Sunday, October 31, 2010

Break the Silence, Say No to Violence

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 31 October 2010)

Today is the last day of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I have dedicated all of my columns this past month to the topic of domestic violence and have received many positive responses from victims, survivors and those who care about the issue. Allow me to extend my heartfelt appreciation to each and every one of you for your encouraging words and support.

For this last column of the month, I want to highlight some of what is being done to protect victims of domestic abuse, counsel those who have escaped it and to prevent future abuse from ever happening.

On November 25, a rally is planned at the Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC), Bourda, and it is free to everyone. This event, “Break the Silence, Say No to Violence”, is being organised by local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) I.M.R.A.R.C (Cane Grove), Kids First Fund (Georgetown), Red Thread (Georgetown) and many other groups.
The program will utilise The Arts – theatre skits, dance, singing, poetry and such – to bring much needed attention to the issue of domestic violence. The event is open to everyone and I will be there as well to participate in the program. It is my hope that we can fill the cricket ground with as many voices as possible to Break the Silence and Say No to Violence.

The more of us who stand together against this evil, hand in hand, raising our voices and collectively fighting against domestic abuse – the more women and children will live happy, safe and productive lives. Most importantly, they will live. Wherever you are in Guyana, make plans to travel to the GCC on November 25 and join us for this rally. Let this be the day that in ten or twenty years, we can look back and say the tide turned against domestic violence on that day when we raised our voices together and declared, “NO MORE!”

I am also particularly encouraged by the strong stance religious leaders are now taking against domestic violence. My first column dedicated to Domestic Violence Awareness Month was on the topic of how religious leaders ought to take a stand against this wickedness. Since that article, 14 religious bodies signed a joint communiqué taking a zero tolerance stance against domestic violence. These religious bodies also vowed to work with social services and law enforcement to help end domestic violence. Moreover, 600 religious leaders attended training this week to address this issue within their places of worship.

A Stabroek News article on October 29 said, “Dr Mercurious [training facilitator] explained that the purpose of the exercise is to ensure that after the training, the religious leaders would become volunteers committed to tackling violence in the communities and being involved in conflict resolution in the family. He said too that those persons trained would be expected to work closely with the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security in its campaign against domestic violence and would be involved in studies to find out what is the root of domestic violence. He also said that examinations would be done to see how gender-biases, particular as these relate to religious teachings, contribute to the phenomenon.”

The changes that have been enacted in just a month with regards to religious leaders are remarkable and I could not be more thrilled. I am also very pleased with the recent action taken by the government on domestic violence. Though this flurry of activity should have taken place years ago – making the leaders appear more reactive than proactive – I am resolved to embrace any and every effort to end the beatings and murders.

On top of the $15 million investment to train 600 religious leaders from several regions, the Ministry of Social Services has admitted the system failed Neesa Gopaul and, after an investigation on the matter, has even recommended the firing of those responsible for the failure. This action in itself is worthy of note. Instead of burying this failure and pretending it did not happen, the Ministry acknowledged its responsibility and took action.

I have listed some of the good reports from this past month, but this has been a long and wicked month indeed. Sixteen-year-old Neesa Gopaul was murdered (as were several other women), another woman committed suicide to escape domestic violence and more women have died while or after delivering a baby in hospital care (this is not directly related to domestic violence, but does apply to the disregard of women in general). Domestic Violence Awareness Month may be over, but our struggle has only just begun.

I am still concerned about the silence that prevails in neighbourhoods and families when they know of someone who is being abused. The headmistress who killed herself in the past week is a perfect example of how others knew what was happening and did nothing to help her.

From a Kaieteur News report on October 26, “Commenting on the death of the former head teacher, one neighbour said, ‘Is almost every day dem (two family members) does drink.’ The resident recalled that the woman would be subjected to regular verbal assaults, which this newspaper was told almost always ended with physical attacks.” It truly is time to Break the Silence, Say No to Violence.

I have heard others say that everything in Guyana is a competition. However, let’s not make the struggle against domestic violence a competition. Those who are at the forefront of this effort should be working together as much as possible toward the same common goal. There is no time for pettiness or pretension in this struggle. There is no time for playing politics. Let our focus be on target and our intentions honourable.

Don’t turn a blind eye to the wickedness of domestic violence. Speak up and save a woman’s life.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ladies, tell those abusive men, “Hell, No!”

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 27 October 2010)

In March 2006, over four long years ago, this newspaper published a sobering editorial focusing on the need for the nation to start taking a strong stance against violence against women. This is how the editorial began, “It is an unendurable shame that the scourge of violence against women continues to plague Guyana year after year, with no end in sight and with no sustained public outcry against it, especially from women.”

We are nearing the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 2010. Nothing has changed and women continue to be murdered. As such, I want to highlight a piece of musical art that I wrote on in 2006. “The Color Purple” is a movie from the 80’s that captured a period of time in African American history circa 1949. This movie has been made into a Broadway musical and the following is a song from that musical soundtrack.

The song is entitled, “Hell, No!” – and for good reason. Here is the setting; the primary character, Sofia, confronts her friend Celie for telling Harpo (Sofia’s husband) that he needs to beat his wife if he wanted her to “mind” him.

Sofia: You told Harpo to beat me?!

Celie: I’m sorry.

Sofia: I loves Harpo. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead, ‘fo I let him or anybody beat me!

Sofia begins singing:
All my life I had to fight!
I had to fight my daddy!
I had to fight my brothers, my cousins, my uncles too!
But I never, never, never, never, never, never thought I’d have to fight
In my own house!
I feel sorry for you to tell you the truth.
You remind me of my momma!
Under yo’ husband’s thumb, naw
You under yo’ husband’s foot!
What he say goes!
Why you so scared I’ll never know.
But if a man raise his hand…Hell no!
Hell no!!
Girl child ain’t safe in a family of mens!
Sick and tired how a woman still live like a slave.
Oh, you better learn how to fight back
While you still alive!
You show them, girl, and beat back that jive!
Cause when a man jus’ don’t give a damn…Hell no!
Hell no!!

Celie: What you gon’ do now?

Sofia: My sisters comin’ to get me. I think I need a vacation on up and away from here.

Celie: But Harpo yo’ husband. You got to stay wit’ him. I know you love ‘em

Sofia sings again:
When that man used to touch me
He’d climb on top and start to rock me away
Lord knows I still loves him
But he tried to make me mind
And I just ain’t that kind – hell no!

Celie: Sometimes my husband get on me so hard, he hurt me all over.
But he my husband. So I jus’ talk to my ol’ maker.
This life’ll soon be over. Heaven last always!

Sofia: What you oughta do is bash Mister’s head open and think on Heaven later.
You can’t stay here, girl!

Calling out in a loud voice: Sisters!

Sofia’s sisters enter the stage from every direction, one with a shotgun, as they sing and shout:
Sister 1: Hell no!
Sister 2: Hell no!
Sister 3: Hell no!
Sister 4: Hell no!
Sister 5: Hell no!
Sister 6: Hell no!
Sister 7: Mmmm, hell no!
Sisters (together): Hell no! Let’s go!

Sister 1: Gonna be yo’ rock! Gonna be yo’ tree, yeah!

Sister 2: Something to hold on to in yo’ time of need!

Sister 3: Well, you too good for that man!

Sisters: Man, that man!
(I’m gonna take yo’ hand!)
Take my hand!
Sister, you got to go!

Sister 4: Don’t be no fool! Don’t waste your time!

Sister 5: Any man who hurts you ain’t worth a dime!

Sister 7: What he won’t know til yo’ gone

Sisters: Til she gone!
(Throw him away!)
She be gone!
Sister, you got to go!

Sofia to Celie: Girl, you too good for that man!
Let me take you away!

(Sister!) Come on, go away!
(Sister!) Dont you wanna go away?
(Sister!) You gotta, you gotta leave today!
(Sister!) Hey!
Sisters: Sister, you got to say!

Sofia: You got to say, you need to say, you better say, you oughta say!

Sisters: Hell!

Sofia: Hell, hell, hell, hell, hell, hell!

All: No!!

This song explores so many of the nuances that accompany domestic abuse. Celie is the complicit woman who accepts it as a norm in society. Sofia refuses to submit her life to abuse and even though she loves her husband, she leaves him. Sofia is a perfect example for how the women of Guyana can rid themselves of abusive men.
Sofia’s sisters did not – not even for one second – encourage her to stay with an abusive husband. They came to get her and were ready to fight for her safety if need be. They did not make it seem like it was her fault (something many women do to justify the abuse). Instead, they gave her the support she needed and surrounded her with love and protection.

I completely agree with Sister 5 when she said, “Any man who hurts you ain’t worth a dime.” A woman would be far better off without any man at all than with a man who is beating her. All she needs is some support to help her transition into a good job and take care of herself and her kids.

This is song is a perfect portrayal of how I see the abuse ending for the women of Guyana. I see women of every ethnicity standing up for their abused sisters and, just like Sofia’s sisters, coming from every direction to say, “Hell, no!”
I see these women fighting back and refusing to be the complicit wife that can be taught “how to mind.” I see each woman becoming her own person and creating a life that is safe and personally rewarding – and then sharing that life with a caring (and non-violent) man.

Ladies, it is unacceptable that this scourge of violence continues unabated since I last wrote on this song in 2006. It is time for every woman in Guyana to hold hands and in unison yell to the top of your voices at every single abusive man, “HELL, NO!”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Domestic violence – From a man’s point of view

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 24 October 2010)

A friend suggested to me that it would be good to get a man’s viewpoint on domestic violence and then she connected me with Luke Daniels, who was born and raised in Guyana then moved to London where he now works to help stop domestic violence – of which he once used on his own wife. Luke has a book on how to stop being abusive and he works as a counsellor to perpetrators of violence. The following is my interview with Luke Daniels.


Stella Ramsaroop (SR): From your book, it seems you believe the patriarchal system under which most of the world operates to some degree or another, is detrimental to both women and men. Could you please explain how patriarchy, which supports the control by men of a disproportionately large share of power, can be injurious to men?

Luke Daniels (LD): People generally believe that Patriarchy is a system that existed hundreds of years ago and this is why the system has been able to survive so well. Most of the world’s power, economic, military and political is controlled by men.

But that power resides in the hands of relatively few men. The100 or so multi-billionaires have a great deal of power over the rest of the world and they generally support a system of exploitation of everyone, including men. It is true that all men benefit from patriarchal rule but the benefits are small as compared to if we had a more egalitarian society.

Men get to feel like they are better than women and are generally paid more for the same work that women do. The down side is that men are made to feel responsible for providing and protecting and both of these activities cost millions of men’s lives each year. Men are not encouraged to take care of themselves and are more prone to addictions and ill health. More men commit suicides and engage in risk taking activity and generally live miserable lives as compared to what it could be if the system was more caring of them.

SR: Here is a quote from the Introduction to your book. “With less tolerance for domestic violence nowadays, what was legally acceptable behaviour in the past is now no longer permissible in law in most developed countries.

After being encouraged by patriarchy for millennia to mistreat women, men are now expected to change their oppressive behaviour almost overnight, with little support for change from the state.” This is an important point; could you please elaborate on this thought?

LD: Most states still depend on the violence that men do and have a vested interest in the socialisation for violence. Men are expected to be the protectors in times of war. At the very least the expectation is put on men that we will have to protect our family. We live in violent societies because of this conditioning for men and it’s oppressive to blame men for the conditioning they receive from the society. We did not ask for this conditioning, but it was imposed by the patriarchal society.

We must remember that historically most states actually sanctioned the abuse of women by law. In England it was legal for a man to beat his wife with a stick not too long ago. This law has been changed because of the pressure from women and a few men, but it takes more than laws to change society.

Those laws have to be enforced – when the enforcers are themselves conditioned to be violent to women we have an uphill task. Most states still rely on coercion to change attitudes and often their actions make matters worse – as research shows that jails actually make men more violent.

What’s needed are interventions that help perpetrators to change their attitude and behaviour to women. Sexism is at the core of men’s violence to women and this has to be challenged – most patriarchal societies find this very difficult to tackle.

In developed countries a lot of money is invested, and rightly so, in supporting the survivors of domestic violence, but barely a fraction of that investment goes to preventative work or work with perpetrators to stop their violence. There has to be a better balancing of the resources if we are to end domestic violence.

SR: What caused you to decide to take such a strong stance against domestic violence that you would write a book to help perpetrators of domestic violence and spend so many years counselling those in abusive relationships?

LD: I always had a revulsion to injustice, and growing up in Guyana I intervened whenever I could if I saw advantage being taken. One could not help but notice women being beaten as it often happened in the streets. I hated that I was not old or strong enough to intervene if I saw a woman being hit, and grew up thinking I would never hit a woman.

When I hit my wife after ten years of marriage I was so disgusted with myself I had to seek counselling to get over the depression I experienced. I wished someone had intervened and I suspect a lot of men feel the same way too. When I realised how much the socialisation for violence had to do with my violent behaviour I decided during my counselling sessions that I would always intervene if I was close to an incident of Domestic Violence. I decided I would use my socialisation for violence in a positive way.

After several interventions I realized I might get hurt sometime if I was to stick with my decision to always intervene. Besides I did not want to be in a situation, as happened once, where I had to use violence to stop violence.

I started training as a counsellor and when an opportunity to work with men to stop their violence came I took it with both hands. I decided to write the book because I want to see an end to violence and there are never enough trained counsellors or projects to help the perpetrator who wanted to stop their violent behaviour.

I would rather spend my time doing the work with perpetrators than writing, but I realised I could reach more perpetrators by writing as this is a huge world-wide problem, and in most developing countries they have not even started to think about working with perpetrators. Of course I continue to work face to face with perpetrators who want to stop their violent behaviour.

SR: In your book, you said, “Soon into counselling, when I came to the realization that I had hit my wife mainly because of my socialisation for violence, I made a decision always to interrupt domestic violence if I saw it happening, even if simply by getting my body in the way.” Why do you think the realisation of your socialisation to violence caused such a dramatic response in you?

LD: I felt I would not be in this situation if I had not grown up in one of the toughest villages in Guyana. I loved my wife and felt I was losing her because of the violence. I was angry that it had happened and when I understood how patterns of violence are installed in us I was angry with the society for encouraging the socialisation for violence – especially in men.

I decided to take on the root causes of violence – the oppressive society we live in. But the first step was taking responsibility for my violence. Too many people live in denial about their violent behaviour blaming everyone and everything for it. This is not useful as if we do not accept responsibility for our actions we can never change them.

SR: You mention in your book that you believe what helped you understand the wrong of domestic violence was the fact that your dad taught you to not hit girls by saying, “Men who hit women are cowards.” Why do you believe there are some abusers who cannot see the wrong in domestic violence?

LD: Often we learn from the people around us. If we see our fathers, uncles and other role models abusing women on a regular basis, we come to think of it as the norm. None of us like to think of ourselves as being horrible, so if we do something that is horrible we instinctively try to justify our actions “she was wrong, she did not listen” or whatever excuse is used to justify the action.

Once the action has been justified as “her fault” it is very likely to happen again. This is why at the first instance of abuse it is important that the perpetrator seek help. The survivor needs to know that the action is likely to happen again unless the strongest action is taken at this first incident.

SR: You mentioned in your book that it is important to recognize the things that trigger violent acts, so steps can be taken to block the trigger from operating. How would one go about unearthing a trigger that is masked by years of socialisation? And what are some common triggers that you have encountered during your years of counselling?

LD: As humans we are all different and our different experiences need to be taken into account in any therapeutic intervention. Listening to the perpetrator will usually provide the clues. Going back to childhood memories are very important as that is where most of the problem lies.

For example, being called a fool or treated like one might trigger a violent reaction if that is the way they responded when young. Sometimes if they feel neglected or not listened to can cause a violent reaction. I am yet to counsel a perpetrator who has themselves not been mistreated in some way. For male perpetrators it is usually the many sexist expectations they have of women, and they believe that their needs should be more important – that provides many of the triggers.

SR: How would you respond to the following type of statement that has been put to me on more than one occasion?

“Please, Stella, your writings are only setting women up for blows. You should focus on teaching women to be a good and decent wife. Teach them home economics. Teach them the hot spots that can arouse the beast in a man. By doing this you will be helping to reduce domestic violence.”

LD: It does not surprise me, as the socialisation for women has always been to take care of men. The notion that men are beasts and it is the women’s job to civilize them has been around for a long time.

As a result many survivors of domestic violence blame themselves for the bad behaviour of men. If only they were different or did things differently, the men would behave better. This is a myth and generally the responsibility for the bad behaviour resides with the man. It is not the responsibility of the survivor to act as a sop for him; he needs professional help and should seek it.

SR: For those who find themselves being abusive to someone they care about and want to find a way to stop the violence, what advice would you offer them?

LD: Making a decision to stop the violence is the first step and seeking professional help is important. You could also write a letter to the survivor saying why your actions were wrong and promise not to repeat them. You can also use the ‘six-foot rule’. That is you stay at least six feet away from your partner if you are having a heated argument. Also agree with your partner that you will leave the house for an agreed time if you feel you will use violence – 30 minutes or so to give yourself time to calm down. Not take a drink but perhaps go for a walk to cool off and remind yourself of the decision not to hit. After the agreed time is over return and try to have the discussion in a temperate manner. Repeat this exercise if it gets too heated again.


Luke Daniels is a social activist, counsellor, trainer and consultant on domestic violence, who was born in Guyana and settled with his family in London in the 1970s. A father of eight, he believes passionately in the need for fathers to take an active role in parenting. He was the first co-ordinator of a Black Fathers project at Exploring Parenthood and has worked with youths in schools.
He has had years of experience working with couples seeking help to overcome difficulties in their relationships.

His work counselling men at the Everyman Centre in London received national recognition in the 1992 television documentary “Pulling the Punches.” His book can be ordered on his Website:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A monster more frightening than any devil in hell

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 20 October 2010)

Some may believe my fervour against domestic violence comes from being abused as a wife. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my husband has never once in over 25 years raised a hand to harm or threaten me. On the contrary, my zeal against domestic violence comes from growing up in a very abusive home.

My father was not the abuser. He could not have abused me because I never even met the man until I was 16 years old. Instead, it was my mother who abused me verbally, emotionally and physically – day after day, year after year – until I moved out of her house and married.

I have used this column to speak against domestic violence toward women because I am a woman. However, the fervour that burns deep inside me against violence of any sort is ensconced in the brutal memories of a defenseless little girl. To me, child abuse is evidence of just how much animal remains in otherwise enlightened humans. Yet I have never seen any animal treat its young the way I was treated by my own mother.

I do not broach this private part of my life for any other reason than to bring to light the very real circumstances that exist for children in abusive homes. I suppose there is one other reason, too. I want young people who suffer from domestic abuse to know there is hope – the pain and suffering will end and you can be a productive part of society on the other side of the fear.

When I think of the hell that Neesa Gopaul went through during the last part of her life, it touches a spot in me that is very seldom tapped anymore. I am no longer that vulnerable little girl who cannot understand how my own mother could be so cruel to me. I am a strong-minded woman who is in control of her own life now. However, when I hear of a Neesa Gopaul, that little girl surfaces long enough to feel the blows she felt, to hear the cutting words she heard, to recognize the betrayal of trust from a family member.

Growing up in my mother’s house, there was not a time when I do not remember the abuse. I remember so much of it in great detail even decades later though I sometimes cannot remember what I had for dinner the night before. There was the time when I must have been around three or four years old and my mother, angry at something other than me, grabbed me and knocked my head into the knob of a door until my white-blonde hair turned red.

The beatings were just a part of the physical abuse, although she tried to hide the marks on my body as much as possible. I had fingernail marks in my arms almost every day from where she would grab my arm and sink her long nails into my skin as she spewed vile words in my face. And there were belt lashes on my back and buttocks that were so deep and oozing with blood that it took weeks for them to disappear. There were bloody lips and ringing ears from slaps so hard I couldn’t think right for a few minutes, hair pulled out in chunks and more bruises than stars in the sky.

Fear reigned in my little heart during my entire childhood. This type of fear is one that most adults will never have to know. The last place a little girl wants to go after school is to the very place she fears beyond anything else in the world. Yet I had to go there every day. There were certainly times when I assumed I would end up dead at the hands of my own mother. And like so many other victims, no one stepped in to stop my abuser.

The physical violence was only one aspect of the abuse though. There were the words. Oh my, the words. Words I could never whisper in the ear of an enemy, I heard screamed in my face as my own mother became a monster more frightening than any devil from the pits of hell. Her face, red and twisted with anger and malice, is what woke me in the night covered in sweat and tears.

And then there was the emotional abuse. I can talk about the physical abuse and the verbal abuse now without breaking down. But it is the emotional abuse that still stings. One particular time stands out to me more than others because of how deeply it hurt. We were walking down the street one-day – my mother, my brother and I – and my mom and brother were holding hands and started skipping. I timidly ran up and grabbed my mother’s hand in hopes of joining in on the fun. My mother glanced at my hand in hers and with a look of total disgust, flung it away as she continued to skip and singsong with my brother. For a little girl of only eight or nine years old, this event was one of the most devastating things to happen in my entire miserable life.

These few incidents in my life are the daily reality of child abuse. The details of the abuse may differ slightly, but the result is the same – a broken child. I will not lie, the abuse I suffered at the hands of my mother has permeated every single relationship I have ever had. My relationships with my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends – all of them tainted by my mother’s rage. It’s difficult to trust anyone else in your life when you could not trust your own mother.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Don’t turn a blind eye to the wickedness of domestic violence. Speak up and save a child’s life.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Are you a victim of domestic violence?

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 17 October 2010)

There are so many people – men, women and children – who do not want to admit they are in a domestically violent relationship. The myriad of reasons for not wanting to face the truth could include low self-esteem (feeling as if one does not deserve better), feelings of affection toward the abuser, fear of retaliation from the abuser, social expectations to stay within the abusive relationship, financial reliance on the abuser, social expectations to accept the abuse as part of life – and the list goes on.

I am not an expert on domestic violence, but since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and in light of the many cases of women who continue to be brutally beaten and murdered, I have been focusing on this topic in hopes of shining a light on the evils of domestic violence.

Are you a victim of domestic violence? Do you think that you might be, but you are unsure? I have gone to Wikipedia to help define domestic violence. Wikipedia is not an authority on domestic violence either, but the following definition will provide the reader with a description adequate enough to help determine whether she/he is a victim of domestic violence.

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse or intimate partner violence, can be broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behaviours by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, friends or cohabitation. Domestic violence has many forms including physical aggression (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation.

Physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm. Physical abuse includes hitting, slapping, punching, choking, pushing, and other types of contact that result in physical injury to the victim. Physical abuse can also include behaviors such as denying the victim of medical care when needed, depriving the victim of sleep or other functions necessary to live, or forcing the victim to engage in drug/alcohol use against his/her will.

Sexual abuse is any situation in which force is used to obtain participation in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity constitutes sexual abuse.

Emotional abuse (also called psychological abuse or mental abuse) can include humiliating the victim privately or publicly, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, implicitly blackmailing the victim by harming others when the victim expresses independence or happiness, or denying the victim access to money or other basic resources and necessities. Emotional/verbal abuse is defined as any behavior that threatens, intimidates, undermines the victim’s self-worth or self-esteem, or controls the victim’s freedom.

Verbal abuse is a form of abusive behaviour involving the use of language. Abusers may ignore, ridicule, disrespect, and criticize others consistently; manipulate words; purposefully humiliate; falsely accuse; manipulate people to submit to undesirable behaviour; make others feel unwanted and unloved; threaten economically; place the blame and cause of the abuse on others; isolate victims from support systems; harass; demonstrate Jekyll and Hyde behaviours, either in terms of sudden rages or behavioural changes, or where there is a very different “face” shown to the outside world vs. with victim.

Economic abuse is when the abuser has control over the victim’s money and other economic resources. In its extreme (and usual) form, this involves putting the victim on a strict “allowance”, withholding money at will and forcing the victim to beg for the money until the abuser gives them some money. It is common for the victim to receive less money as the abuse continues. This also includes (but is not limited to) preventing the victim from finishing education or obtaining employment, or intentionally squandering or misusing communal resources.

If you read any portion of this passage defining domestic abuse and now recognize you are being abused, then it is time to start making some healthy choices concerning your physical and emotional well-being. Stop using excuses to diminish the reality of the abuse, like “He only hits me when he’s drunk,” or “I made him mad and deserved it,” or “He just had a hard day,” or whatever rationale you attempt to try to justify the abuse.

If possible, remove yourself from the situation. If you are not in a marriage or relationship with children, there is no reason other than emotional attachment to stay in an abusive relationship. Why would you? Trust me when I say the situation will not get better, it will only get worse – and possibly, far worse.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot leave the abusive relationship, find some help soon. Do not wait until the next abusive outburst, because the next one could be your last one. If the abuser appears to want to stop, get some counselling. There are organisations willing to help you escape the abuse and find a way to live a full and safe life.

Where to turn for help:

The Red Thread is the most recognized NGO dealing with Domestic Violence and a good support for women. The Red Thread is based in Georgetown and does a lot of outreach work. Contact numbers are: 227-7010 or 223-6254

IMRARC (The Irene Madray’s Recreational Arts and Resources Centre) is an NGO located in Cane Grove near the Mahaica/Unity area. Designed as an after-school program, but has been addressing many women’s issues and provide counseling and support. Contact number is: 257-0912

Kids First Fund which is recognized for much of its work with children has also added to the support for many women, and referrals have been made through this program. Located in Georgetown.

Help and Shelter is another group committed to ending gender-based violence and help victims of abuse. Contact numbers are: 227-3454 or 225-4731

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Domestic violence disgraces marriage vow to “love, honour and keep”

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 13 October 2010)

“Do you (Groom’s name) take (Bride’s name) to be your wife – to live together after God’s ordinance – in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon her your heart’s deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?”

According to the traditional words spoken at a Christian wedding, “Marriage is the union of husband and wife in heart, body and mind. It is intended for their mutual joy – and for the help and comfort given on another in prosperity and adversity. But more importantly – it is a means through which a stable and loving environment may be attained.”

During the second step of the seven pheras, the Hindu bride and the groom promise that they would develop their physical, mental and spiritual powers in order to lead a lifestyle that would be healthy and while taking the fourth vow, the married couple pledges to acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love, respect, understanding and faith.

For a Muslim, what is more important than marriage? “It is the spirit of marriage, the intention which underlies it, the treasures which it contains hidden within it, but which must be brought out and realized by the married couple themselves. So the male and female complete each other – together they make a single self and this is how they must strive to make their lives together – as if they are one being, one person, one spirit.”

“The Prophet (s.a.) was once asked, ‘What is more important than prayer?’ He replied, ‘The spirit of prayer’ – the spirit that animates the prayer. He was asked what is more important than fasting – he replied, the spirit of fasting. For each question concerning an Islamic practice the answer was the same – because the spirit brings the action to life and unfolds its potentials.”

I remind the reader of these marriage customs because never once do these traditions give right to the man or the woman to inflict abuse on one another. Regardless of religious background, every person who is married has at one time or another entered into marriage vows similar to these just stated. These promises of love, respect, commitment and honour are “not to be entered into lightly.”

It might be that some people have grown up in homes where beating the women and children is normal and acceptable. Young boys watch the abuse and assume that is how they should act with their wife and children. Young girls watch and believe they too should be willing to take the physical, mental and emotional blows from their future husband. However, these assumptions and the abuse are contrary to the commitments made on the wedding day.

I want to make it clear that I believe physical, mental and emotional abuse on any level – whether inflicted by male or female – is immoral. Yet, when I speak on abuse, I advocate for women for two reasons: 1) The number of women being beaten and murdered is so staggering that it would be wrong of me to remain silent, and 2) I take issue with the way women are being treated, because I am a woman.

For those who think I am a man-hater, nothing could be further from the truth. Being an advocate for women does not make one a man-hater any more than being an advocate for children makes one an adult-hater. My passion to help those in domestic violence situations comes from growing up in a home where my mother physically, emotionally and mentally abused me daily until I married at a young age.

When a man and woman commit to love and honour each other on the day of their wedding, the Christian vows state that this commitment is for better or worse, richer or poorer and through sickness and health. None of the aforementioned marriage vows state that a woman’s husband can abuse her. Why do none of these long-held traditions state a commitment to abuse? Because even centuries ago, the men of these patriarchal religions knew it was wrong to abuse their wives.

For a very long time, there were people who used scripture to justify slavery. However, there is now no doubt whatsoever in anyone’s mind that slavery is evil. It is wrong to subjugate a human because of race. I feel the same about sexism. It is wrong to subjugate a human because of gender. We need to stop using our differences to harm each other and instead come together as humans – all races, nationalities and genders – to create the best world we can.

Marriage is the perfect example of how humans – men and women – can come together and make something beautiful together. In an abusive relationship, each strike of the hand, each degrading remark, each lie to cover an indiscretion tears pieces off of this beautiful fabric of devotion until what is left resembles nothing close to the loving relationship that marriage should be.

When a woman is beaten and abused, there is nothing but humiliation and fear. There is none of the honour, love and mutual respect promised on the wedding day. In fact, there is no honour whatsoever in domestic violence. There is only shame and terror, which is no functioning relationship at all.

I want to close this column with more from the traditional Christian marriage ceremony, “This is a beginning and a continuation of their growth as individuals. With mutual care, respect, responsibility and knowledge comes the affirmation of each one’s own life happiness, growth and freedom. With respect for individual boundaries comes the freedom to love unconditionally. Within the emotional safety of a loving relationship – the knowledge self-offered one another becomes the fertile soil for continued growth. With care and responsibility towards self and one another comes the potential for full and happy lives.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Don’t turn a blind eye to the wickedness of domestic violence. Speak up and save a woman’s life.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The tide is finally turning against the beatings and murders

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 10 October 2010)

I could not have been more elated when I read a letter in the October 8 Guyana Chronicle entitled, “Guyana Pandits’ Council condemns brutal murder of Ms. Neesa Gopaul.” Religious leaders are starting to condemn domestic violence, which means those who inflict abuse will be robbed of any spiritual moral license they might believe they have to inflict physical, mental and/or emotional abuse.

The letter said, “Hinduism speaks voluminously about how fortunate it is to have this human form. It was only through our sacred karma in our previous births we were gifted the human body. It is the perfect vehicle that can be used for the unification with the supreme Lord. No one has the right to inflict bodily harm or shower abuse of any kind on anyone.” I love that last line.

However, it was when I read this part that I wanted to dance around the room with joy, “When such heinous crimes are perpetuated on our females, our scriptures abundantly show that destruction of our society is lurking around the corner.” With the support of these admirable religious leaders, the tide just might be turning. I am hoping more religious leaders take such a strong stance.

Other big news this past week is that the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, headed by Minister Priya Manickchand, admitted to dropping the ball in the case of the gruesome murder of young Neesa Gopaul. It is rare to see any government admit to a failing, but I truly thought I would see pigs fly before I would see the government of Guyana make such an admittance.

Furthermore, there is talk of accountability for those responsible for dropping the ball. Manickchand said, “I strongly believe that much more could have and should have been done to protect this girl, by all of the authorities, sectors and persons who were aware of the complaints of this young girl.” The minister also said that in the future, disciplinary action will be taken against officers who fail to act and conduct their work in accordance with the written protocols of the Child Protection Act.

An admittance of failure and a demand for accountability – all in one week?

Law enforcement officials also botched the Neesa Gopaul case and the Ministry of Home Affairs responded to that failure with this statement, “While police ranks are not all specially trained welfare and probation officers, the training which they undergo and the experience they gain in dealing with the public was enough to alert them that the issues surrounding the deceased needed special attention by them. In fact, Police Standing Order No. 63 mandates that all allegations of crime, whether indictable or summary, must be entered in the crime book. Therefore, even if the complainant withdrew the allegations, the records at the station would remain. This should alert the supervisors that more attention was needed to be paid to the matter, involving the deceased.”

It would seem this week has indeed seen tremendous progress on the domestic violence front. Sadly, that progress comes at a high price – the brutal slaying of a 16-year-old girl. All of these responses are reactionary at best and the tough positions against systematic complacency concerning abuse should have happened long ago. It would seem Neesa Gopaul’s vicious murder has caused the country to take notice and finally do something about domestic violence.

Though, apparently not everyone in the country wanted to take notice. The Queen’s College headmistress hid her head in the sand and hoped the events of this past week would just go away, but that is not how domestic violence situations work. Slaps, punches, hits, cruel words and murder – none of it can be taken back once it is inflicted on someone. Hiding from domestic violence does not make it go away. The headmistress should have instead used these horrible circumstances to help her students better prepare for the next time a fellow student is being abused.

In fact, hiding just makes the situation even worse. Exposing domestic violence is the only way to make sure it stops. This is another statement from the government, “The Ministry of Home Affairs is once again calling on the general public to report any matter that requires the attention of the police, faithfully and promptly, to the Guyana Police Force. The untimely passing of young Neesa Lalita Gopaul should be a wake-up call for all. For members of the public to say that they do not want to get involved, when they know of the commission of a crime, is abdication of their civic responsibility.”

It really does look as if social tolerance of domestic violence is finally waning. Religious leaders are speaking out against it, there are murmurs of accountability within the government and I believe the outcry this week from the public signifies that we have finally reached the “enough is enough” point. Good.

It is kind of ironic that this is happening during October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. But this awakening of sorts – that it is wrong to be physically, mentally or emotionally abusive – is only the beginning. There are more Neesa’s out there right now who need someone to stand up for them against the violence and brutality. They need someone to be their voice because they cannot find their own voice amidst the cruelty and degradation.

There also needs to be support groups (maybe you should start one), professional counselling – both for the abused and the abuser, and safe places for those who need to escape the abuse. Yes, this is only the very beginning and it is going to be a very long road because it has taken decades of beatings and death to get to this point.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Don’t turn a blind eye to the wickedness of domestic violence. Speak up and save a woman’s life.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Constitution says women are equal

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 06 October 2010)

Although Guyana’s Constitution affords women equal status as citizens, just a few hours spent watching real life in action will demonstrate how society does not honour women with their lawful right. In reality, women are far from equal in so many ways.

In my last column I maintained scripture does not give men the moral license to mentally, emotionally or physically abuse women. In this column, I want to touch on the other side of the coin – that the laws of Guyana do not give men the moral license to abuse women. In fact, the laws of Guyana protect women from abusive men.

Earlier this year, when signing the Sexual Offences Act 2010, the Guyana Chronicle quoted President Bharrat Jagdeo as saying, “The government has for some time now recognised that all Guyanese are equal before the constitution and before each other; but in amending the constitution, it was recognised that there were certain vulnerable groups within society that ‘needed protection beyond the usual.’ And this is why we are one of the few countries in the world, but the only country in this hemisphere, that I know of, that has within its constitution five rights commissions, and three of those deal with children, gender, and indigenous people.”

In other words, women in Guyana are afforded even further protection from law enforcement simply because they are women (and obviously need the extra protection).

The problem becomes enforcement of the laws of the land. When disrespect and disregard for women is entrenched in society to the degree that law enforcement officers send women back to abusive and dangerous domestic situations, the outcome is exactly what we have been seeing – women being brutalised and murdered in their own homes.

There has been some training offered to law enforcement officers on how to properly handle a domestic violence situation when it is reported, yet time and time again we continue to read in the newspapers of how women have asked for help from law enforcement and ended up dead or severely wounded.

Men have no lawful right to abuse women. Likewise, women have no lawful right to abuse men. Period. Thus says the laws of the land. Even if social norms allow for abusive behaviour, the law does not. These social norms that create an atmosphere of violence are contradictory to the preservation of the nation.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for law enforcement to do its job to protect the women of Guyana. It is no easy thing for a woman to ask for protection from a man she loves. The embarrassment of choosing unwisely and of not being able to help herself is overwhelming. Moreover, social norms require her to accept her substandard situation, regardless of the fact that her citizenship authorises her equality.

When a woman gets up enough courage and fear for her life, she finally asks for help from law enforcement, only to be told to go back to the violent situation – it is against the law. With no help and no protection, these women most times end up dead. For every murdered woman who has been sent away from a law enforcement facility with no protection, the blood of those ladies is on the hands of the law enforcement officers who disregarded her life.

It cannot escape notice that some – not all – in law enforcement adhere to the social norms of disrespect and disregard toward women more than they adhere to the laws they are sworn to enforce. In this regard, those who play with the lives of Guyanese citizens by blatantly ignoring the laws to protect women should be dismissed from law enforcement.

The domestic violence situation in Guyana is at epidemic rates. The laws are clear; women are to be protected from domestic violence. Training has been done to reinforce the necessity of these laws. Yet still, women continue to be abused and murdered even after asking for help.

It is for this reason that I declare that if a law enforcement officer is approached by a woman who needs protection from a domestic violent situation and her plea is disregarded, that officer should be released from duty and replaced with another who will uphold the laws of the land over the social norms of society.

Yes, continued training should occur to help change these accepted norms, but for those officers who refuse to change, who refuse to uphold the laws and protect women, they should be dismissed.

There is nothing that infuriates me more than when I see flippant responses to domestic violence. “Oh, she probably deserved it.” or “Teaches her right for making him mad.” or “Next time, she should have his dinner ready for him.” These pathetic and spineless retorts are for those afraid or unwilling to confront the immorality of abusive behaviour. It is even more horrifying when these statements come from the mouths of those who are entrusted with the duty and responsibility to protect Guyana’s female citizens.

Domestic violence is evil. It is spiritually and lawfully immoral. Now it is time to make it socially wrong as well, which starts with each and every law enforcement officer. The law enforcement profession is a noble path that should not be tainted by wicked social practices of the community at large – like domestic violence. The laws of the land should rule the nation with justice and integrity and should not be tossed aside for shifting social norms.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Don’t turn a blind eye to the wickedness of domestic violence. Speak up and save a woman’s life.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

My Sunday sermon to religious leaders

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 03 October 2010)

Here is the scenario; women are being beaten and killed at alarming rates. Others suffer psychological abuse in the form of being disregarded for being female, being reduced to an inferior social status from men and having the immense emotional anguish of knowing the man they love and vowed to spend their life with is running around with other women.

So what is the role of the religious leaders in this very real scenario being played out in Guyana? Disrespect for women is so ingrained into the Guyanese society that men and women both have been socialised to believe men have the moral license to disrespect women, which then results in ongoing emotional, mental and physical abuse.

Do men have this moral license?

I was raised as a Christian and know very well that a man is to honour his wife. There is no honour in mentally, emotionally or physically abusing a woman. I could easily use scripture to prove without any doubt that men do not, in fact, have that moral license (something I may in fact do one day).

Frustratingly, religious leaders have been eerily silent on this issue. When there is a wrong in society, religious leaders have a responsibility – no, a higher calling – to identify it as a wrong deed, and to expect better from those in the congregation. Turning a blind eye to the disrespect afforded to women is the same as condoning sin.

I have said before that my husband and I were once ministers and even missionaries. As such, I know full well that by keeping my mouth shut when evil is being done, I am just as accountable as the one committing the act. If I watch a man slap a woman and do nothing, I have allowed that evil to transpire without taking a stand for what is right. As a layperson, that is wrong. As a minister, I would have failed in my role as an ambassador of God on earth.

This week, a group of religious leaders met to discuss domestic violence. According to a September 29 article in Stabroek News, “A forum was held…at the Office of the President (OP), where local religious leaders and a delegation of Faith-based leaders from the US met with representatives of the government to discuss domestic violence and the role of the religious community.”

How did the meeting go?

“The initial projected outcomes of [the] meeting were: to sign a joint communiqué by representatives of all religious groups, declaring a Zero Tolerance on Domestic Violence…Following the almost three-hour meeting, [PPP/C MP Pastor Kwame] Gilbert told Stabroek News…that the leaders did not sign on to the communiqué as had been hoped. It was agreed that they would go back to their constituencies first before signing the document.”

Did the religious leaders have to go back and ask their congregations if it was right to declare zero tolerance on domestic violence? What was there to discuss? If the religious leaders did not know if it was right to take a tough stance against domestic violence, I sure hope the congregations know.

There is just something very wrong about this situation. Either this meeting was just a political show put on for the country because violence toward women is at epidemic proportions, or the religious leaders are also so heavily socialised to the disrespect afforded to women that they have lost their sense of right and wrong. Either way, this response by the religious leaders was simply mind-boggling.

There are some who believe men have a right afforded to them by God to “rule” their homes. However, these very same religious beliefs practiced in Guyana are also practiced in many other countries where women are not subjected to such dreadful disrespect. In other words, men in Guyana are using religious scripture as a license to harm women. Will the religious leaders continue to allow this to happen?

I wonder if there are ministers who care enough about the plight of women – and have enough courage – to speak on this issue and explain that scripture does not give men the moral license to emotionally, mentally and physically harm women. The silence from religious leaders must end if women are to ever come to understand their men do not have the right to harm them.

The religious leaders who met in the Office of the President this past week are supposed to meet again soon. If the joint communiqué declaring a Zero Tolerance on Domestic Violence is not signed when they meet again, we will all know the mask is off and that Guyana’s religious leaders are not willing to stand up for the women, not willing to stand up for what is right, not willing to stand up for God.

However, if the communiqué is signed (and I hope it is), that is just the beginning of what needs to be done. There should be sermons on the evils of abusive behaviour, there should be counselling for those who both suffer from abuse and those who inflict it and there should be accountability when someone in the congregation is being abusive. I say “someone” because it is not always the man who is abusive.

Religious leaders play a prominent role in society and consequently have a spiritual responsibility to the females of their congregations. Unless the religious leaders want to see more women set themselves on fire to escape their domestic situation, like Rhondina Adams just did and which equates to suicide, an act frowned upon in most religions, the religious leaders need to show demonstrable action regarding domestic violence…and very soon.