It is always heart-breaking to read in the media that one of our women was killed simply because of her decision to end a relationship and move on with her life. This year, so far, numerous women have lost their lives in brutal domestic violence clashes. As we observe 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, two incidents which occurred earlier this year are stark remainders of the magnitude of this issue in Guyana. Within a matter of days, earlier in the year, the nation was greeted with shocking details of two women – 20-year-old Shonette Dover and 44-year-old Nicola Sueanna Wilson – who were each killed in a most brutal way at the hands of their partners. In the case of Dover, her life was snuffed out without the decency of a proper burial, but rather her body was discarded in a shallow grave in Linden, Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) and left to rot.
These two cases are just a few of the long list of women who have been murdered over the years, most times during domestic disputes. Over the years, there were countless stories reported in the media of some form of gender-based violence, with women especially being at the receiving end of the beatings; and in some cases, even ending up dead.
The victims’ stories have been heartbreaking, as many of them were killed after years of abuse, and perhaps with very little help from those who should have provided the much-needed support mechanisms.
In many of these cases, children have been witnesses to brutality meted out against their parent. In the case of Wilson, her 14-year-old son rushed to her aid, but was helpless after he, too, was threatened with death. There was a similar situation with another boy who went to the aid of his mother in Berbice, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) as she was being stabbed by his father. In that case, the child pushed his father aside while telling his mother, who was covered in blood, to run for her life. The magnitude of the impact of this on that child, and other children who witness these incidents, cannot be underestimated. Those ghastly images, especially when life was snuffed out, are not only lasting, but profoundly traumatising. When young minds are so broadsided, the impact, if not managed, lingers for life. Not that it is erasable, but with meaningful and sustained interventions, the trauma can potentially be mitigated, thereby aiding to better shape lives. The entire spectrum of what therefore constitutes counselling then becomes vital.
The bottom line is that something must be done urgently to arrest the situation, as it is clear that what currently obtains has not been very effective. While protection orders have been effective to an extent, quite often the abusers do not abide by them; hence the need to undertake an urgent review of mechanisms currently in place to protect women from being killed.
Violence against women and children has tremendous costs to communities, and can remain with women and children for a lifetime. If not dealt with effectively, it can also pass from one generation to another. Numerous recommendations were made to the previous and current Administrations, yet nothing much has been forthcoming.
Over the years, the United Nations has been pushing countries towards implementing proactive measures to combat domestic violence. These measures have included criminalising gender-based violence, hosting massive public awareness campaigns, and providing training to equip both men and women to act as first responders and to support victims of the scourge at the community level.
Additionally, this newspaper had stated before that one of the greatest challenges Guyana faced in countering domestic violence was in changing the attitudes of the Police, Magistrates, social workers, and health-care providers.
Importantly, too, is that the lackadaisical attitude of neighbours, relatives, and community leaders who are in most cases aware of domestic abuse cases but yet choose to remain silent also needs to change. Everyone needs to be proactive in their response to the scourge.