On Friday, November 25 Guyana will observed International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Every year this day serves as a global advocacy effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women. This year’s theme “UNiTE!”
It is no secret that women worldwide, including those in Guyana, continue to face unacceptable levels of violence in various forms. World Health Organisation has estimated that nearly 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner.
Here in Guyana, the issues of domestic and intimate partner violence are very topical. Only on Sunday of this week, a young mother and teacher lost her life after the father of her child stabbed her over 30 times.
This escalation of violence is cause for concern.
A 2020 report from the University of Guyana showed that the “incidence of domestic violence by an intimate or previously intimate partner in Guyana increased from 74.8% in 2011 to 89% in 2017”, with more than 80% of the victims being female.” Many of those “intimate partners” are mothers.
The males inflicting that horrendous level of violence on persons supposed to be their “better halves” had to have been socialised in homes where such behaviour was normalised. A report from the year before claimed, “Half of all women who experienced Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in Guyana never sought help. Victims, community members and stakeholders attributed this to lack of knowledge of available help, perceptions of being blamed or stigmatised by their situation becoming known throughout the community, and inadequate support structures to ensure victim safety after reporting violence to the Police.” The LAPOP poll explained that indifference when it showed that 62% of Guyanese feel that intimate partner violence is a “private matter”. In Guyanese parlance, a “man and wife thing”.
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. Over the years, the UN has been pushing countries towards implementing proactive measures to combat domestic violence.
These measures have included criminalising gender-based violence, 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.
With effect from 25 November to 10 December, during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, Guyana will joined the WHO and other partners to raise awareness about the global need to prevent and respond to violence against women, and provide support to survivors.
However, not many women admit to being victims of violence. Some time ago, Human Services and Social Security Minister Dr Vindhya Persaud had said: “domestic violence remains a taboo, shuttered behind closed doors and only emerging as bloody faces, bruised limbs, broken spirits and dead bodies. Fear of societal judgement, insecurities about children and finances, family pressure and manipulation keeps this a hushed conversation or results in an overwhelming silence”.
As pointed out previously by Human Services and Social Security Minister, “violence against women is a heinous crime and a pervasive breach of human rights. Yet, it continues to be one of the longest, hardest challenges to the world, and involves psyches, attitudes, poverty, cultures, emotional manipulation, substance abuse and lack of education”.
We echo the call by the minister that better can and must be done. Everyone must work in every home, school, office, community, in every part of our country to expose violence against women where it exists, support the women, work with the perpetrators, create safe spaces, educate persons and share solutions.
That said, we again urge the Government to reconvene a stakeholders’ engagement to tackle the issue of domestic violence. The aim should be to reassess and modify current strategies taking into account the lessons learnt from past experiences.