Ever since 1981, women activists have earmarked November 25 as the day to fight violence against women. This day had subsequently been designated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by the United Nations in the year 1991, thus paving the way for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
The United Nations has called on all Governments, international organisations and NGOs to organise activities designed to raise public awareness of GBV as an international observance. Women around the world have been subjected to rape, violence, and sexual and emotional abuse; and although these incidents have been numerous, many of them have been, and continue to be, largely hidden.
Guyana has been struggling with the problem of domestic violence for years. In the early decades, the problem had been ignored because it had been considered acceptable for a man to physically abuse a woman. Rape, however, had been treated as a felony. As the decades came and went, women activists decided that violence has to stop, and so came a new battle that centred on an awareness that domestic violence, and all forms of violence, is criminal and unacceptable; and, moreover, the problem must be eliminated from society. The latter has been easier said than done, as the problem in Guyana is deeper than imagined. Violence has been ingrained in the male psyche, and is culturally deep.
More efforts at raising awareness and stopping the violence have been made over many years. Such efforts had been buttressed by tougher laws. Yet, still, the violence continued, and in some instances death followed. Already for this year, despite the laws and the awareness campaigns, some 7 lives have been lost, with 43 children being made motherless, and many other women continue to be physically, sexually and emotionally abused. And many of these cases still remain hidden, and go unreported.
Social groups, men’s groups and media advertisements have been used in hope that they would bring an end to violence against women; but all have failed to make a significant difference in our society, as is evident by the number of women who continue to die, and who are abused one way or the other each year. If laws, interest groups, and public awareness programmes have not been able to eliminate violence against women, then what would?
While the aforementioned measures would help the situation, there are three things that would help to eliminate violence against women from our society: passion, commitment, and everyone. The way in which we approach these problems makes a difference in whether the problem remains or is eliminated. Not everyone holds the same view on domestic violence. Some are against it, and some think that it is okay.
On the national front, we hear “stop the physical abuse”, but in the workplaces, in homes, in associations, in clubs, and on the streets, we see women being insulted and ridiculed. Where emotional or psychological abuse is accepted and not addressed, physical abuse would obviously exist. What this means is that some parts of the problem are addressed, while other parts are ignored; and many do not understand that all contribute to the bigger problem.
Our society does not share the same view on violence, which explains the different reactions to it, and why the problem continues to exist.
The Human Services Ministry and welfare groups cannot hold one view while some Police rank, in many instances despite numerous training sessions on domestic violence, has another view and the community has another view, which explains why they would see a man beat his wife and ignore it because they see the man’s action as normal. To put it in an analogy, when the horses pulling the chariot are running in different directions, the chariot would never reach the finish line. Only when everyone in society holds the same view on domestic violence, and are willing to take the same actions to stop it, would violence against women be eliminated from our society.