By the Caribbean Voice
The Caribbean Voice is a New York based NGO that has been involved in social activism since its launch in 1998. Currently it is focusing on suicide prevention and related issues in Guyana and the Diaspora and is working in collaboration with partners – other NGOs, businesses, socially conscious individuals, the media and various ministries in Guyana.
Although reliable national statistics are not readily available, it is well accepted that Guyanese women continue to be subject to widespread violence that prevents them from enjoying other constitutionally ensured rights. Guyana’s Second Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) concludes that “violence against women is widespread in Guyana,” and cites a 1998 survey of 360 women in Greater Georgetown as evidence. The survey found that, “Out of more than 60 percent of women who were involved in a relationship or union, 27.7 percent reported physical abuse, 26.3 percent had experienced verbal abuse and 12.7 percent experienced sexual violence. Approximately half of the surveyed women responded that one of the likely causes of partner’s abuse was jealously (55.4 percent) or “hot temper”. Nearly four of every five respondents perceived violence in the family to be very common in Guyana (76.8 percent). More than one in three knew someone who was currently experiencing domestic violence (35.5 percent).”
According to the Stabroek News (Jan 17, 2012) “… domestic violence, and particularly the abuse of women by their male partners, is among the most common and dangerous forms of gender-based violence. Women become targets by virtue of their relationship to the male abuser and the violence is inflicted on them usually, but not exclusively, within the home.” Media reports also place the domestic violence rate as anywhere between 50% and 66% but some activists argue that it could even be higher and that a significant percentage of abuse never gets reported.
In effect all of this stacks up to gender inequity premised on gender-based violence and abuse, in which children also often end up being victimized. The reality also is that in Guyana, domestic violence continues to be seen as personal, private or a family matter. Its purpose and consequences are often hidden, and domestic violence is frequently portrayed as justified punishment or discipline in what is still a male-centric society and one in which children are still to be seen but not heard. Furthermore, in many instances, financial dependency on their abusers keep many women locked into abusive relationships, and continues to reinforce the patriarchal and social structure of Guyana.
Tragically too, spousal abuse cuts across ethnicity, status, social standing and other ‘divides’ which would seem to suggest that such acts are somewhat normative and thus very few, including some victims, would see anything wrong with abusive behaviour, often until it is too late. Worse yet is the fact that in some cases domestic violence has become generational. It is almost expected by some to be abused because it shows that they are loved, a recurring myth that continues to define far too many relationships.
Indeed Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton, was on the ball in recently pointing out that violence against women has reached crisis mode and thus there is urgent need for a serious action plan to counter what the Minister rightfully termed a human rights issue.
Against this background the agreement by Argentina to beef up Guyana’s Forensic Laboratory to conduct DNA tests is a commendable step, especially as it relates to gender violence resulting in murder, of which there have been unsolved cases. Also indications that the Ministry of Social Protection that gender based violence will loom large on its agenda is welcomed and it is hope that within this context teeth will finally be given to both the Domestic Violence Act and Sexual Offences Act.
Meanwhile, The Caribbean Voice hopes that Dr. Norton’s assertion of “…the need for a national action plan on violence and the introduction of educational and enforcement initiatives to eliminate this scourge” will quickly be translated into action and implementation with the necessary educational and enforcement measures built in. Indeed, given that nearly 500 students drop out of school per month and a majority of them are women, initiatives must focus on:
► encouraging education, including directing professional development towards helping teachers to better support diverse learning styles and levels of academic preparation, provide vibrant and diverse opportunities for girls’ leadership, frame learning experiences within projects that strongly incorporate individual inquiry, teamwork, and concrete, real-world applications and address behaviours that reflect intense personal challenges;
► reducing the number of families who are poverty stricken, including equitable investment in programmes and support for girls and young women;
on eliminating the conditions that have led to Guyana’s exceedingly high rate of maternal deaths;
on ensuring that all medical institutions have adequate amounts of rape kits as well as conducting timely DNA tests;
► on continuing to focus on trafficking in persons and applying the full force of the law on perpetrators;
► on engaging females as co-authors of solutions to the challenges they face in their lives and developing gender-specific and gender-competent programming to meet their needs;
► expanding school-based sexual education programmes to provide better options and supports to girls whose situations put them at particularly high risk of coerced, unwanted, or premature pregnancy and parenting. The Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association should be commended for its work in this area and we urge the Ministries of Education, Health and Social Protection to foster collaboration with this and other NGOs to expand on this and establish an ongoing campaign.
Given the fact that gender based violence has a direct and substantial connection with suicide, The Caribbean Voice also reiterates our call for schools counselors throughout Guyana; for placement of more social workers in every region and increased publicity of their presence and roles; for psychologists at all major medical facilities; for the reintroduction of the Gatekeepers’ Programme and for it to incorporate training relating to gender based violence as well; for sensitivity training to be expanded to all members of the police force, and health care personnel; for the suicide hotlines to be expanded to include issues of gender based violence; for incentives be provided to centrally based NGOs to expand their work to rural areas; for establishment of support and safety networks for abused women so as to cushion any economic and social fallout of separating from their abusers and so that victims do not become imprisoned by economic dependency and helplessness, especially where children factor into the equation and for provision of measures to ensure that those who work to eliminate gender based violence (and related issues such suicide prevention, alcoholism, drug addiction) are able to do so in relative safety. After all the caregivers also need to be cared for.
This month would obviously see an increased focus on gender violence awareness and promises to tackle same, but The Caribbean Voice suggest that we should not let this issue slip to the back burner once October passes by. Tackling gender-based violence must remain an ongoing endeavour that must gradually incorporate all stakeholders. In this respect we take this opportunity to applaud organizations that have and continue to be in the forefront of this charge to tackle gender based violence, especially the Guyana Women Miners Association, Help and Shelter, Red Thread, CADVA, Citizens Against Rape, the Mibicuri Community Developers, the Macushi Research Unit, SASOD, the Corriverton Counseling Center and CPIC Monique’s Helping Hands. We also take this opportunity to urge other visible NGOs such as the Dharmic Sabha, the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana, the Guyana Council of Churches, the Indian Action Committee, ACDA, the Guyana Foundation, the St. Francis Community Developers and so on to include gender based violence in their missions or to increase activism if they already have that inclusion.
Additionally, The Caribbean Voice calls on all NGOs that engage in medical outreaches to follow the example of Save Abee Foundation and incorporate mental health into these outreaches. After all not only will this be in keeping with concept of total health care but it would also help to eliminate the stigma attached to mental health so that gradually Guyanese would become comfortable in exposing gender based violence and its debilitating psychological effects can be more openly and widely tackled. The total health approach can be fostered by collaboration with the Ministry of Health and with religious institutions as Save Abee demonstrated and The Caribbean Voice is also willing to foster the collaborative process. In fact, we would like to map this process so we can be able to offer the ministry a list of all Diaspora based NGOs that engage in medical outreach in Guyana. So please also contact us so we can add you on this list. Just contact Bibi Ahamad at 621-6111 or 223-2637 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.