The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is a good time for us to assess the status of women as it relates to violence against women and girls and generally. This month marks 18 months of a new APNU+AFC political administration, whose manifesto promises and actions as they relate to women have by and large not been delivered.
No gender policy has resulted in spite of the hosting of a national women’s conference at great expense, and further consultations with women’s groups, NGOs and in the regions. A year ago, Help & Shelter and Red Thread submitted to the Ministry of Social Protection’s Gender Unit, written recommendations for Guyana’s gender policy. On enquiring about the status of the policy we were told that the Gender Unit was awaiting a gender specialist and was still consulting in the regions. Recommendations were also made repeatedly to the Minister of Social Protection by Help & Shelter that in the interim, the National Domestic Violence Policy should be re-activated and implemented, as it is as relevant today as it was in 2008 when it was first introduced after countrywide consultations and the setting up of the multi-sectoral oversight committee for monitoring policy implementation. During the past 18 months, domestic violence has continued to escalate, femicides (killing of women by intimate partners) have continued to claim the life of at least one women a month, making Guyana one of the countries with the highest per capita rate for women being murdered as a result of domestic violence, and leaving scores of vulnerable children not only motherless but fatherless, as many of the killers either committed suicide or are imprisoned. This cannot be the good life promised for the countless victims and survivors of gender-based violence, including orphaned and at risk children.
It seems that the failure of government to deliver a national response to the problem of domestic violence, lumping it within the category of interpersonal violence and failing to deliver a coherent and informed national gender policy, bodes no good for the advancement of women and girls and gender equality in Guyana.
It is inexplicable why the Ministry of Social Protection has also failed to convene the Sexual Offences Task Force, to which an entire section of the Sexual Offences Act is devoted. This failure occurs in the face of sexual offences continuing unabated in homes, communities, schools and workplaces, and affecting girls and women disproportionally more than any other category of persons. As with domestic violence, there has been no coherent plan, policy or programme by the APNU+AFC government to address these heinous crimes.
This is even more perplexing when UNICEF’s recent situational analysis reports states that “boys and girls in Guyana are exposed to elevated levels of sexual psychological and physical abuse at home and in their communities” and that exposure to gender-based violence in the home “contributes to the aggravated situation of violence against children”. Sexual abuse was identified in UNICEF’s situational analysis report as the second most frequent form of abuse perpetrated on children in Guyana.
The 2016 US State Department report on Guyana indicates that out of the 233 reports of rape received in 2015, only 36 persons were actually charged. These numbers reflect either poor or no investigation by police, survivors opting or being coerced to drop charges ‒ a frequent occurrence for child victims but one that is now a sexual offence with penalties of 5 years and a fine of $1 million ‒ or the slow working of the courts and the lack of an adequate number of judges.
The UNICEF report identifies impunity as a major bottleneck in the system, with victims and witnesses afraid of reporting abuses.
We note the recent establishment of a Sexual & Domestic Violence Unit in the Ministry of Social Protection and sincerely hope that this will result in long overdue action being taken to address the deficiencies mentioned above.
For Help & Shelter