Yesterday (Wednesday, November 25) was observed as 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.
It is no secret that women worldwide, including those in Guyana, continue to face unacceptable levels of violence in various forms. The WHO has estimated that nearly 1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced physical and/or sexual violence, mostly from an intimate partner.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to increasing risks of violence, particularly domestic violence, against women. The UN recently pointed to reports from countries around the world which suggest that restrictions in movement, social isolation, coupled with increased social and economic pressures, are leading to an increase in violence in the home.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed had detailed the many problems women are faced with during lockdown, and made recommendations in relation to various forms of support governments and other partners could provide to ensure women are able to confront these challenges.
According to DSG Mohammed, women bear the brunt of increased care-work during this pandemic. School closures further worsen this burden, and place more stress on women. The disruption of their livelihoods and their ability to earn a living – especially for those women who are informal wage workers – will decrease access to basic needs and services. This situation increases stress on families with the potential to intensify conflict and violence.
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; holding massive public awareness campaigns; providing training to equip both men and women to act as first responders; and supporting 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 join 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.
The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security has launched a new campaign, <<#enoughwiththeviolence>>, to coincide with the initiative. According to the Ministry, 17 lives have already been lost this year, resulting in 43 children being motherless.
However, not many women admit to being victims of violence. According to the Ministry, “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 keep this a hushed conversation or result in an overwhelming silence”.
As pointed out by the 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 had previously called for urgent action to be taken by the Government and other partners to end violence against women. We are pleased that some steps are being taken in this regard. For example, it was recently announced that the 914 emergency hotline will be launched in December, and will link survivors to agencies, advocacy programmes, referral pathways, microenterprise industries, public-private skills employment database matching, and offer immediate help to extricate women from violent situations.
According to the Ministry, the 24-Hour Hotline Operators will offer support, referral to victims and survivors, family, friends and professionals via an integration of the services available at both the Domestic Violence Unit and the Childcare and Protection Agency.
It was also revealed that nine Social Workers were trained through the Survivors Advocacy Programme to offer emotional support and crisis counselling to victims of domestic and sexual violence and act on the victims’ behalf when necessary. These are all good initiatives.
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.