Obviously concerned about the high level of domestic violence in our society today, the Head of the Women and Gender Equality Commission (W&GEC) has pressed the need for more stringent measures to be taken to help save women’s lives, since many of them continue to suffer and even die at the hands of their spouses, or other persons close to them.
Almost every day we see stories of some form of gender-based violence being reported in the media. Not so long ago, we carried a report of a woman who was doused with acid by the father of her two children. From all indications, the couple shared an abusive relationship for several years, and it was only recently that they separated, which, from all indications, prompted the violent reaction of the man.
This, of course, is the latest in a slew of cases that have taken the country by storm. Sometimes the reaction by many is: when will it all end? But they do very little as citizens to help address the problem. Many times, they refuse to go to the authorities to report cases of gender-based violence; and part of the reason for this is that for many, this has become a norm in society.
This is quite unfortunate as violence against women and children has tremendous costs to communities and nations, and can remain with women and children for a lifetime. If not dealt with very effectively, it can also pass from one generation to another. Hence, it is necessary for citizens to speak out when they know of cases of persons being abused.
According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report “Behind Closed Doors: the impact of domestic violence on children”, violence in the home shatters a child’s basic right to feel safe and secure in the world. It stated that every child has the right to grow up safe from harm and should feel that those they love are also protected. And in cases where this right is violated, there should be a comprehensive response, taking into account the range of effects and needs of different children.
It stated that as many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home, indicating that this range is a conservative estimate based on the limitations of available data and the figures might be higher.
We are fully aware of the solutions that can help bring about change. We have seen hundreds of reports which detail recommendations and actions which need to be taken to arrest the situation. We have also had numerous dialogues with the involvement of all stakeholders, but yet the number of cases is going up daily.
The W&GEC claims that numerous recommendations were made to the previous and current Administrations, yet nothing much has been forthcoming. It must be noted though that a Domestic Violence Policy Unit has been set up to oversee the implementation of the National Policy on Domestic Violence. The policy calls for the Government to provide temporary shelter services, counselling, social work services, and legal aid for victims, as well as training about domestic violence for healthcare workers, Police, Judges, Magistrates, lawyers, and others.
We believe that it is time for the policymakers to revisit the issue and come up with practical solutions which address the scourge in a holistic manner, with greater focus on the root of the problem.
We had stated before that one of the greatest challenges Guyana faced in countering domestic violence, especially sexual violence, was in changing the attitudes of service providers – such as Police, Magistrates, social workers, and healthcare providers.
Additionally, awareness campaigns are critical to prevent gender-based violence, not only by educating persons of what constitutes violence and its unacceptability, but also to challenge the underlying attitudes and behaviours which support it. Awareness and early education on the issue would create wider knowledge and better understanding of the permanent damage caused by this type of abuse.
That said, while Government must take the lead in helping to bring about change, everyone – civil society, faith-based organisations, etc, must get meaningfully involved. We, therefore, support the call made by the W&GEC for a national discussion on domestic violence to commence once again with the aim of redesigning the critical programmes to tackle the scourge.