The local media reported on Friday that some 300 sexual assault evidence collection kits were delivered to the Health Ministry and the Guyana Police Force (GPF) to help women in remote hinterland communities who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
It is important in every society that there is unhindered access to justice for all, but, most importantly, for women who live in far-flown communities where resources are limited.
This is a critical pathway to the achievement of equality.
At the donation, which is part of the Justice Education Society (JES) project funded by Global Affairs Canada, “Strengthening Justice for Women, Girls and Indigenous People”, Guyana’s Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony said: “We certainly would work with our professionals to make sure that they’re properly trained, especially at our emergency rooms…We would also use the opportunity to train our healthcare staff in all our emergency rooms across the country.”
It is imperative that such a commitment is kept so that women and girls living and working in far-flown villages experience and receive the same level of access to justice as those who live in urban areas.
In previous editorials, this newspaper has said that sexual violence against children and woman is considered to be a gross violation of rights.
According to UNICEF, sexual violence can take the form of sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual exploitation in prostitution or pornography. It can happen in homes, institutions, schools, workplaces, in travel and tourism facilities, and within communities. Increasingly, the Internet and mobile phones also put children at risk of sexual violence as some adults look to the Internet to pursue sexual relationships with children. There is also an increase in the number and circulation of images of child abuse.
A UNICEF study, “Hidden in Plain Sight”, estimates that worldwide, around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point of their lives. Boys also report experiences of sexual violence, but they do so to a lesser extent than girls.
Evidence shows that sexual violence can have serious short- and long-term physical, psychological, and social consequences not only for women, but also for their families and communities. These include increased risks for illness, unwanted pregnancy, psychological distress, stigma, discrimination and difficulties at school.
In Guyana, the Police Force and hospital staff are key partners in the fight against sexual violence against women and girls. The Force must continue to provide the necessary training to its officers to properly investigate sexual crimes against children. Our women and girls need to be assured that when violence against them is reported, the law will act quickly to persecute the perpetrators and that our judicial system will function efficiently and equitably to bring such criminals to justice.
Importantly, too, is that all the necessary support systems must be put in place to ensure victims and their families are provided with counselling, etc, to overcome the trauma of sexual violence.
Women and girls, irrespective of religious, cultural or social backgrounds, deserve to live in an environment where they feel safe and are part of loving and nurturing families.
Many incidents of rape sometimes are not ever reported because of lack of confidence in the system to get justice.
Everyone involved in investigating sexual violence must take its mandate seriously and must not appear to be complicit in such occurrences. The public must have enough confidence in the authorities involved to report more instances of rape.
All women and girls, irrespective of where they live in Guyana, should have access to fair and effective mechanisms for the protection of their rights and be able to obtain a fair and just remedy in the justice system.