Late last week I was privileged to share a session at the Pegasus with the Caribbean American Domestic Violence Awareness (CADVA) group. It was to observe the UN’s ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.’ I thought I knew about this curse, only to realize that there is so much more to be grasped, and which the media reports do not convey. I was shaken.
I was shaken to hear an actual 911 call made by a six-year-old. Present were the palpable fear and the sharp terror visited upon this child reeling, reaching, and begging for help in a desperate phone call, as her mother was attacked by her partner. It was of women being beaten, brutalized, and broken by those who once declared love for them, but now seek daily to degrade and destroy them.
Destruction was what was shared by an eyewitness child, now nineteen years old, who watched in paralyzed horror at the slashing savage chops that killed his mother, again at the hands of a partner. Trauma and anguish barely begin to capture that indelible moment as the simple hesitant words tumbled forth of the full awful horror, powered by murderous intentions witnessed in the merciless descending arcs of steel against cowering defenceless flesh.
As said earlier, I believed I knew something about domestic violence from the media accounts. Clearly, the stories behind the stories, of familial carnage, of an ever increasing madness, and of the pain that is always there did elude. That is, until now.
These stories were mutely testified to through a montage of fallen Guyanese women since 2010. There they were on the screen, once a piercing momentary news item of a vibrant life and promise snuffed out, now a faded picture; except for those who were there at the time, who still care, and who were at the Pegasus in what had to be a disturbing reminder.
These are the survivors (I must write a story or two related to them) numb, hollow, sometimes trancelike. They are struggling to cope, to move, to move to someplace distant within from what will forever haunt and hurt. They touched.
This society struggles, too many times in futility, to adjust, to change, and to overcome. This is particularly true for the men immersed in a certain culture that is male oriented, and contributes to ugly male domination in the most heinous ways possible and of the most devastating kind at times. It is an integral part and manifestation of the distress that characterizes race and politics in this country. That extension, that adjacency is now an irremovable part of the tradition and the culture; this is undeniable.
And it is just as undeniable that in the sanctuary of the hearth, the peace can be porous; it can be rent further by the aggression and hostility of the enraged male who commits outrage after outrage against those loved, and those once found desirable. To cut a fine point here, it is a representation of the spiralling violence, the contemptuous lawlessness, and of the reckless abandon of wider society.
What is the answer? More police? More programmes? More laws? More peacemakers? How about afflicted terrorized women steeling themselves to cut the ties and leave? The survival of the sensible demands a damning of all that binds under the umbrellas of culture, tradition, and reputation. Once bruised and beaten women can live with community and family contempt; there is no life in a coffin, only a grotesque finality. In some areas, this place is still trapped in the primitive, and sometimes irretrievably backward. Staying should not be an option.
At the same time, men have to undergo a revolutionary reorientation that starts at the knee, if not the cradle. Mothers and sisters, and the entire cocooning apparatus must inculcate respect, appreciation, patience, partnership, and care and embrace, among an unending continuum of uplifting qualities. And when all of this fails, then it is time for the man to go someplace else and start over. Real men do so. Quite rightly, alcohol, money, jealousy, self-esteem, and all the other sickly contributors from time immemorial have been identified as bringing men low, and laying the women lower below. These must not matter any longer; the lives and quality of life of the most vulnerable in the midst must be safeguarded. The lifelong trauma to the children ought to be considered, and the potential danger to society be discerned. Multitudes of (very) young men today stand as stark testimony to an ingrained disregard for the opposite sex, a flagrant flaunting machismo fuelled by the utmost in stupidity and lack of upbringing.
But what about the rest of us who hover? What about silent disconnected bystander, onlooker, passerby, neighbour, colleague, and parishioner, and a host of others? Silence is a sickness, a contributing virus that facilitates spread, and enables the fatal. The ancient escapism of “none of my business” has to give way to a rising tide of this is everybody’s business. The already appalling stench of being the suicide capital (per capita) of the world is embarrassing enough. Therefore, let each as individual, community presence, and concerned citizen be determined not to let violence (lethal or otherwise) against women in this society earn this nation another dubious disgraceful distinction before the world. Let all be so resolved. It is time to stop the violence.