In 2016, a specialized unit to address the escalating scourge of violence, particularly against women and children in Guyana, was established within the Ministry of Social Protection. This unit, the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Policy Unit carries a mandate that seeks to protect, promote and preserve the rights, dignity and worth of all Guyanese, by advocating the provision of quality, comprehensive and responsive services to victims of sexual, domestic and gender-based violence (GBV) and their dependents; and initiating actions that hold perpetrators accountable for their behaviours. The Unit recommends, implements and monitors policies, programmes and initiatives geared at the prevention, reduction and subsequent elimination of GBV in Guyana.
Generally, victim/survivor support services are available to all Guyanese across ethnicities, social classes, sexual orientation, economic backgrounds, and statuses of relationships. Services can range from social assistance programmes, to justice and policing, health care, legal aid and temporary accommodations. As it relates to the latter – temporary accommodations for victims of sexual and domestic violence are offered as an option to leaving an abusive relationship, while a supportive environment is created to aid their rehabilitation and reintegration to society. Currently, two buildings are earmarked for the establishment of domestic violence shelters in regions 2 and 6; and 2 more are to be earmarked for regions 4 and 10 in 2019. These shelters will provide services to victims of domestic violence and their dependents and persons who were trafficked.
All services are presented as options whether or not the victim is desirous of leaving an abusive relationship.
The recent cases involving the gruesome deaths of Ms. Zaila Sugrim and Ms. Farida Khayum and the numerous earlier ones, have put the entire country and world in a state of pain and grief. Our hearts go out to the surviving families of these women. As a Ministry we commit to working with the families to address any residual trauma and to aid in the restoration of the family to some level of normalcy.
Violence in Guyana seems to have been normalized and accepted in all spheres; and the outcry seems to point to one agency to address this mammoth universal pandemic. The Ministry of Social Protection holds the position that a single institution should not be held solely responsible for the eradication of GBV. There needs to be shared responsibility for the state in which our society has become.
Our goal as a Ministry, is not intended to destroy families due to dysfunctions or conflict; but rather work with families to ensure that threats such as violence, inequality, poverty among others, do not erode this unit and infringe on the sustainability of generations to come.
Through the Ministry of Social Protection, another mechanism for victim support is the Temporary Assistance Programme for Domestic Violence Survivors. The programme is designed to offset housing related payments when there is, or has been a domestic violence situation. This can include the relocation costs (including moving costs and other travel costs); and the replacement of personal or basic household items (clothing, hygiene items, essential furniture items) left behind, if items are not available from another source.
Other areas of support for victims/survivors include:
– Provision of job aid/capacity building and skills training via the Board of
Industrial Training (BIT), Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute (GWLI) and
the Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency (CRMA) programmes
– Residential Care Services at the Hugo Chavez Rehabilitation and
– Financial assistance through the Public Assistance and Difficult
– Clinical Intervention (crisis management and case management services)
– Subsidized Legal Aid Services
– Search and Rescue Services for Trafficking in Person (TIP) victims
– Ongoing psycho-social support for survivors of violence post trials.
– Inter-agency collaboration in the area of continuing education,
entrepreneurism and victims’ advocacy support.
The Ministry of Social Protection developed a Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Policy and corresponding Implementation Plan; and a Costed Strategic Plan for the Empowerment of Women and addressing the Underachievement of Boys. These important instruments will inform the programmes and initiatives undertaken as we advance closer to the 2030 agenda, and more specifically towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 – achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. Further the Ministry continues to work with men and boys, which is also a critical feature towards achieving all the SDGs.
National efforts towards the prevention and eradication of domestic violence in Guyana have also been intensified. The Ministry launched a countrywide radio programme the “Cut-it-Out” Hour on two radio stations, which have a large grassroots following; and wider coverage across the country. For example, areas as far as Orealla & Siparuta, Mahdia, Lethem, Aishalton and many areas along the Coast benefit from this programme.
The Ministry is constantly engaged in numerous collaborative ventures that result in police officers, public officials, frontline workers, children, men and women being trained in improving their response to GBV – at various levels. International observances such as the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, Sexual Assault Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness month activities, are also mediums through which information is disseminated, and a call to action is achieved. Moraikobai, Bartica and Orealla and Siparuta were the recent beneficiaries of the Ministry’s ongoing regional public education and awareness campaign.
But this is just a miniscule number of initiatives of the Ministry geared at addressing GBV.
The task ahead is no simple and straightforward one to address GBV in Guyana. It is universally recognized that GBV cannot be addressed unaccompanied without the full involvement of all Guyanese.
Addressing GBV requires a multiplicity of approaches, at the individual, family, community and societal levels. The need to challenge societal norms that enforce negative stereotypes – making one gender superior or more entitled to the other, is of paramount importance. We must be willing to put aside our differences, whether political, racial or otherwise; and recognize that GBV affects every strata of society and there is an economic and social burden of dependency on our already limited resources. We must be willing to support the work of the Government, NGOs and civil society, and not try to stymie efforts that can achieve inevitable progress.
Ranetta La Fleur
Public Relations Manager
Ministry of Social Protection