibilities.

Take for instance this sentence: “As we reform our approach to domestic violence, as we re-invent our attitudes to social relations, the role of women as generators of the very culture of sexism and violence in which they socialise their sons, the woman as active, determined and often pitiless perpetrator of the type of violence in which they specialise, ought to be brought to the commission we need to form.” The questions that immediately arise are where then are the fathers of the sons? Should they not be there as role models to prevent the anti-socialisation of their male offspring? Surely the men, who he referred to as “the other half of the terrified population,” would want to ensure that their sons (and daughters) did not become either terrified or terrors. Why then do they run off and leave them, sometimes even before they are born? Why is it that even when they are present, they are absent, and are so preoccupied with wine, women, song and their egos that they cannot see that their sons are growing up to become them and that their daughters choose them over and over in every manipulative, abusive man they get involved with?

Seeking to pass the buck of responsibility for violent attacks from the perpetrator to the victim, he asked, “But is the concept of violence to be limited to use of this or that weapon, of tooth or claw? Should we forget that the tongue, the word, is a particularly destructive sort of weapon?” The answer to that of course is that tongue lashings tend to hurt the ego. No words or string of sentences have ever left a person bruised, bloodied, hospitalised or sent to eternal rest.

It is this sort of ingrained chauvinist approach that makes it so difficult for men to see women as their equals and not some sort of lesser species put on earth for the sole purpose of serving them. The change that is needed will perhaps come about when this message is successfully imparted to both sexes.

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