by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 11 November 2007)
Just when I think the tide is turning on the issue of violence against women, I find that Guyana has at least one politician who remains ignorant on the issue.
In my column from last Wednesday I pointed out the need for naysayers to show objectivity by acknowledging governmental action in various areas – one of which was violence against women. I expected a response from a naysayer or two, but I did not expect such an insensitive reply on this issue.
In response to my column, one particular male politician said, “The sexual issue is because of economic situation where women sell themselves legally in order to get money to survive.”
So the little girl who was just raped and murdered on her way home from school is because of prostitution? The mother who was recently stabbed and left for dead for hours in the dark with her children is because of the economic situation?
That same mother received “regular” beatings from her husband and Guyana’s economic situation had nothing to do with it.
There are fathers who rape their own daughters, men who kidnap girls and sell them into sexual slavery and beatings galore – every goddamn day – men beating their wives, girlfriends and children and grown men having sex with under-aged girls.
None of these horrific actions have anything whatsoever to do with the economic situation in Guyana. In one fell swoop, this politician trivialised the pain of Guyanese women and put his ignorance about this issue on display for all to see.
The obvious need for sensitivity training aside, this statement makes it obvious that Priya Manickchand should also be enlightening the politicians about violence against women and children while she is touring the country to educate the people.
How can it be said that violence against women in Guyana is linked to an “economic situation where women sell themselves legally in order to get money to survive,” when there is prostitution in even the wealthiest nations around the world?
Moreover, even if a woman does sell her body for money, there is no presumption of violence in this transaction. This is simply a trade of sex for money. There does not appear to be distinguishable link between the ongoing violence against women to prostitution or the economy, as suggested by the aforementioned politician.
The “Stamp It Out” paper, in the foreword by the Minister, said, “We know much more about sexual violence – for example, that the vast majority of offenders are known to their victims, and that those victims are overwhelmingly women.” In other words, those who supposedly care about women are the ones who also victimise them.
Quite frankly, it is demeaning to associate violence against women to prostitution because it assumes that every woman who suffers violence is selling herself, something most women would find offensive.
To have such an uninformed and careless statement come from a supposed leader in society is frustrating, especially while an effort is being made to educate on this topic. However, it is even more maddening to know there are leaders who still minimise the effect that violence against women has on the nation.
I am not going to insinuate that all politicians are ignorant and insensitive about this issue; I understand this is one single individual. However, it is this very attitude toward women that needs to be counteracted if Minister Manickchand hopes to bring permanent change for the women of Guyana.
As another example, when the PNCR sent me an early draft of its crime initiative in January 2006, there was nary a word in it concerning the ongoing violence against women (though it was later added). Guyana has come so far in the last two years, yet still there are politicians who remain uninformed about one of the most pressing issues facing the nation.
Might I suggest the good minister consider an educational forum for the politicians to bring them up to speed with the realities of violence against women and children? I realise this would necessitate a joint event where various parties interact, but this issue is more important than partisan politics.
If the leaders of the nation are ignorant on this issue, they will continue to talk and behave in a manner that objectifies women. This nullifies the work being done to educate the people when the leaders themselves remain ignorant.
When I think of all of the news articles I have read this year alone about women being raped, killed and beat within an inch of their lives – women whose only crime was being female, and thus a punching bag for some insecure man – it literally nauseates me to consider the dismissive statement of this politician.
It is time for men to change their attitude toward women – and it needs to start with the nation’s supposed leaders. Any leader who does not comprehend the gravity of this issue is not a leader worth keeping around. Guyana needs leaders who care about all of the nations citizens, not just the ones with penises.