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. Contact us at 621-6111 or 223-2637 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Check out our website at www.caribvoice.org
Shot, hacked, beheaded, stabbed, burnt, strangled, drowned, mercilessly beaten, chopped like fish…Guyana’s women are being brutalized and murdered and there is a little more than a ripple from the political establishment or the movers and shakers of society. These women are victims of “crimes of passion,” home invasions, sexual assaults, alcoholic rages, misplaced macho mindsets and isolationism/neglect by families and society.
Although reliable national statistics are not readily available, it is well accepted that Guyanese women continue to be subjected 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 jealousy (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).
Between January and September 2006, Help and Shelter handled 297 cases involving spousal abuse directed against women. They reported, 306 cases involving spousal abuse directed against women. In 2009, they reported 544 cases of domestic violence. A disturbing 61% of these cases were spousal abuse. Also, the organization reported 300 cases of domestic violence for the period January 1, 2010 – June 30, 2010, 48% of which were spousal abuse cases.
At the end of 2008, the Guyana Police Force confirmed that it had received and investigated 2,811 reports of domestic violence in the policing divisions throughout the country. Of this number, only 579 persons were charged and placed before the courts, while 299 cases were referred to the Probation and Family Welfare Department of the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security. The police also stated that in 1,609 cases, persons were “warned” at the request of the victims. Investigations were said to be continuing in other reports.
What is heartbreaking is that the actual level of domestic violence will never truly be realized, as many cases of violence against women go unreported and undocumented. 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 given that domestic violence continues to be seen as personal, private or a family matter with its purpose and consequences often hidden. Besides domestic violence is frequently portrayed as justified punishment or discipline in what is still a male-centric society.
Furthermore, many women are killed horrifically by their spouses every year, simply because the shame and the guilt of being abused by their partners blind them to the fact that domestic violence is not a domestic matter. In many instances, fear and/or 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, this kind of 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 women to be abused because it shows that they are loved (borne out by research over time), a recurring myth that continues to define far too many relationships.
With respect to the laws against domestic violence, there is a widespread perception that some police officers and magistrates could be bribed to make cases of domestic violence “go away.” Furthermore, magistrates and magistrate court staff are often insensitive to the problem of domestic violence and to their roles in ensuring implementation of the law. In addition, not all police officers fully understand provisions of the law. The government also does not prosecute cases in which the alleged victim or victim’s family agree to drop the case in exchange for a monetary payment out of court. Enforcement of the domestic violence laws is especially weak in the interior, where police do not have as strong a presence and courts meet only once a quarter.
Against this background there is the urgent need for a serious action plan to counter what the Minister George Norton rightfully termed a human rights issue. Recently announced measures 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 by 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 drops 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;
- eliminating poverty and introducing equitable investment in programmes and support for girls and young women;
- eliminating the conditions that have led to Guyana’s exceedingly high rate of maternal deaths;
- ensuring that all medical institutions have adequate amounts of rape kits as well as conducting timely DNA tests;
- continuing to focus on trafficking in persons and applying the full force of the law on perpetrators;
- 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 programs to provide better options and supports to girls whose situations put them at particularly high risk of coerced, unwanted, or premature pregnancy and parenting.
Given the fact that gender based violence has a direct and substantial connection with suicide, The Caribbean Voice also reiterates our call for school 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 to be provided to umbrella 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; for half way houses and more shelters for the abused in every region in Guyana (partnerships can be formed with NGOs that can offer space such as the NJASM centre at Port Mourant, and the Nirvana Humanitarian Centre at Meten-Meer- Zorg) and for provision of measures to ensure that those who work to eliminate gender based violence (and related issues such as suicide prevention, alcoholism, drug addiction) are able to do so in relative safety. After all the caregivers also need to be cared for.
The bottom line is to foster the concept of total health in order to help 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.
October, traditionally observed as domestic violence month saw 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 now that October has taken leave until next year. Tackling gender-based violence must remain an ongoing endeavour that must gradually incorporate all stakeholders. In this respect TCV and the almost forty partners, urge all stakeholders and activists to raise the focus on gender based violence as we embark on Voices Against Violence Anti-Domestic Violence Month in November.
We call on faith based organizations, religious institutions, priests, pandits, moulvis and imams; governmental agencies and ministries; businesses and employers; the media; cultural institutions and stars; sports bodies and stars…in effect, all and sundry, to get involved in gathering the facts, fostering awareness, setting up support networks and mechanisms to provide help, and developing pro-active interventions. Let us spread awareness, disseminate information, hold community interactive sessions, share ideas, engage in lobbying, write letters to the print media or call in to the broadcast media, learn how to intervene and provide support, become the eyes and ears of our communities and make the issue of gender based violence everybody’s business.
To let us know that you’re involved in Voices Against Violence Anti-Domestic Violence Month in November please email firstname.lastname@example.org, IM us on our FB page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/suicideepidemic) or post a message there. Call us in Guyana at 644 1152/646 4669 (Nazim) or 766-3597, 662-2161, 218-5045, 218-0475, 231-1260, 677-3597 (Sixtus) or at 718-542-4454 (USA).