India’s Supreme Court earlier this month, struck down a legal clause that permits men to have sex with their underage wives. The judgment stated that girls under 18 would be able to charge their husbands with rape, as long as they complained within one year of being forced to have sexual relations. Should this not be an instructive case for nations like Guyana where the age of consent is still 16 but the age of adulthood is 18?
Actually, two years ago The Caribbean Voice launched an online petition for the age of consent to be raised to 18. Now we are rooting for the realization of the Director of the Childcare & Protection Agency, Ann Green’s plan to have such a registry in 2018. As well, we appeal to readers to please sign our petition and urge others to do so by clicking on the ‘Age of Consent’ link at the bottom of the index page on our website – www.caribvoice.org so that we can boost the registry’s chances.
Meanwhile, it goes without saying that with respect to issues like suicide and abuse, language is a critical factor. Thus when a government minister defends the use of the term “deflowering” to refer to the brutal act of rape, that is an insult to rape victims and a sanitization of the ultimate act of violence against females. Surely the Hon. Minister must be aware of the messages inherent in such language?
As well, we strongly urge that the language used to talk about abuse be reshaped to ensure that the focus is on the perpetrators and not the victims. Thus instead of how many women were raped we need to talk about how many rapes were committed against women by men. And instead of violence against women, we need to talk about perpetrators of gender-based violence. The idea is to address the violence and its perpetrators while helping victims to heal and take control of their lives in a safe and empowered manner.
Then there is the issue of myths and misinformation. Recently, Public Security Minister Ramjattan, stated that his ministry is working towards implementing anger management programmes countrywide, to help address gender based violence. However, gender based abuse is not caused by anger, otherwise abusers would abuse everyone who make them “angry”. In fact, abusers are very much in control because they can/do usually stop when interrupted. So while we laud this plan, we hope the Minister will also address the real causes of gender-based abuse.
Other prevailing myths include:
- She can always leave: The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she tries to leave, as that is when the abuser usually fatally injures her. Other factors preventing the abused from leaving include having no safe place to go, family and social pressure, shame, financial barriers, children, religious beliefs. Anti-violence activists also point out that putting the onus on the abused to leave is victim blaming.
- Abusers are under a lot of stress or unemployed: Since domestic violence cuts across socioeconomic lines, domestic abuse cannot be attributed to unemployment or poverty. Similarly, advocates note that if stress caused domestic violence, batterers would assault their bosses or co-workers rather than their intimate partners. Domestic violence flourishes because society condones partner abuse, and perpetrators learn that they can achieve what they want through the use of force, without facing serious consequences.
- Abuse takes place because of alcohol or drugs: Substance abuse does not cause domestic violence. However, drugs and alcohol do lower inhibitions while increasing violence to more dangerous levels. But drugs and alcohol use/abuse is an issue that also needs to be addressed anyway.
- Domestic abuse is none of my business: Like suicide, all abuse is everybody’s business. We would like for others to help if someone close to us was the victim, so we must do the same for others. Besides, silence and passivity would send the message that abuse is ok.
Guyana’s women abuse rate is 57 per 100,000, but over 50% of cases go unreported each year, because women feel a sense of shame and prefer to suffer in silence, blame themselves (sometimes taking their own lives) or remain silent because of the high tolerance for violence. In 2015, the Americas Barometer survey, revealed that acceptance of domestic violence in Guyana is relatively high. The data showed that Guyana was ranked third globally among interviewed countries, with 35.6% of interviewees indicating acceptance/normalizing of domestic violence and reinforcing the view that Guyanese society is abusive. In fact, daily newspaper reports of fighting, injuries and even fatalities, is one manifestation of this. The ongoing spate of robbery with violence with families of perpetrators giving tactic support and benefitting from the ‘spoils’ is yet another manifestation. As well, studies have indicated that Guyanese many women equate a certain level of abuse with love.
Meanwhile 2017 has seen the continuation of another manifestation of an abusive society, the ‘massacre’ of our womenfolk. Here are but a few instances:
- Savitri Deolall, died from third degree burns that were inflicted by her reputed husband.
- A 39-year old policewoman was chopped to death by her alleged lover who eventually committed suicide.
- 37-year-old Lindener, Shenika London, was stabbed multiple times by her husband at her home.
- 26-year-old teacher, Tishaun Bess, was found hanging from the ceiling of her apartment. Relatives claimed that the relationship shared by the woman and her partner was an abusive one.
- Dhanwantie Ram, 29, who had to leave her marital home with her three children, a few days before, was found strangled on a sofa, with a bed sheet wrapped around her neck. Her abusive husband of 12 years was arrested for the crime.
In fact thirteen reported domestic violence related murders have been committed for 2017 thus far. As usual, calls for a national conversation and stakeholders collaboration continue to be trotted out. However, there has been a surfeit of talk shops, which eat up resources and produce nothing concrete. Even the recent three-day In-Service Violence Against Women’ training workshop was abstract talk shop oriented instead of hands-on approach applicable in real life situations with concrete positive impact.
On the other hand, stakeholders’ collaboration is just a catchphrase as successive governments reach out to a select few who display political loyalty and are seen as ‘our own’ by the authorities. This was once again evident at the recent three-day In-Service Violence Against Women’ training workshop at which many stakeholders that are active in the field, were not invited. That a nationally embracing policy to stoke stakeholders’ collaboration can make a critical difference goes without saying. Through ‘Voices Against Violence’, a loose umbrella of 60 plus entities, the National Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil has been garnering momentum with 500 vigils held across Guyana over the past two years. Thus, a more structured network, supported by the government, can become both proactive and effective in tackling gender-based violence. Other needed measures, many of them mooted in the media quite often, include:
- A national safety net for abused persons, to include safe houses for women and children. In fact abused persons should have a mandated right to safe homes while investigations and cases are ongoing and even afterwards if deemed necessary.
- Special, mandatory court sittings across Guyana to ensure expedited handling of all cases with all police officers trained to display understanding, empathy and diligence and to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with abuse. Investigations must be carried out in such a manner that even if the complainant withdraws the complaint or refuses to testify, the case can still proceed. If yet not in place, a legal mandate to this effect is needed.
- A mechanism in place to ensure that victims can access financial support for self and children so that financial dependency does not force them to withdraw complaints or refuse to testify. As well the Ministry of Social Protection/University of Guyana need to undertake a study to identify the range of reasons that lead to abused persons withdrawing their complaints or refusing to testify, so that appropriate measures are put in place to address these. No amount of rhetoric alone, will not address this issue.
- The Gatekeepers’ Program can also encompass abuse in all its forms. Inter ministerial cooperation is therefore urged to urgently bring back this program to ensure gatekeepers/lay counselors in communities across Guyana. In fact, The Caribbean Voice can access a lay counselor trainer for a year if the government is willing to partner with the providing organization.
- Inclusion of domestic violence in the Family Life and Health curriculum in schools nationally as was discussed in a recent meeting between the Ministry of Education and The Caribbean Voice,.
Last November, the Social Protection Ministry engaged in a tree wrapping exercise and a sensitization and awareness exhibition as violence prevention measures. Just how do these activities redress gender-based violence is anybody’s guess. Like suicide prevention, abuse prevention should cease to be a dog and pony show with scarce resources wasted on pageantry and photo ops. As well Georgetown and Region Four continue to be the center of the vast majority of activities even though issues like gender-based violence are national in nature.
The need therefore, is for a national program of evidence based, abuse prevention strategies interactively delivered, modeled, reinforced by simulations and role play. This is what TCV does through our various free workshops, all five of which include modules on all types of abuse.
Meanwhile we note that the Ministry of Social Protection’s Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Policy Unit (MSSODVPU) offers a range of services: shelter and temporary accommodation, financial assistance, rehabilitation, skills training, counseling, social work services, legal aid… So why is it that many cases of gender-based abuse continue to fester often with fatal consequenses? For example, a mother of five has been enduring years of domestic abuse, threats to her life, and most recently rape and an acid attack by her 56-year-old ex-reputed husband in spite of repeatedly reaching out to the police. Even reactively this Unit should have been able to help this woman and prevent the recent acid attack and rapes.
Thus, The Caribbean Voice calls upon the Ministry of Social Protection to set up offices in all ten administrative regions and engage in widespread and ongoing promotion as well as collaboration with the police and community based organizations so that its work can become proactively encompassing across Guyana.
The Caribbean Voice can be reached at email@example.com, or 718-542-4454 (North America) and 644 1152, 646 4649 or 697-9968 (Guyana). As well, log on to our website at www.caribvoice.org to access our many social media pages.