There was an unplanned theme in the words of the women who spoke at the One Billion Rising – Guyana event this past Thursday. That theme, rejecting notions of using violence to end violence against women and the necessary inclusion of men in this process, was a turning point in how we address the issue of violence against women in the nation.
It was First Lady Deolatchmee Ramotar who first touched on the topic of using peaceful means to demand an end to the violence. Without even knowing what else had been prepared by the other speakers, she said, “We must not be tolerant of violence, but we must avoid cultivating a culture of hatred because hatred would only cause more violence. Violent retributions perpetuate a cycle of violence. It is necessary for the cycle to be broken.”
The First Lady also spoke on the need for men to step up and become a part of the solution.
Dr Raquel Thomas-Caesar also spoke of the need for good men to do their part in protecting the women of the nation. In a speech that had the audience on the edge of their seats as she spoke of being pissed off about rape, she said, “Rape is about power, control, and domination. We live in a macho society to some extent, so where do we start with change? Of course it is a complex issue but change, I believe will only happen if we also involve men in solutions. Good men must step up and speak out; good men must be mentors to young men and women.”
In her speech as the featured speaker, Former First Lady, Varshnie Singh, also spoke on the need for men to step up and do their part to end violence against women. She spoke of the need for a return to community spirit and caring about one another. Singh insisted that non-violent communication was the way forward – and I agree with her whole-heartedly.
It is interesting that none of these speeches were coordinated and all were prepared ahead of the event – yet they all shared the same characteristics. Good, it seems we are all on the same page. We know that the way forward in tackling the issue of violence against women is by teaching non-violent communication and to involve the men. Now all that is left is to find ways to implement these concepts – and quickly before more women are raped, beaten and murdered.
I am going to admit that cultivating this idea of non-violent communication has been a long road for me – though I am fully committed to it. I have even been taking a Peace Ambassador course for a few months now with the specific purpose of learning how to implement it into my writings and work as an activist against violence against women.
However, it has been even more difficult for me to not see men as the problem concerning violence against women when I know that it is mostly men who inflict this violence. It has not helped that, despite the protests from some men that there are good men who are against the violence women have been forced to endure, I have truly found very few (if any at all) who have been ready and willing to stand up and speak out against violence against women in Guyana.
Additionally, when men then blame women for the rape and violence perpetrated against them, it makes me furious. Needless to say, seeing men as the solution rather than the problem has not been easy for me.
Luckily, as anyone in attendance at the event on Thursday can see, I am surrounded by a solid group of dynamic women – Sisters – who are helping me to see past the many issues I have when it comes to including men in the struggle against violence and to see them as part of the answer to the problem.
I was very encouraged when a man approached me after the event who felt very strongly that the programme should have included a man. Honestly, I typically don’t take this type of comment too seriously because when given the opportunity to participate in being part of the solution, those same men generally run the other way.
Moreover, men are so used to being the ones in charge of well, everything, that they find it uncomfortable when women run the show. I had men ask me several times this week if there were going to be men in the Rising programme. Ironically, one time I was in a TV station where those on the programme that was playing and those producing the programme were all male, yet that didn’t seem to sink in for the guy who asked the question until I pointed it out.
However, this gentleman who approached me after the event seemed genuine. He didn’t act like he was owed a spot in the ‘Rising’ programme because he was a male; he truly believed that men were part of the solution. This revived my confidence that there may yet be hope that the men of Guyana will step up. Also, there were several men who attended and even volunteered at the event.
Involving men in the process is just one part of the way forward. The other part is implementing non-violent communication in the way we interact with our children, our spouses, friends, family and colleagues. The current way our culture communicates is killing us. Literally.
The best and highest way forward as a nation is to unlearn the violent communications skills we currently employ and put our minds to interacting in ways that will reduce and eventually completely eliminate violence in all its forms. It is time to tackle domestic violence – Gandhi style – through peaceful conflict resolution.
By refusing to take part in the violent culture around us and insisting on finding ways to communicate in a non-violent manner, we will see well-rounded children growing into productive members of peaceful society. And we will see women who are not living in fear of being raped and murdered.