Guyana joined the rest of the world to commemorate International Day of the Girl Child, which is observed on October 11 annually.
It is apt that in using the day to recognise the potential of girls, the Human Services and Social Security Minister, Dr Vindhya Persaud, launched “The StoryBoard Initiative”, which, according to the Ministry, is a special edition of “Youth Unfiltered”.
This will give the girls, who are all from vulnerable groups across the country, opportunity to write their stories.
More importantly, the proceeds from the sale of the books will be used towards the advancement of the girls’ education.
It is important that girls, and more so women, coming from vulnerable groups be given a chance to earn and be empowered to stand up against violence.
It is no secret that vulnerable women worldwide, including those in Guyana, continue to face unacceptable levels of violence in various forms. WHO has estimated that nearly one in three 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 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 SG 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 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, girls 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 be passed 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.
Every year, between 25 November and 10 December – 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – Guyana joins 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. The Human Services Minister, some time ago, 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 keep this a hushed conversation, or results 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, including the ‘914’ emergency hotline which was launched in December 2020. Since its launch, the 24-Hour Hotline Operators have been seeking to 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.
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.