Two days before the world observed International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Melissa Skeete, a young mother of four was brutally stabbed by her partner in his car and then tossed out on a city street. She was picked up and taken back to her workplace, the Georgetown Public Hospital, which she had left not long before, and subsequently succumbed. Up to the time this column was being written, the police were looking for the man.
Ms Skeete’s death brought the number of women killed by their partners or former partners to 13 as at November 23. While the figure for this year to date points to a huge reduction in what obtained over the past two years, it is still too high and an indication that the epidemic of women being killed by their partners needs urgent attention.
But the murders are only part of the issue; violence against women, including sexual violence, continues to rampage through Guyana. In most, if not all of the instances where women were killed by their partners, investigations have revealed that the murder followed years of physical, verbal and emotional abuse. In several cases, the women were killed after they ended the relationship or when they attempted to end it.
In terms of sexual violence, many of the cases involve minor girls and there is still too wide a gap between arrest and successful prosecution of the perpetrators. The investigative skills of the police have been called into question once too often. And there have been calls too for a specially trained unit to investigate rapes, rather than having just any detective assigned.
It is a fact that each person is an individual with special skills and in policing these skills should be carefully discerned, honed and put to use. Some are clearly more empathetic than others and it is common knowledge that people who are violated need to be treated with empathy rather than suspicion. Rape reports don’t often make the news, but two—both of which occurred in the Mahdia region—did because of the police’s handling of the reports. In both cases, the modus operandi in the perpetration of the rape was the same—the woman was drugged and then violated.
In the first instance last September, a young Amerindian woman travelled to the city to report a rape because officers in Mahdia had refused to treat the matter as a rape. In that case, at least two men were involved. Even in the city, the police had only taken the young woman’s report after the matter was publicized in this newspaper.
In the second instance last week, the young woman believes that four men were involved in the crime which was committed against her at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) building. She had immediately travelled to the city to make a report, but instead found herself being interrogated by the policewoman who was taking her statement. Again, the statement was taken in the way it should have been after the matter was publicized and both the police and the GGMC have since launched investigations.
Stakeholders have long pointed out that the questioning by the police and later by defence lawyers, amounts to attempts to shame rape complainants and serves to silence them. There are still cases where rape is committed and not reported.
Meanwhile, not included in the figure quoted above, is the number of women killed and injured in the course of robberies in their homes and business places. Then there is also, a high number of girl children who are beaten or otherwise abused on a daily basis, either at home or in school.
While every case of abuse and violence perpetrated against women and girls should be investigated and prosecuted, that is not and will never be enough to even put a dent in the pandemic. Eliminating violence against women and girls starts with education and sensitization. This education must begin as early as possible and must encompass every sphere of their lives. At home, parents must work at raising strong girls who know their worth and who will pursue education and independence. They must also put all their efforts into raising sons who do not view women as their property. They must live by example and this must be reinforced in schools.
Children on the whole must be taught that violence should never be resorted to in an effort to settle arguments. Ergo, using licks to punish children sends the wrong message.
It was therefore heartening to hear Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnaraine say on Monday, “I think beating children has no place in our schools and when you have to whip a child, it’s because you have failed and not because the child has failed.” It is hoped that moves will be made by the Education Ministry to give effect to this in recognition that eliminating violence against women cannot be achieved in isolation and must be addressed holistically.