Intensify efforts to eliminate violence

– Help and Shelter
International Women’s Day 2009 finds us in a time of national and global financial crises and when the incidence of violence in Guyana, especially domestic violence, is not diminishing.

In a statement to mark the day, which is being observed tomorrow, Help & Shelter cited the recent murders of Nekecia Rouse, Alexis George, Deborah Allen and Latoya Conway Woolford, which have brought into sharp focus the intensity of domestic violence in our country, although we have had a Domestic Violence Act (DVA) since 1996.

Despite the progress made in educating the public and in providing services for victims of abuse, the increase in the numbers of murders demonstrates the need for more work to be done in a number of areas, the organisation said. It included among these, the streamlining of police responses to first reports of domestic violence and continuous public education programmes on the availability of services, including legal options such as the DVA.

It referred to a survey on gender-based violence it conducted on the West Coast Demerara in 2008, in which out of 42 persons interviewed, only 2 (or 5%) knew how the DVA worked. This lack of knowledge on the part of most Guyanese goes some way to explaining why the DVA is not more used, it explained.

These and other strategies are described in the 2008 Guyana National Policy on Domestic Violence, and Help & Shelter expressed concern about the apparent lack of urgency in the full and effective implementation of this policy.

The domestic violence policy is intended to embrace a multi-sectoral approach, which requires accountability by various ministries and agencies on progress being made. Specific roles have been identified for the Ministries of Health, Education and Amerindian Affairs and the Guyana Police Force, in addition to the Ministry of Labour, Human Services & Social Security (MLHSS). Public education campaigns continue to be carried out by various agencies but a lack of adequate systems to ensure that domestic violence matters be effectively dealt with early and without avoiding escalation continues to be the norm. In addition, a consistent approach to domestic violence responses across Guyana is not yet sufficiently in place.

The implementation of this policy is to be supervised through a competent and adequately resourced National Oversight Committee. A committee has been constituted but has only met once, the statement noted. The policy also encourages each administrative region to set up within the regional and local government systems domestic violence committees that will be tasked with the responsibility of initiating and monitoring strategies, activities and support services. Such committees are yet to been established, even though at a UNICEF/MLHSSS workshop held in 2008, specific recommendations were made as to their composition and functioning, including the merging of such committees with local committees for the prevention of sexual violence that are to be established under the new sexual offences legislation.

Help & Shelter said it wished to remind the government of the various consultations on the policy that were held with stakeholders and the recommendations that came from those meetings to support policy implementation.

Help & Shelter also called on the government and parliament to ensure that the Sexual Offences Bill is speedily enacted. Every day that passes without an adequate legal framework, young girls and boys who are subjected to the most horrendous acts of rape and sexual abuse are deprived of vital legal protection, services and support.

Help & Shelter also saluted the thousands of women in Guyana who continue to work tirelessly in the support and defence of their children, families and our nation and urged that everyone intensify efforts for the elimination of all forms of violence in our country.

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