Minister Jennifer Webster is re-launching the national Domestic Violence Campaign in March – so says the state paper. Ground-breaking news! They’ll be a fitness walk and the National Committee for the Family will be coming on board. Big News!
Hold on! Let’s do a national poll to find out just how many Guyanese know about this Family Committee including the names of its members, what its mandate is and just how much it has accomplished up to now. Sometimes you get to thinking that these committees are formed purely for political bragging rights and because the names look good in the news.
“women should be celebrated, not violated!” Nice slogan Minister Jen! But how does that change anything? How does that stop our women from being exploited and brutalized? More to the point Minister, does that slogan apply to those prominent, politically connected men in our society – some of whom may well find themselves sitting on one anti-domestic violence committee or another – three of whom have been in the news recently accused of one form or another of violence against women.
Incidentally, Mr President, you really ought to consider parting company with your gender relations advisor or whatever the title that has been given to the person who advises you on these issues. Frankly Sir, in year 2012 we expect far more insightful pronouncements from our President than the one you made recently (and I quote) “it is a criminal and abhorrent act when any woman is abused end no woman should be a victim of sexual or domestic violence.” Quite true, Mr President; but more than a tad repetitive. Ought you not to be making far more profound pronouncements and instituting tough policy measures in the realm of violence against women, leaving that kind of time-worn rhetoric to the sloganeers and the PR people and the bureaucrats whose only concern is with the sound bite effect of what they say?
To return to Minister Webster’s re-launch of the Domestic Violence Campaign, perhaps – for the time being – her newness to the portfolio ought to afford her the benefit of the doubt; except of course that she needs to understand that fitness runs and new committees and symposia and gatherings at the National Convention Centre at which the President and the various experts on domestic violence speak wouldn’t cut it any longer. More than that curbing domestic violence is inextricably bound up with creating more social and economic opportunities for women. The beatings and the bullying and the emotional abuse derive mostly from situations in which the women can’t do better. They are beaten and bullied and abused because they are trapped in circumstances from which their means afford them no escape. Here’s where you can help, Minister. Get the government to do more to liberate women; educate them, create decent work; things of that nature give them weapons with which to fight back. Stop patronizing them and give them proper jobs, provide them real alternatives to their condition of dependency. Do that and they will do much more than speak out. They will opt out.
Let’s face it Minister, these are far better options than awareness-raising fitness walks, the outcomes of which we have no way of measuring and throwing in the National Committee for the Family which most victims and potential victims of abuse have probably never heard anyway.
Another thing Mr President, Madame Minister, every time we pontificate and prevaricate about prosecuting prominent men accused of running women down with their high-performance vehicles, physically assaulting women performing important national duties and sexually assaulting women we open the political administration to the kind of criticism that says that its re-heated, warmed up domestic violence campaigns amounts to no more than going through the motions for the sake of appearances. Let’s stop palancing (to borrow a popular term from the language of the streets and get on with the real task of protecting our women.