Violence prevalent against women in Guyana – US report
Kaieteur News – March 11, 2006
The US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report for 2005 has stated that violence against women in Guyana , including domestic violence, was widespread and crossed racial and socio-economic lines during last year.
The report noted that the law prohibits domestic violence, gives women the right to seek prompt protection, and allows victims to seek protection, occupation, or tenancy orders from a Magistrate.
Penalties for violation of protection orders include fines of up to $10,000 and 12 months imprisonment; however, this legislation frequently was not enforced.
The report said that according to Help and Shelter, the government used laws against domestic violence with some measure of success; the problems laid with the failure of those responsible for implementation.
Help and Shelter said that all Magistrates and Magistrate’s Court staff needed to be more sensitive to the problem of domestic violence and to their roles in ensuring implementation of the law.
In addition, not all police officers fully understood provisions of the law.
Between January and September, Help and Shelter handled 312 abuse cases, including child, spousal, non-spousal, and other domestic abuse; 215 of the cases involved spousal abuse directed against women.
In the report it was stated that the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) noted that women lacked protection against sexual and physical exploitation and abuse, and said that institutional resistance in all sectors, including law enforcement, the judiciary, and the legal profession, seriously contributed to the increase in violence against women.
The report said that although rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, it was a serious but infrequently reported or prosecuted problem. While increasing numbers of victims reported these crimes to the authorities, victims were socially stigmatised.
It was also pointed out that even though a judge has discretion to issue a sentence of any length in a rape conviction, depending upon the circumstances and severity of the act committed, the established trend appeared to be a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.
By the end of July, official records from all Magisterial Districts recorded 50 rape charges.
However, the Chief Probation and Family Welfare Officer stated that a realistic figure likely was double the official one because victims were reluctant to file charges or report cases.
Statistics showed that in more than 70 percent of sexual assault cases, the victim was under the age of 18.
According to a study released by GHRA, there were only nine convictions from 647 rape reports for the period 2000-04.
The study described “unreconstructed chauvinism” of the country’s legal culture as one of the biggest obstacles in delivering justice for victims.
The report stated that prostitution in Guyana is illegal but widespread, and it received greater public attention due to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS among prostitutes and increased attention to trafficking in persons.
It was found that although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, there was no legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace.
Officials of the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI), a collaborative effort between the government and the UNDP, asserted that sexual harassment was a significant problem. WLI reported that while the problem is widespread, victims were reluctant to make official reports due to fear of the associated stigma and a lack of confidence in the legal system to deliver justice promptly.
Although women constituted a significant proportion of the workforce, there were credible reports that they were not equally treated and faced disadvantages in promotion. The Women’s Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Labour monitored the legal rights of women, but its role was limited to employment-related services.