by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 11 March 2007)
During my sabbatical, I received an email to which I will now attempt to reply. However, I will admit from the start that I do not have all of the necessary resources to fully provide the type of response this email deserves, but I will do my best.
The email was from a Guyanese woman who asked many questions of me in just four short paragraphs. She wanted to know if I could tell her what Guyana’s Constitution had to say about the rights women. In particular, she wanted to know about the rights of the married Muslim woman.
I am going to share a large portion of that email with you because it is so powerful. However, I will not give this ladies name because I fear for her safety – as she obviously does as well. You will soon understand why.
She said, “I ask myself everyday how the people can life like this. Why the government of Guyana no do anything for all the Guyanese woman everyday suffering abuse for her husband etc. I ask my self everyday PPP control Guyana for more and 5 years and until now them can no do anything.”
This precious woman wanted to know why the police seem to lose evidence when it is time to present it to the lawyer after a woman is raped or a family member is murdered.
She continued, “I have another cuestion why in this XXi century the parents can choice husband for her daughter.” And toward the end of the email, the woman said, “Really I have plenty cuestion in my head and until now I no get answer.”
This poor woman’s email broke my heart. She is obviously very smart. She knows it is wrong for a husband to beat his wife. She knows she should expect more from her government and her law enforcement officials.
She knows that every woman should be able to choose her own husband. She has so many questions and so few answers. I would bet my last dollar that there are many women in Guyana who share this woman’s frustration.
First of all, my friend, let me say that from what I know of Guyana’s Constitution, it does not afford any less rights to the women of the nation than it does the men. However, precious sister, your problems are to be found elsewhere. The source of your problems can be found in the laws (or the lack thereof), the enforcement of those laws and in the social and religious traditions that are so ingrained into society.
You were right to pin the guilt of the plight of Guyanese women on the government. Complacency and bureaucracy is the rule of the day with the PPP when it comes to protecting the women.
You were also very wise to blame the law enforcement officials for their part, too. No matter how many laws the government does actually instituted for the protection of women, it matters not if the police treat an abuse or rape victim with contempt.
Moreover, patriarchal religions and social traditions further propagate the subjection and objectification of women. This is why a man feels he has the right to choose his daughter’s husband, because he sees her as his property until he decides to give her to another man, at which time she becomes that man’s property.
The women of Guyana have so much working against them. They have a government that cares too little about their plight, a law enforcement system that treats them as badly as their abusive husbands and a system of social and religious traditions that shackle these women to an unbearable life.
This is my clumsy answer to your questions, dear friend. It is simply an academic response from someone who has studied this topic and answered these questions over and over. However, if you are looking for a real answer to your questions, then I would like to suggest that you pose these questions to someone who can help you to find some tangible resolutions – the Poised and Proper Priya Manickchand.
In her position as the Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Poised and Proper Priya wields the power to help you and the rest of Guyana’s women. In fact, I will do one better. I will get the ball rolling – to help cut out all of that damn red tape the PPP seems to love – and present these questions to her for you.
Priya, dear, how are you doing? I wonder if you could be a peach and help me with a situation I have. You see, I have a friend who has asked me some questions that I think you are far better equipped to answer. My friend (and probably several thousand more Guyanese women) would like to know why a Guyanese husband can abuse his wife everyday and get away with it.
She wants to know why the police seem to lose evidence from rape and murder cases. She would also like to know why a father can still chose his daughter’s husband. My friend feels that the PPP has been in power long enough to have this situation under control and just wants some help to form a better life.
Of course, I could ask a million more questions of you on this topic, dear Priya, but I think my friend’s questions are the perfect start. She mentioned in her email, “I want help all this woman. I wish you can do something for all this people, principal muslim woman.”
I know full well what is required of me from my friend – and this column is just the beginning of the fulfilment of my responsibility on this matter. Do you know what is required of you Priya? What will you do to fulfil your responsibility to this woman? You can start by answering her questions. Be assured that we will both be anxiously awaiting your response.
Let me say one more thing to my dear friend. Dear woman, you need to put that fiery spirit and that obvious intelligence to work and start gathering your women friends together to start a grassroots effort to change the status of women in Guyana.
Surely, you do not think the men are going to lift a finger to help women in this regard. If that were going to happen, it would have happened hundreds of years ago.