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.

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