There is no place for violence in Guyana’s schools

Dear Editor,
As member organisations of the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF), we are deeply concerned about increasingly visible incidents of school violence and bullying in our country. Recently, a video was widely circulated across media platforms in which a male student at a city high school was seen viciously beating a female student of the same school, both in uniform and in the school compound with other students witnessing. No one intervened to stop the violence against the girl.
Following the incident, Minister of Education, Hon Dr Nicolette Henry, MP, was quoted by iNews Guyana on November 27, 2019, in an invited comment as saying “students fight, there is nothing unusual as you would know, you have gone to school and we all would have seen those”. It was later reported in many sections of the media that the Education Minister visited the school, made the two students apologise to each other and spoke at a special assembly where she encouraged all students at the school to find non-violent ways to resolve conflicts. The Ministry also issued a statement that their investigation into the incident was ongoing.
The GEF finds these responses inappropriate and woefully inadequate. In a society where gender-based violence (GBV) remains rampant, a survivor of violence should never be made to apologise to the person who has perpetrated violence against them. While the Minister’s statements and intervention were no doubt made with the best of intentions, they, unfortunately, feed into pervasive and misleading stereotypes about GBV – that victims bring violence on themselves, act in ways that leave perpetrators unable to control themselves or their tempers, or otherwise contribute to their own victimisation.
These stereotypes are false and contribute to wrongful beliefs that fuel all forms of GBV, and violence against women and girls (VAWG), in particular. The only person responsible for violence is the perpetrator; the only person who should be held accountable and sanctioned for violence is the perpetrator. Survivors of GBV are entitled to support; they should not be made complicit in their own oppression by being required to apologise to the person who violated them.
The Minister’s statement also fails to recognise that this is a problem that goes beyond in-school fighting. GBV flourishes in environments of impunity. When education officials fail to intervene or hold students accountable for less severe instances of misogyny or discrimination, it becomes easier for students to feel that escalating behaviour, including violence, is justified or appropriate.
Minister Henry is right to call upon students to find ways other than violence to resolve disputes, but adults in a position of authority need to do more. Students need the adults and leaders around them, to demonstrate that being a boy does not mean being violent – it means being respectful, caring for others, and standing up for each other, especially when doing so takes courage.
During these 16 Days of Activism Against GBV, from November 25 to December 10, the Ministry of Education has an opportunity to stand in solidarity with survivors of GBV. Lead by example. Show that violence has no place in Guyana. The GEF calls upon the Ministry of Education to take meaningful steps to confront all forms of prejudice and violence in Guyana’s schools – between students, teachers, parents and education officials. Comprehensive Sexuality Education should be systemically rolled out in all schools across the country.  In 21st century Guyana, teachers should focus on teaching children to communicate, problem solve and build healthy relations – practically develop their people skills. Whilst the GEF is not suggesting that the education system abandons its academic goals, we have to deliver the kind of education that supports holistic development. And while discipline should be paramount in schools, corporal punishment should be eradicated as it perpetuates the notion that violence is an appropriate response or punishment for any transgression. Counsellors should be available in every school to provide therapy for students, parents and teachers who need psycho-social and emotional support. Perpetrators of violence should be appropriately punished. Survivors should be supported and not made to feel that they did anything to cause the violence. There is no place for violence in Guyana’s schools.

Yours respectfully,
SASOD Guyana; Help and Shelter; CAFRA Guyana; ChildLink Inc; Come Alive Network Inc  (CANI); Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA); Comforting Hearts; Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG); Family Awareness Consciousness Togetherness (FACT); Global Shapers Georgetown Hub; Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP); Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC); Guyana Trans United (GTU); SAVE Guyana; United Bricklayers; CPIC Monique’s Caring Hands; Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU); Hope for All Foundation; Dillon Mohammed, Conversa Global (CG); Women’s Wednesdays Guyana (WWG); SASOD Women’s Arm Guyana (SWAG); Human Rights and Social Justice Commission – Diocese of Guyana; Hope of Christ Anglican Church – The United Anglo-Catholic Church