Tackle domestic violence realistically and holistically

Dear Editor,
The coronavirus has led to a surge in domestic violence, leaving victims and their children struggling to find access to food, safe housing, and transportation, according to a new study by Rutgers University. The study showed that some victims were met with various challenges and barriers — including a lack of food, shelter, transportation, childcare, and opportunities for employment — that pressured them to live in communities near their abusive partners. Others were forced to move back in with their abusers after finding themselves having to choose between being abused or being homeless.
While this study focused on the US, the findings are applicable globally and, in many cases, such as Guyana, for example, the situation is far worse, as The Caribbean Voice has found out. And given the fact that many experts and stakeholders have repeatedly stated that the mental health pandemic that is resulting from and will follow the coronavirus pandemic will, among others things, see a dire situation with respect to domestic violence, we in The Caribbean Voice are somewhat puzzled to read a DPI news article which stated that a certain NGO is collaborating with one the Ministries to make available low-cost housing for domestic violence victims.
To date, Guyana has been able to afford one safe house or shelter for DV victims but now they are going to build homes for the thousands who are victimised annually? And how will these victims pay for the homes, especially given that our own experience on the ground reveal that the vast majority cannot earn that kind of money even if they work two or more jobs?
Also, the article mentioned a care plan. Is that care plan premised on a multi-agency/stakeholder approach? For example, are the police, regional administrations, NGOs, CSOs involved? Are there any plans to bring back and expand the gatekeepers’ programme to embrace communities across Guyana? Is this plan comprehensive enough to address the many needs of domestic violence victims and their children? Is a safety first and always mechanism built into the plan?
In effect, shouldn’t realism be the basis for making such plans, which should also be systematic and concerted? How about ensuring that each of the ten regions first have safe houses and shelters along with an ambulance each and rapid response transport to move victims and their children to safety as quickly as possible? This way assistance can be given to all victims since it is literally impossible for more than a handful, if that many, houses to be built in any single year and also because as fabulous an idea that low-cost housing seems, it does not make the victims any safer.
Thus, while safe houses would ensure safety and shelters would provide accommodation, steps can then be taken to create safety especially through:
* orders of protection which must have teeth to protect victims;
* sensitising of all police officers and building of DV units in every region;
* launching a programme to develop safety planning awareness;
* establishing gatekeepers in every community to help victims implement their safety plans before its too late;
* counselling (by clinically trained and experienced counsellors, not quacks or individuals given some quick courses over a few days, weeks or months) available for victims and their children;
* support services to ensure that they are able to meet their (and family) needs for food and clothing;
* training/retraining to provide them marketable skills and a mechanism to ensure job placements;
* viable steps to address toxic masculinity and the factors that give rise to abuse;
* a campaign to address dysfunctional relationships.
During this pandemic, domestic violence victims have been falling through the cracks and the little that TCV and other stakeholders have been able to do has been but a drop in the ocean. Is it not time, therefore, that ad hoc, piecemeal ‘plans’ give way to wholistic, viable and national efforts to address domestic violence across the nation? That all stakeholders and all platforms be embraced and harnessed: from faith-based to mass-based institutions, from the Private Sector to international stakeholders, from social to traditional media, from culture to sports?
The Honorable Minister of Human Services and Social Security is a caring, compassionate humanitarian and social empowerment activist and advocate and we believe that she does realise that a realistic, holistic approach is the way to go. Perhaps to a mechanism such as the Friendship Bench, pioneered by Zimbabwe, which provides communities with talk therapists, is a good starting point and one that can help beyond domestic violence. This training can run concurrently with the relaunch of the gatekeepers’ programme to maximise resource use. But even for these first steps the establishment of a database of stakeholders – NGOs, CSO, FBOs and civic entities – is imperative to be able to reach into and connect with all communities across the nation.
A little something here and there has not proven to have any effect whatever nor has the limited, individual efforts of a few entities done much to stem the tide especially when most of the funding provided goes towards overheads such as salaries, various utility bills, rentals, transportation and the like. Most importantly, scarce resources should not be used on photo ops and pageantry, as has been the case in the past. Finally, may we suggest piggybacking as a viable, cost-effective instrument to get the most done for the least resource deployment?
The Caribbean Voice