“Orange the world: End violence against women now!”

On Thursday, November 25, Guyana will observe 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 is “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”
It is no secret that women worldwide, including those in Guyana, continue to face unacceptable levels of violence in various forms. World Health Organization has estimated that nearly 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, mostly by 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 to be 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 places more stress on women. The disruption of livelihoods and their ability to earn a living – especially for those women who are informal wage workers – would 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. Those measures include 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 joined the WHO and other partners in raising 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. According to the Human Services and Social Security 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 results in an overwhelming silence”.
As pointed out previously 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, the 914-emergency hotline which links 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 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 victim’s 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.

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