Noting the rise in alarming cases of violence against women amidst progressive legislation and a reformed Sexual Offences Act, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is contending that “the missing ingredient appears to be women themselves.”
“What men cannot do, at least directly, is that they cannot empower women, they cannot deliver women’s rights, nor can they guarantee women’s security. But they can remove some of the obstacles to women achieving these goals,” the GHRA said in a release on the occasion of the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women.
The human rights body acknowledged that government has put in place a body of progressive legislation to address violence against women, pointing to the termination of pregnancy, domestic violence, trafficking in people, and a reformed Sexual Offences Act, now available to the relevant agencies.
Moreover, the level of official rhetoric suggests the political will to move forward is available but the GHRA questioned “why then in practice are we going backwards with grotesque crimes against women and girls shocking the nation on a weekly basis?”
“The missing ingredient appears to be women themselves,” the GHRA asserted, adding that over the past three years men in Guyana have been encouraged and appointed to assume leadership of the struggle to confront violence against women.
The human rights body pointed out that “Priority funding has been made available to men; apart from the minister, virtually all senior positions in the Ministry of Human Services are occupied by men including the recently created Men’s Affairs Bureau. The Guyana Police Force, the Judiciary and legal professions remain culturally dominated by men. The same is true of maternal health services and the religious charge is spearheaded by senior male figures.” The GHRA said, however, it did not wish to belittle the outstanding work of both individual men and women to combat violence against women in all of these sectors, but “on the contrary we salute them.”
However, GHRA suggested, “rather than occupy senior positions, men need first to sort themselves out; stop rushing to one another’s defence, playing up isolated assaults on men by women.”
“This is not a war between the sexes, this is withdrawing from illegally occupied territory,” the human rights body insisted.
Meanwhile, the GHRA is calling on men to start “reeducating themselves and each other about women’s sexual rights, their own responsibilities, and their own attitudes and prejudices.”
“Empowerment of women,” the GHRA argued, “is more of a zero sum game than people like to think. In other words, empowering women means disempowering men. To effectively engage women in a process of transformatory empowerment requires women in leadership positions and for men to back off.”
And the GHRA also asserted that the role of well-intentioned men is to support that process by using their power and influence to implement effective legal and policy changes.
“This process has been effectively slowed over the past two decades by comfortable-sounding but short-sighted strategies such as ‘gender mainstreaming’ and ‘gender equity’ which largely benefit women who are more economically and socially insulated from community and institutional violence to which their poorer sisters are still vulnerable.”
According to the human rights body, gender strategies are largely public relations, i.e. usually devoted to making something look like something else, in this case projecting an impression of painless progress, but still leaving women battered at the same rates and ending up dead.
“Powerless women depend on men for money, have little education, live in poverty, do not control their fertility rates and generally have less forms of power available to protect themselves from all forms of insecurity,” GHRA contended.
It also acknowledged that Guyana, like most other countries, is confronted with a major and multi-faceted problem, requiring the cooperation of governments, international agencies, civil society, the police, judicial, education and health sectors and those linked to status of women, in order to provide a coordinated response to the challenge of eradicating gender-based violence in Guyana.
And while the range of issues can be overwhelming, the human rights body declared that the common denominators are straightforward, namely: the need to secure women’s reproductive rights; women’s citizenship, through the empowerment of women, and women’s security by transforming cultural values.
“The aim is to replace relationships of abuse with relationships of respect. Such respectful personal relationships should be supported by dismantling inappropriate belief systems and institutional practices,” the GHRA maintained.