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. Check out our website at www.caribvoice.org
Around 8:30 am on the morning of Tuesday August 23, we received a call from a Georgia based, former Guyanese educator. After expressing support for a letter of ours published that same day by Stabroek News calling on the Ministry of Education to organize a nationwide campaign in schools with workshops on self-esteem, he expressed outrage that more than a year after he had presented a self-esteem test to education officials in Guyana to administer to students nationwide, nothing had been done. He also expressed anger that such simple things seem so difficult for the government and asked where was the change for which he had fought and supported the government at the last elections. This kind of interaction has become commonplace for us, as many Guyanese want to see the government implement simple, inexpensive measures to help citizens, especially the young, to cope with challenges so they do not turn to violence including suicide.
“Voices Against Violence” is an attempt to get communities across Guyana involved in anti-violence activism, while fostering the concept of communal action for community wellbeing. This candlelight vigil, set for World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2016, under the theme, ‘Connect… Communicate…Care’, is an initiative that is inexpensive and easy to organize – each participant simply needs a candle or can even use a cell phone – and that brings communities together. Thus vigils can be organized by religious institutions, local businesses, sports and youth clubs, political party groups…just about any entity or set of individuals including schools. Where possible two or more groups can collaborate.
For the purposes of this vigil all of the following are considered acts of violence either against self or others: trafficking, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic and child abuse, rape, incest, teenage pregnancy, road carnage, dysfunctional relationships, neglect of the elderly, abuse of the mentally and physically challenged. Besides, relationship violence and its dysfunctional socialization can and do shape personalities that easily gravitate towards crime and attendant violence.
At the time of writing this article, thirty organizations, a number of individual activists, some local government bodies and business entities had banded together to organize ‘Voices Against Violence” and thirty two vigils had already been confirmed from Corriverton to Mabaruma and Lethem.
In Guyana, many do not think of suicide, alcoholism, drugs use and teenage pregnancy as violence and do not consider child abuse, domestic violence, rape, trafficking, road accidents as serious issues of violence. But violence needs to be seen and dealt with holistically because various types of violence are inextricably connected to each other. For example, alcoholism often leads to domestic violence, child abuse and suicide. And domestic violence and child abuse often create adults who sometimes graduate to criminal violence. In fact even violence against animals and the environment sometimes reflect personalities who become prone to other types of violence as seen below.
Abuse: Women are being shot, hacked, beheaded, stabbed, burnt, strangled, drowned… Although reliable statistics are not available, it is 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 according to a Stabroek News article a few years ago, 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. With respect to child abuse, The United States (US) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007 indicates that in Guyana the “vast majority” of cases of child rape and abuse are not reported.
All of this stacks up to gender inequity premised on gender-based violence and abuse, in which children also often end up being victimized. That corporal punishment in and out of schools is still the practice in Guyana, and considered a necessity in the socialization process, compound the problem. The reality also is that in Guyana, domestic violence continues to be seen as a 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.
Tragically too, both spousal abuse and child abuse cut across ethnicity, status, social standing and other ‘divides’ which suggest that such acts are somewhat normative and many, including some victims, do not see anything wrong with abusive behaviour, often until it is too late.
Alcoholism: On average, Guyanese consumed more than eight liters of pure alcohol in 2010 compared to the global figure of 6.2 liters, the World Health Organization said in a 2015 report. That is, alcohol consumption in Guyana in 2010 was equal to 8.1 liters of pure alcohol consumed per person aged 15 years or older. About 15.2% of male drinkers (10 per cent of the population aged 15+) engaged in heavy, episodic drinking, that is, consumed at least 60 grams of pure alcohol at least once per month. Also, 8.6% of males and 5.9% of all Guyanese aged 15 and older are classified as having alcohol use disorder, with 3.9% and 1.9% respectively classified as alcoholics.
Drugs: There are no reliable statistics on the amount of persons engaging in the use of illegal drugs or those described as addicts. However, a Behavioural Surveillance Survey, done by the government in 2003 found that 11% of out-of-school youth use drugs, as do 8% of in-school youth. Other users included 17% of GUYSUCO employees, 45% of female sex workers, 74% of male sex workers and 12% of members of the armed forces. Since then there has been a steady increase in the number of persons observed on the streets coupled with those who engage in the use of illegal drugs in a social environment. In fact, empirical and anecdotal evidence gathered by The Caribbean Voice indicate that in almost every community there are well known drug pushers, and that every community has drug addicts who engage in odds and ends work to support their habits.
The Guyana Human Development Report (1996) points out that “there appears to be an association between drug use and mental illness and the transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus,” that prostitution is linked to drug use and that many of the street children are into drug use.
Sexual Violence: Sexual violence and crimes against women in Guyana is escalating: a rise of one-third in rape reports (117 to 154) occurred between 2000-2004 and a 16-fold rise in statutory rapes (2 to 34). The rape rate in 2010 was 15.5 per 100,000 which would translate into a 124 rapes for that year – an almost four-fold increase over 2004 figures. Also, from January to September 2014 there were more than 140 cases of rape reported, while from January to July 2013, there were 179 reported cases. And the Guyana Police Force recorded a 68 percent increase in rape (243 reported cases) during the period January 1 to July 31, 2015 with most of the offences being perpetuated against underage girls.
Also, Guyana has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the Caribbean with an estimated 97 teenage girls between the ages of 15-19 out of 1000 becoming pregnant each year. Of the more than 60% of women involved in a relationship or union, 12.7 percent experienced sexual violence (media reports, year not given).
A 2007 report by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) analyzed sexual crimes between 2000 and 2004 and found that 92 per cent of all rape victims were females, 43 per cent were in the 12 to 15 age group, and 26 per cent were in the one to 12 age groups. It also found that Amerindian girls between 12 to 16 years were the most vulnerable group nationally. While these figures are alarming, most rape cases go unreported because of the stigma and discrimination attached; in Guyana rape is still considered taboo, too shameful to be made publicly known and a significant percentage of rape is incestuous. Besides, the 2007 GHRA report found that more than two-thirds of sexual assault crimes occurred in the homes of the victims while three out of four perpetrators were known to victims and one in every five perpetrators were related to their victims. And, fathers, stepfathers and father-figures are responsible for over 67% of family-related sexual violence. Use of condoms was reported in only 3% of cases.
Now, as we focus on ‘Voices Against Violence” we appeal to local and community leaders, businesspersons and others as well as community organizations, including religious institutions and sports club, to please help bring off this activity by ensuring that a vigil is organized in every community, collaboratively where possible. If anyone can spearhead a vigil, or knows of individuals or entities, which can organize vigils please call Bibi at 621-6111 or 223-2637, Pandit Deodat at 627-4432 or Keshni Rooplall 697-9968, Dolly Singh 266 5617. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Meanwhile, given the level of support for “Voices Against Violence,” we sincerely hope that as we move forward, the government will buy into the work of NGOs, faith-based and community-based organisaions, while simultaneously beginning to take action to expand and build on the work being done. And, we hope that out of this experience, communities would begin to take ownership for their overall safety and that the environment for NGOs to collaborate with community leaders and organizations to hold community empowerment sessions and help implement anti-violence training is being created. We also hope to build on the vigil as we explore the use of religion and prayers (National Month of Prayer), culture (art, music, drama), outdoor signage, the media, first responders and change agents in every community, to foster multi-sectoral collaboration and lobby the government to do its part.