Am I tired of writing about women being murdered in Guyana? Yes. Can I ignore this crisis and never write about it again? I could. But voices exist not only to document occurrences in our society; people must not only grieve when they read our writings or listen to us. We must continuously create awareness, propose solutions and inspire positive change.
Marrianne Williamson, who is a spiritual activist and author, wrote in her book ‘A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles’:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light and not the darkness that most frightens us.”
I love that reflection because, as I have mentioned many times, I believe in our power to chart the course of our lives. To be the most powerful version of ourselves, we must be able to control the light and darkness that is in us by creating balance. Often, it is our obsession with worry, our fears, our disbelief that we are in control and our training to look outside ourselves for solutions that keep many of us imprisoned.
Do I hope that we have seen the last murder-suicide in our country? Yes. But can hopes solve problems? No. Change will begin when we methodically begin to tackle the root causes of our issues; like the idea that women are second-class citizens and must walk behind men, instead of being the best version of herself by their side.
Twelve years of writing for the popular radio serial drama Merundoi has exposed me to the knowledge of behaviour change communication. The theory that there are five stages to behaviour change has been used to tackle many social issues. The subject for whom positive behaviour change is to be achieved is most often first unaware that they have a problem until something happens to bring them into awareness. Preparation is then made to change, but of course the person must possess the necessary skills; and then there is the phase where the individual actually makes the change and then there is maintenance of the change.
It is necessary to have interventions that target the general population. Knowledge is the first step in liberation. In the early stages of danger, people’s risk perception should be stimulated because they would have been educated and would have the skills needed to take charge of their lives. Such skills include planning and setting personal goals. Self-efficacy is the person’s ability to use their skills confidently.
Social support is also needed. Family, friends and their community can share information, offer emotional support and assist people in using and obtaining the services that are available.
Mass media influences the population. The media has the responsibility to not only share information, but to responsibly do so. There is no need to thoughtlessly share images of dead women. I would imagine that it does not only upset their families but may have psychological effects on members of the society. We are living in an age when dying people are often filmed and photographed; the videos and pictures are then posted on platforms like social media. Sometimes I have to wonder if our society is evolving or degenerating.
Just recently a video of the last moments of a Guyanese woman who was murdered by her husband in Barbados was shared via platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. I hope her children never see it. What did we do before smartphones and social media? Have we always been a people so obsessed with the macabre? Or, is it, as Williamson wrote, the light that frightens us? If in not being afraid of the darkness we use our energies to build our resistance, to show that we are not fearful, then indeed we can be powerful beyond measure. Perhaps seeking the light is too difficult for many and because there is so much darkness, it is easier to mourn instead of actively working towards change.
The laws and policies in place to protect our women must be enforced. Orders like the Protection Order, which is an order that a court makes to protect the victim and any children involved, must be enforced. And there must be access to services. Someone recently shared their disappointment in reaching out to the Ministry of Social Protection for guidance in a domestic violence case, only to be hurried off the phone twice. As a society we are quick to make declarations that we have measures in place to protect our women, yet over and over again, women are dying and sometimes it is the services that fail them.
Educational and economic activities are also necessary. Too often, when women are advised to leave abusive relationships, their inability to adequately take care of themselves and their children traps them. Every woman should be educated; she should develop her skills or talents so that at any point in her life she can be independent.
Unfortunately, not every man who would murder his spouse will change with behaviour change interventions. Some men are set in their ways and nothing said or done will change them. But others will change, and we can hope that they will inspire their brothers to find alternative solutions rather than murder when their relationships fail.
If we want our future to be better, I cannot reiterate enough that it must start with the children. Empower our children to be strong and respectful. Lead by example. Boys need role models in our society and the men who are those role models must help in leading the fight against gender-based violence. It is they who can probably reach their fellow men faster. The fathers, uncles, god-fathers, big brothers, religious and community leaders must take up the mantle to help shape the minds of young men so that they may grow into decent men.
Too many of our young men are being influenced by the violence they consume through television, video games, and the internet; their heroes are often artistes who constantly disrespect and debase women. The term ‘bitch’ is used to describe the female dog, yet it has been accepted as a normal expression to address women in many circles. And there are so many other degrading names, which, unfortunately, some women have accepted.
Gender-based violence does not only occur with the working-class or the poorest of our people. It happens in all sections of our society. Even educated independent women are also victims for reasons such as love, children, keeping up appearances and fear. And how can we judge them when we do not walk in their shoes? How can we also do nothing while our women continue to die?
When I interact with men who honour and respect women and who are concerned with keeping them safe, it is refreshing to know that our society is not overrun by hoodlums. And because of them, I know that all hope is not lost.