Human Services Minister Priya Manickchand says that domestic violence will continue to be a major issue in Guyana and is not likely to go away if women fail to report threats or “the slightest attack against them” because of how dire the consequences could be.
The entire issue of violence against women will remain a tremendous challenge if women do not adopt a pro-active approach, Manickchand said, underscoring the need for greater awareness and to some extent, personal responsibility.
Manickchand spoke of a lack of reporting in the attacks suffered by women during an interview with Stabroek News on Saturday and called for survivors of violent attacks to approach the police. She noted that men are attacking women and reports are not being made referring to it as “a serious issue and one which must be addressed”.
The Minister made no specific references about attacks that have gone unreported, but prior to the brutal murder allegedly at the hands of her former reputed husband, Savitrie Arjune of Herstelling had been attacked by the man but failed to report the incident. According to relatives, she was slashed in the side but no police report was made.
Arjune became the latest victim in a string of attacks against women. She was laid to rest yesterday. Last month, the bloodied bodies of Nekecia Rouse and her sister-in-law, Alexis ‘Keisha’ George were discovered in Smythfield, New Amsterdam. They were stabbed to death in a gruesome attack; no one has been held.
And Deborah Allen of Oronoque, Port Kaituma, North West District was hacked to death by her husband following an argument in February. The man, who also wounded her 16-year-old daughter later surrendered to police. Lotoya Conway Woolford was also murdered allegedly by her husband. He has since been charged with murder.
In June last year the national policy on domestic violence was initiated to bring about changes and break the cycle of violence that continues to claim the lives of women across this country, an ambitious start to tackling the issue that has had little visible impact.
At the core of the policy was the transformation of attitudes that condone domestic violence, but equally important was the need for a multi-sectoral response to the issue that includes the involvement of a number of government ministries, the police force and also community-based initiatives.
Substantially, the policy aimed at reviewing and amending the Domestic Violence Act and increasing the capacity of the police force in stemming the problem by providing the resources for the force to implement the policy and maintain domestic violence units in each division.
Close to a year after its launch criticism of the force’s response to domestic violence is still being aired and calls for a more effective government approach penetrate public debate on the issue, reducing the policy to a policy merely on paper.
But Manickchand on Saturday rejected the notion of the policy being ineffective saying that work is being done, and that “a full report would be out shortly”. As part of the national oversight committee that will review the policy and report on its failures and successes, Manickchand said, efforts are being made to bring about changes.
She asserted that it is difficult to bring about changes if the efforts being made are not cohesive, pointing to the need for the government policy initiative to be consistently supported by the stakeholders, and more importantly, at the individual level.
Without the collaborative effort and women taking control, she opined that the efforts would go nowhere and have zero impact. Manickchand firmly believes that domestic violence can be stamped out.
The five-year policy was launched under the theme, ‘Break the Cycle, Take Control’, as a government initiative that would inform and guide future interventions and programmes in the area of domestic violence.
The policy contains eight thematic areas. The first pertains to the monitoring and enforcement of legal sanctions. Among the steps to be taken would be the review of the Domestic Violence Act and its implementation, providing the police force with the resources to establish and maintain domestic violence units in each division and the gazetting of competent social workers.
Under the provision of services for survivors, the policy envisages that a common service protocol will be implemented involving the health, education and social services sectors and the police force. “Reasonable access” will also be ensured by the government to temporary refuges for survivors and the government will ensure that there are appropriate legal aid services to support survivors throughout the country.
With respect to the health sector, all health services will be resourced to provide care to survivors of domestic violence and there will be a standard curriculum on domestic violence intervention.
Thematic area four entails the Ministry of Education working with the Ministry of Human Services to craft public awareness programmes to sensitise students on violence and abuse. Further, the government will support and endorse public education campaigns by apportioning free time on the state broadcast media for public service messages.
Other thematic areas are building the capacity of rural and hinterland communities to respond to domestic violence, intervening on behalf of persons with disabilities and elderly persons.
The final thematic area relates to the monitoring and evaluation of the policy’s implementation and will rely on data gathered from hospitals and health facilities, the police force, the courts and Ministry of Legal Affairs, non-governmental organizations and the Probation and Welfare Department and the Women Affairs Bureau in the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security.