Stabroek News – August 9, 2005
Amid the saturation of national life by crime and politics it is easy to forget or overlook noble efforts by the non-governmental segments of society to promote positive change or to shine a light on serious problems.
There were two recent examples that are worthy of recognition and further examination. The first is the report compiled by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) on rape cases entitled `Without Conviction: Sexual Violence Cases in the Guyana Justice System’. Contained within the report is the startling revelation that there have been only nine convictions out of the 647 rape reports made to the police in the last five years. Only three per cent of the cases went to trial during that time.
The GHRA said that the study was done to raise public awareness of the low level of legal and judicial protection from sexual violence available to women. The statistics were gleaned from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Guyana Police Force and the High Court Registry in Demerara and the sub-registry in Berbice.
What the presentation of the report does is to provide an overview and analysis of the rape reports made over the period in a manner that allows important trends to be discerned. The media could report each day that a rape report has been made to the police but without the collation of these and analysis they would be singular events without the connecting thread. By carefully gathering details on the reports, the GHRA study has allowed clear trends to be picked up right away.
The study should now cause the police force, the judiciary and women’s groups to critically examine what has gone wrong and is still wrong in the procedures for handling rape complaints and to stimulate change.
It is a study of great value – one of a series that has come from the GHRA – and the type of endeavour that many more in the non-governmental sector should be concentrating on instead of just engineering convenient rhetoric.
It is also the type of work that the media should be doing more of though in its defence it could be said that getting data on even the most innocuous of subjects is usually a major problem and this newspaper has also suffered from this. Requests are generally ignored or greeted with a long line of excuses. We are still not a data sensitive and data ready society and this weakens our ability to make informed and accurate judgements on a whole range of things.
The other event of note this week was the expansion of HIV awareness efforts by the Guyana Central Arya Samaj (GCAS). In an environment where many faith-based organisations have adopted a holier than thou attitude with respect to HIV/AIDS awareness or simply ignore it in the hope that they don’t have to address its seriousness, the GCAS and several others like it have taken a very progressive stand. None of the religious flock, be they in mandirs, temples or masjids should be considered as having some inherent protection for themselves and families from this scourge. That should be the starting point for all of these organisations and they should give their membership the opportunity to learn more about the disease and its consequences.
It is also refreshing that the GCAS has been able to mobilise its youth to pioneer this effort and to communicate it to a national audience through its audio drama `Ziddi’. It will also allow the discussion to blossom in families on these subjects.
Perhaps the GCAS and the other groups that have led the way can consult with other religious organisations to pool resources and ideas to further HIV/AIDS awareness.
The Ministry of Health can also enlist these religious groups to support its efforts by circulating information on HIV treatment options and on other health-related issues.
Both the GHRA and the GCAS should be complimented for their sterling efforts.