Intimate Partner Violence

Next Sunday we will be celebrating “Mother’s Day” – a day set aside for us to honour our mothers. And since everyone has a mother – even in this age of surrogacy – we should appreciate what they mean, not only to us individually, but societally. At the individual level, our mothers bore us for nine months in bodies that underwent innumerable changes as we literally fed off them from fertilized egg until we could survive upon entering the world. But that “entry” meant that her body is excruciatingly torn apart, and in some cases can mean her death, as we should know from the unfortunately not infrequent reports of “maternal deaths”.
In our plantation society, mostly descended from slaves and indentured labourers, mothers had the double-burden of having to return to work in the fields within days of giving birth. Those brutal and authoritarian structures have clearly been passed down systemically, so that, in modern Guyana, much of the talk of love and caring for mothers remains just that – talk. A report from the University of Guyana which was released about three years 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, and this offers a clue as to what is really going on.
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.” And just last week, a 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”.
While it is routinely routed that “the family” is the building block of society, in Guyana, at least 30% of “families” are headed by mothers, without fathers to complete the normative “nuclear” family. As such, Edith Clarke’s 1957 study of the phenomenon in Jamaica, her classic “My mother who fathered me”, has recently been expanded and reissued because it remains relevant in the entire Caribbean out of our colonial experience referred to above.
On May 14, when we celebrate “Mother’s Day” in a world in which every facet of our lives has been commercialised to the nth degree, let us spare a thought for the actual conditions in which so many of our mothers have to survive. It has become clichéd to ask that we all show the love we shower on our mothers on this day throughout the year, but we know the pleas fall on barren soil. The LAPOP poll cited above explains why this may be so: “Socialization matters more than the circumstances in predicting the normalization of intimate partner violence.” But it also suggests a way to reduce the despicable behaviour: “Education has the largest predicted effect on attitudes towards IPV: more educated individuals are 24 percentage points less likely to normalize IPV (i.e., more likely to see it as a matter that merits the public attention).”
For starters, the curricula of our educational institutions from nursery to university should have explicit modules that socialise our next generation to view any form of domestic violence, including IPV, as reprehensible, and not to be tolerated. There must also be a sensitisation of the wider society through a programme of public education through billboards, messages on social and mainstream media etc against IPV.