by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 16 July 2006)
Here is the scenario. Some young women claim to have been blackmailed into performing sexual acts by some rich boys. Here is the government's response after viewing the aforementioned sexual acts that were posted on the Internet for the entire world to see by the same rich boys, "What I saw seems to be voluntary sexual activities."
The most absolutely atrocious aspect of this statement is that the Minister of Human Services, Bibi Shadick, made it. This someone who has represented the women of Guyana at international forums focused on the elimination of discrimination against women.
About a year ago Shadick reported the following to one such forum, "On prostitution, it was pointed out that legislation exists for charges under the Criminal Offences Act, but prosecution remains minimal… The reports say many are subject to exploitation and abuse from employers and clients and have little recourse in environments that they are often unfamiliar with."
This year Shadick simply dismisses allegations of sexual exploitation before a proper investigation has even been conducted. Even if these boys ever see a courtroom to face trial for these alleged acts, Shadick's words will reverberate throughout the entire trial and taint the process of justice.
Shadick's ministry started a magazine earlier this year as well called 'Woman Powah.' At the time of its introduction, she said the magazine had "a role to play in keeping women informed, and by so doing creating that awareness which is required for moving Guyana towards its goal of gender equity." This week Shadick has effectively undermined any ground she had previously gained in gender equity in Guyana.
The girls in question claimed they were forced to perform sexual acts against a backdrop of blackmail and the Shadick's cold and callous response after watching some video footage is to say that it appears to be consensual? This has to be one of the most irresponsible statements made by any member of the PPP to date.
Excuse me ma'am, but did you even talk to any of these young women? Did you bother to conduct a full investigation on these charges before making such a reckless statement? Or did you just watch a video clip and decide that the footage was all the evidence you required to dismiss these very troubling allegations?
Shadick has asked why these girls did not go to the law enforcement agencies or to her ministry to report their allegations instead of going to Kaieteur News. The Minister's actions this week have provided the best answer to her own question.
Shadick has treated these potential victims and their claims with disrespect and insensitivity – just like the poor girls expected. The same contempt shown toward women that this Minister appeared to scorn at an international level is exactly what she has shown toward her own fellow countrywomen.
Could it be that victims of exploitation know they can find a caring and sensitive ear at Kaieteur News? Could it be that they have come to expect the opposite from the government? Or could it be that there is such a fine line between the PPP and the role it is suppose to play as representatives of the people that victims know better than to mess with the PPP's supporters (or their children)?
I simply do not understand how can Minister Shadick determine that these acts were indeed consensual without a proper investigation? Does she know what happened before or after these video clips? Does she know if those girls were acting in their right mind or under the influence of some form of drug they were forced to take?
After displaying such a high level of insensitivity toward these young women and their situation, Shadick actually had the gall to suggest that anyone who has been a victim of such exploitation should come to her Ministry for help. Are you kidding me!
A year ago, Shadick told the international community that the lack of financial resources was the most restricting factor to the protection of women in Guyana. This is not the case in Guyana this week. This week, Shadick herself is the most restricting factor to the protection of women in Guyana.
Regardless of my feelings about the incompetence and ineffectiveness of the PPP, I have always strongly supported Bibi Shadick's role in attempting to bring a higher level of gender equality to Guyana. Now I think she was doing nothing more than blowing hot air just like the rest of her party.
There is absolutely no way that someone who is genuinely working to eliminate the exploitation of women would ever, ever, ever make such an irresponsible and reckless statement concerning an allegation of exploitation. Shadick's statement has done to these young women exactly what chauvinistic men have done for centuries – dismissed them as inconsequential.
It is time for the women of Guyana to start their search for a real champion of women's issues and get rid of this wanna-be advocate who has sabotaged a young woman's chance at justice before she even had the opportunity to be taken seriously.