That National Dialogue on Domestic Violence

THE Caribbean Voice (TCV) fervently hopes that First Lady Sandra Granger’s upcoming national dialogue on domestic violence will consider proposals made by a number of commentators, analysts and letter- writers: a coordinated community response via a task-force; review of the domestic violence laws and a concerted effort to implement and enforce them; police training on the provisions of the domestic violence law, emphatic communication and an overall, more effective approach to domestic violence; timely and greater responses to complaints and requests for protection orders supported by stringent enforcement; domestic violence courts; social workers and/or counsellors at all police stations, a batterer’s intervention programme; an education campaign that focuses on modelling and highlighting healthy relationships and on tackling the victim-blaming and shaming mentality that currently exists; provision of more safe houses; more probation and welfare officers to service the courts; greater inter-agency and stakeholders’ collaboration; videoing by the public of inappropriate police behaviour/responses to complaints and submission to their superiors.

Meanwhile, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan was recently quoted in the media as saying that domestic violence is “a very difficult thing to prevent when someone (is) feeling angry for whatever reason…I don’t know what we can do, or how we can legislate against that…What we have to do is…ensure better education; but, there again, the officer (Orwain Sandy) that did what he did was an educated fella.”

Actually, anger is not a root cause for domestic violence. The same person whose anger leads him/her to violence in a relationship, would generally not be violent at the workplace, in a government office, or with a leader or opinion-shaper, no matter how angry. Domestic violence occurs because the abuser needs to be in control and/or dominate the other partner, and/or the abuser is socialised into thinking intimate partner violence is an acceptable way to solve conflicts.

Anger, drugs, alcohol catalyze the abuse. What, in effect is needed is the implementation of the requisite programmes, policies and strategies, some of which have been mentioned above and some of which may need legislation. Others would include programmes – anger management, anti-alcohol and anti-drugs – to address the related mental health issues.

Additionally, measures are needed to shape the socialisation process so that children, especially boys, are imbued with the right mentality from young, so that parents can apply appropriate parenting skills, so dysfunctional relationships can be re-engineered to evolve without violence and so that schools can provide discipline without violence. As tennis champ, Serena Williams stated in a June 21st article in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, It’s important to get the message out there — to our young men, to our boys, to our daughters.” Also, it must be noted that academic education does not necessarily prepare someone to not descend into abuse. In fact, abuse cuts across all strata and segments of society and all walks of life.

With respect to multi-stakeholders’ collaboration, a good starting point could be this national dialogue. When The Caribbean Voice held our National Stakeholders’ Conference in August 2015 over 75 stakeholders’ were present from across Guyana. Logistically and resources wise, the First Lady is in a position to do far better and so we hope that her national dialogue will see representation by all stakeholders involved at any level in addressing domestic violence — persons who already have displayed passion and commitment to addressing domestic violence, persons who are already on the ground giving of their time, efforts and resources and thus, having a grasp of the realities around domestic violence would be there for the long run, 24/7 and not only 8 to 5 until the money runs out.

Meanwhile, The Caribbean Voice is inviting the First Lady to become lead partner in the Lay Counsellor Training Programme to be launched next year. With the First Lady in charge, this programme can truly be national in scope and result in gatekeepers in all communities, individuals who can proactively tackle all forms of abuse and suicide.

Also, The Caribbean Voice is considering a national campaign to address domestic/intimate partner violence and femicide. Elements of this campaign are expected to include flyering (200,000 flyers) and postering (10,000), as well as focus groups across Guyana, supported by the lay counsellor programme, our ongoing workshops, information dissemination and advocacy. Again, with the First Lady as lead partner in this effort tremendous success can be achieved.

As well, we urge the First Lady to include a module on mental health in all training programmes planned by her office. This would be more cost-effective than separate mental health training. Besides, given that upwards of 200,000 Guyanese suffer from one or more mental health issues, that both suicide and all forms of abuse have mental health components, and that hundreds of thousands of other Guyanese have to deal with loved ones who suffer from mental health issues, mental health training becomes a critical necessity.

The bottom line is that much of what we have had so far is rhetoric, pageantry, photo ops, and similar arid activities that waste scarce resources without impacting the issue in any fundamental manner. So please Madam First Lady, please do use this national dialogue opportunity to start a process of concrete change. As a woman, wife and mother you can far better empathise with the plight of our womenfolk and as the First Lady, you have the capacity and scope to transform talk into action, not piecemeal, selectively and ad hoc, but concertedly, nationally and continually.

About caribvoice

Free lance journalist, educator and community activist. Guyana born New York based.
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