Uncomfortable truths to be faced in fight against gender-based violence – forum hears

The fight against the scourge of gender-based violence involves talking and listening deeply, but also facing uncomfortable truths, such as suicidal behaviours, and realizing that it is okay to be vulnerable, a public forum heard yesterday.

In commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF), in collaboration with the Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), held a public discussion on gender-based violence, which also served as a memorial for SASOD member Zenita Nicholson.

The forum, held at the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, marked the first of 16 days of activism planned by the GEF to fight gender-based violence.

Delivering the keynote address, educationist and rights advocate Bonita Harris highlighted the importance of being attentive to the sometimes subtle cries of those around us, openly speaking about our experiences and encouraging others to speak about theirs, and being self-aware enough to recognize how our words and actions may contribute to gender-based violence.

“Zenita’s death on October 25, 2015 must force us to humble up and reflect on the fact that we do not know what the face of suicide or the face of a suicidal person or the face of a woman in an abusive relationship looks like…We all have to pay much closer attention, look at and listen more deeply to the persons we know and care about,” Harris said.

She went on to speak of the need for regular discourse on the issue of suicide and the need for the elimination of the taboo associated with the word.

“None of us is comfortable talking about suicidal thoughts or even worse, suicide planning. We have to start talking about our own suicidal thoughts and getting persons to talk about theirs. The idea is not to get comfortable with thinking and talking and listening, but to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and talking and listening to the thoughts and feelings and actions that bring no comfort,” she added.

“Zenita famously said: ‘Today I am being honoured for my courage, but I have no courage. Not compared to those who inspire me to advocate for equality, human rights and dignity.’ The best definition of courage I know of is the one that speaks of standing up and speaking and sitting down and listening. We all know that of Zenita and all those whom she saluted for superior courage, those who she said ‘inspire me to advocate for equality, human rights and dignity’ have this courage and more. All of us may not yet have the courage to stand up and speak but every one of us can sit down and listen.”

Nicholson had been a victim of gender-based violence, but this was not known until days before she took her own life, leaving a series of letters addressed to her loved ones. The civil society and human rights activist had been the recipient of the US Embassy Woman of Courage Award in 2014. It was in her speech after she accepted the award that she spoke the words quoted by Harris.

Dr Carolyn Gomes, Executive Director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), in brief remarks, described Nicholson as a “light in the distance for her workmates,” a person who was committed and a joy to work with.

Gomes expressed her sadness at the circumstances surrounding Nicholson’s passing, especially given the amount of advocacy work she put in to stand up for persons experiencing the very issues she herself became a victim of.

“It was with great horror and sadness when we heard that Zenita’s light had dimmed and died. And it’s such an irony that the work that she brought such heart and soul to, the work of protecting others, of standing up for others’ rights, that she fell victim to the very unconscionable, intolerable, damage of gender-based violence,” Gomes stated.

“…Perhaps my biggest regret, is that we were not able to protect her in turn. And perhaps that is also a lesson to all of us, that we need, as those who are caring and loving and serving, to be vulnerable when we are overwhelmed with what we are given, and to be cautious and careful of those around us, that they are not being overwhelmed and lost in vain.”

The 16 days of activism continue today with the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association’s Women’s Empowerment Session at SASOD’s office at 9.30am. The activities come to an end on December 10th, Human Rights Day, when an Orange Walk will be held, starting from Tower Suites at 7 am.

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