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.

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