Letter from Guyanese women for Women’s World Day of Prayer, March 8, 2008
Guyana Chronicle – March 7, 2008
Guyana has been chosen as the focus of the World Women’s Day of Prayer 2008. In response to an initiative of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), the women members of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and Co-ordinators of Rights of Children (ROC) wrote the following letter which will be read in many church services abroad, today in anticipation of International Women’s Day tomorrow.
May we begin by saying how privileged and blessed we feel that Guyana is receiving the attention and prayers of so many women around the world today.
Many of you must wonder why such a small, unknown country as ours is the focus of so much prayer today. While we are challenged by many problems, it is not difficult to commend to your reflection and prayers the problem of violence, as the biggest threat that we face, both as women and as a nation.
Violence threatens both our personal integrity and national development. Widespread domestic violence – physical, mental, emotional and sexual – stalks the lives of women of all ages. Our Guyanese young women and girls, in particular, bear the brunt of high levels of sexual violence in teenage relationships. Both contribute to higher rates of the HIV virus among women than men and contribute to Guyana having one of the worst HIV/AIDS problems outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
Long-standing racial divisions in Guyana are constantly simmering, exacerbated by politics and drug trafficking. In the past month 24 people – many women and children among them – were executed by armed gangs in cold blood, in two incidents in poor, rural communities. No woman feels safe any more.
The invisible, intangible harm violence perpetrates cannot be restored by punishment or restitution. Only respect for the rights of women can restore the humanity to women, taken away by the violence of an uncaring spouse, violent criminal or sexual predator.
In a well-know calypso, the singer Gypsy asks the question. “What does it take to unite a nation and deal with the great divisions confronting us?” The answer we usually get comes in terms of power-sharing or re-introducing the death penalty, or more effective policing. Gypsy’s answer, however, is that “it’s gonna take time, it’s gonna take love, it’s gonna take trust; it’s gonna take you, it’s gonna take me, it’s gonna take all of us”.
We believe that each of us can indeed take steps to ensure that our own behaviour is not contributing, even in small ways, to attitudes and behaviour which lay the foundation for violence. We can stop ignoring people we sit beside in mini-buses or cafes, stop allowing people to speak disrespectfully of other races in our presence, not remain silent when every aspect of women’s lives is sexualized and degraded commercially. Each of us, in this sense, can influence our own personal world in ways which reinforce women’s right to human dignity, physical integrity and intimate sacredness. Violence dehumanizes women.
However, even to find the courage to take small steps we need the prayers and support of women around the world. We, therefore, commend the following particular needs to your prayers:
– the courage to understand and to accept our history, both the parts that make us proud and those that cause us shame, in order to set aside prejudice and misconceptions.
– to learn what God, the source of all understanding, is saying to us through our neighbours of other races, cultures and faiths, in order that we can go forward in the words of our national motto, as one people in one nation with one destiny.
-to bring about the spiritual and social changes needed to improve the quality of life for all groups in our community.
-to help young people to make wise choices in the midst of much confusion in the adult generation. Help us to find true dignity and self-esteem by creating a society which listens to young voices, respects their choices and values their multi-racial friendships.
In addition to our needs we commend to your prayers:
– that both men and women in Guyana dream common dreams of a life together, learning from each other, dealing with one another respectfully and thereby able to contribute the gifts entrusted to us by the Creator.
– We particularly commend to your prayers the many victims of violence. Ask God to comfort their families and all who grieve for them. Help us in our fear and uncertainty and bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love.
– Strengthen all those who work for peace, and help us to work tirelessly to renew our society so that violence will be no more.
Finally, pray that we find the strength and grace to forgive and to accept the consequences of violence as you love and forgive and accept us, in order that we may build our families, our communities and a better future for our nation “
Sharon La Rose – Indigenous activist & Co-President Nicky Boatswain – Student
Vidushi Persaud – Attorney-at-law & Executive Secretary Michelle Henry – Student
Melinda Herod – Community activist & Board member Shirvanie Persaud – Student
Julie Lewis – Disabilities activist &Board member
Fiona Johnny – Indigenous nurse& Board Member Rights Of Children (ROC)
Merle Mendonca – Programmes Coordinator
Female Members of Executive Committee
Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA)