Women's Issues In Guyana

A ‘machismo’ sickness

Stabroek News – November 26, 2007

THERE was something quite special about this year’s observance by Guyana in joining with the rest of the world to mark the 26th anniversary of “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women”.

It was not just the picture of togetherness (as shown, for example, in yesterday’s Guyana Chronicle) in opposing the evil of domestic violence against our women folk. Expressions of outrage came from government ministers, representatives of the main parliamentary opposition, women of the legal and other professions at Friday’s public rally at Parliament Building, as well as in statements from non-government organisations

Rather, it was the unanimity and coherence with which those voices were raised by various women’s, human rights and other organisations against what Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee has deemed “the silent epidemic” creating havoc in family life and negatively impacting on the wider society.

As noted by women organisations of the PPP/C and PNCR, as well as the Guyana Human Rights Association, Red Thread and the Help and Shelter agency, it is not enough to have on the statute book the Domestic Violence Act. It is to ensure serious, methodical implementation as well as working to toughen existing laws, such as for sexual offences.

New Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand, appears quite anxious for the enforcement of tougher penalties against those found guilty of battering women and sexual offences committed against them.

As non-governmental organisations pointed out in a joint press statement on Friday, the prevailing attitude towards women who report incidences of the degrading crime of rape is one of scepticism by the law enforcement agencies — and, I would add — as occurs in court cases where rape victims are at times compelled to relive the horrors of that heinous crime against them.

Perhaps the time is now for Guyana to seriously consider the establishment of a special court to deal with family matters like divorce, custody of children, sharing of assets and, of course the horrible crime of rape.

Domestic violence reveals more than physical scars against women and traumatised children. They do more than shatter the norms of civility in family life.

This “epidemic” — not so really ‘silent’ — also impacts on economic productivity and social relations at various levels, making a farce of equal rights that others are fighting for in the face of a prevailing backward, brutal “machismo” that could be curbed by implementation of even existing laws while new laws are being drafted.

Women organisations, human rights activists and all those whose social conscience drives them to battle the plague of violence against women, would be encouraged by the militancy also being displayed across our Caribbean region and the extra-regional fraternal networks.

Together, they can keep hope alive for a new dawn in the international struggle to eliminate this crime against women whose fundamental rights are callously violated with recurring cowardly displays of machismo.

The perpetrators are men with no sense of shame for brutalising and degrading women in seeking to assert their concept of “power”, but betraying in the process a sad ignorance of the meaning of partnership and equal rights.

Given the common positions stated over the past two days by public officials and NGO groups, perhaps we can optimistically look forward to meaningful developments, including more effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act and introduction of new laws, before the observance in 2007 of the 27th anniversary of another “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women”.

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