Women's Issues In Guyana


It can’t wait

Stabroek News Editorial – March 1, 2008

On Monday last, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a multi-year global campaign bringing together the United Nations, governments and civil society to try to end violence against women, calling it an issue that “cannot wait.” This campaign, themed “Say No to Violence against Women”, runs until 2015, the same target year as the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

Monday also marked the start of 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence, which has been described as “a hidden pandemic”. Apart from the obvious – domestic abuse and partner-based violence – according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), violence against women manifests itself in some $9.5 billion in earnings for human-trafficking criminal networks, in such harmful practices as female genital mutilation, in the young women and girls who constituted 61 per cent of people living with HIV in Africa and in the use of rape as a method of warfare.

In an impassioned speech at the launch, the Secretary-General noted: “But there is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.” A simple truth, one might think. So how is it that so many people don’t seem to get it?

At the community level, there are still too many people who think that some women deserve to be beaten by their men. And there is a whole list of circumstances where they find this acceptable: if she cheats; if she doesn’t prepare his meals, launder his clothes or clean the house; if her behaviour embarrasses him, among others.

Despite having been trained, there are still countless police officers who will use the above list to decide whether a man who has beaten his partner should be arrested and charged.

In the legal system, mitigating factors are taken into account and ’slap on the wrist’ sentences are handed down to habitual abusers with in most cases no referrals made to counsellors or welfare officers for the abusers and abused. Sadly, even when death is the result of domestic/partner violence, the penalties, when they can be secured, never fits the crime and justice is really not served.

According to statistics quoted by the UN Secretary-General, at least one out of every three women in the world is likely to be beaten, raped, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. This truly is an issue that should not be set aside. Yet in Guyana, as caught up as we all are with the brutal deaths of 23 of our citizens at Lusignan and Bartica, the consultations on sexual violence, which had been gaining momentum just prior to those tragic events, have been placed on the backburner for the moment. The question is, however, how can we address crime and security without addressing gender-based violence. Violence against women is a crime and a threat to human security. It must be part of whatever overall strategy is put in place.

The Domestic Violence Act of 1996, which was enacted to tackle this scourge here, is still sometimes ignored or not applied.

Nearly 12 years on, all of its accompanying regulations are still not in place. There is no reason why after all this time this Act is not being applied as it ought. But Guyana is not alone in this, the UN noted that while laws against domestic violence had been enacted in 89 countries around the world, implementation was inadequate and impunity was the rule rather than the exception.

However, it may be that those in authority here will be able to use this new seven-year “Say No to Violence against Women” campaign as an opportunity to regain lost ground. Mr Ki-moon did note that there was no “blanket approach” to tackling the scourge and that each country must formulate its own measures to address it.

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