Women's Issues In Guyana

Manickchand signals tougher penalties for violence against women

Guyana Chronicle – November 25, 2006

MINISTER of Human Services and Social Security, Ms Priya Manickchand has called for a halt to the silence that confronts women and girls who are victims of violence, when they seek justice, safety and rehabilitation.

She issued the exhortation yesterday, while addressing a rally at Public Buildings, Brickdam, Georgetown, to mark the 26th anniversary of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Woman today, under the theme ‘The justice system must protect women from violence.’

Manickchand said violence against women is the world’s most pervasive human rights violation, more often ignored.

She said, although the Government is firmly committed to eradicating it in this country, women are still, sometimes, denied protection and persons who perpetrate such acts are rarely brought to justice.

“Even with all that has been done, even with the tireless efforts by many to curb this ill, I am deeply concerned that incidents of the various forms of violence against women continue to happen,” Manickchand lamented.

She said it means that existing measures to protect women are inadequate, ineffective and, sometimes, biased against them. Therefore, mechanisms that are already in place must be strengthened and new, better and more effective measures implemented.

Minister Manickchand said some of the steps taken to deal with this “sickening phenomenon” include the enactment of the 1996 Domestic Violence Act which provides relief for women and one of which Guyanese can be proud.

In addition, Police officers and the magistrates have undergone training in relation to their duties and functions under that law.

“As proud as we can be of the existence of the Act, prouder still we can be when all of our Police treat the complaints they receive in accordance with its provisions. Prouder still we can be when applications made to the courts are, without exception, dealt with as expeditiously as was intended by the Act,” she emphasised.

According to the minister, her ministry is undertaking a vigorous exercise to draft legislation relating to sexual offences which will make various acts of violence against women clearly defined crimes.

Appropriate measures are going to be taken to impose penalties and punishment and other enforcement mechanisms will be devised to prevent and eradicate sexual violence, to eliminate gender bias and to ensure justice and fairness to both the victim and accused, Manickchand said.

Integral to this process of prevention and eradication is the provision of accessible and affordable legal services to ensure the just and speedy resolution of matters and she indicated that, to this end, the Government, in collaboration with the Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic to extend them to Regions Five (Mahaica/Berbice) and Ten (Upper Demerara/Berbice), from January 2007.

Meanwhile, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), Help and Shelter and Red Thread, in a joint press release, urged that attention be focused on reforming policy and the sexual offences law.

They said the dominant attitude towards women who report rape is scepticism, despite the fact that false accusations of sexual offences are less common than other crimes.

“The disgraceful reality is that the legal system is so stacked against conviction that no woman can be blamed for deciding not to report that she has been raped,” the organisations said.

The release demanded that the Government and civil society work together to make sure there is effective justice for women and girls who remain the overwhelming victims of all forms of violence.

The release noted that, while some aspects of the justice system are slowly improving, legal decisions continue to be profoundly affected by assumptions about what constitutes “real rape.”

“Justice in this area must challenge the myths that women lie about rape, must recognise the predominance of rape by acquaintances and partners and must focus on the role of coercion rather than consent,” the statement said.

It added that, if the spectre of sexual violence hanging over women and girls is to be abolished, perpetrators must be held fully accountable for their deeds.

Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Clement Rohee also released a message on the occasion of ‘Domestic Violence Day’, calling it a “silent epidemic” which is under reported to the authorities.

He challenged the Police to ensure that there is improved record keeping on domestic violence.

Rohee said, through the Citizens Security Programme, the Police, in collaboration with civil society entities, are working to prevent domestic violence, counsel offenders to prevent recurrence, increase legal protection for victims and their families and support victims to rebuild their lives.

He said the problem requires a transformation in societal attitudes to both victims and abusers and the various sectors, such as Police, health services and the judiciary must get together on the issue.

Rohee said, if this matter is not addressed, the consequences will be great.

Violence against women includes physical and sexual violence, as well as economic, psychological and emotional abuse and occurs in the family, in such forms as threats, intimidation, battery, sexual abuse, economic deprivation, marital rape and in the community, in such forms as threats, rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, intimidation and trafficking in women.

Over the next 16 days, regions across the country will be hosting various activities to mark the observance.


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