We are all talking. Some of us do not want to hear anything, saying that it is their private business. Many women and men say she should ‘shame fuh do duh.’ Those of us who have worked against domestic violence are horrified at the description by the First Lady of her marriage to President Jagdeo.
The First Lady has not asked for any public response. She has spoken out. Speaking out has not been easy for many women in Guyana and even today, there are many who believe she should not speak out and that she is ‘bad’ for doing that.
Some of us want this matter to go away; we should not get into ‘bedroom business’ muttered many of the MPs on the television. Other people feel that the President should not speak since it is none of our business. Some people want to know the personal details, others are concerned about the state assets issue.
The political opponents are going to make sanctimonious statements. The National Congress of Women (NCW) has made a thoughtful statement, but they can surely empathise with the Women’s Progressive Organisation.
What would the NCW do if a similar allegation had been levelled against any of their colleagues in the party and especially the historic injustices committed against many women by the PNC state apparatus, also hidden because of shame.
The men in Guyana who have problems with their wives are probably thinking, we have to hear the President’s side; the women who have supported the President and who have survived domestic violence are probably in turmoil and hope that the First Lady could have gone away.
Some might even think she is lying, forgetting that when they told their stories too, others probably thought they were lying. And what about the men who President Jagdeo asked to get involved in the campaign against domestic violence?
How are we supposed to feel and what do we want to know? The President has been commendably consistent in his rhetoric against domestic violence including in the most recent event in November 2008 when he announced a special fund.
The MPs and the ministers have forgotten that Guyana decided in 1996 that domestic violence is not a private matter and as a society, we have recognised that what goes on in ‘privacy’ can also be a violation of individual rights and that is Guyana’s concern. Guyanese NGOs and other groups have worked to promote healthy relationships with the support of the government.
So, what could the President do now? We learn that honesty is part of good leadership, and if the President could demonstrate leadership in speaking out about life and his experience of his own marriage because in the stated desire to ‘move on,’ confronting and resolving the past is important.
The President has an opportunity now to help the men who are going through troubled marriages by speaking about his own, not so that people could gossip and condemn, but because people could understand the importance of that honesty when things fall apart in relationships. What does he have to lose by being honest? To be accused of being abusive is serious.
Many men (and women) do not understand when their behaviour becomes abusive and would deny that happens. Denial is a first reaction. That denial we are accustomed to. Abusive behaviour has to be recognised and then changed. Sometimes, it goes over into the work situation.
The religious organisations and other organisations who met with the President in November 2008 should speak out as well, as part of this commitment to deal with domestic violence and to promote decent loving families.
The Hindu population should be vocal since there was a very public Hindu wedding, and many Hindus believe that the problems should be private long after the wedding without thinking that recognising and discussing the problem of domestic violence is a first step in solving it.
The President’s silence, however, would make it more difficult for those who are surviving abusive situations, and for the women and men who are helping them. And it makes it easier for abusive men in high and low places to continue the destruction of our society.