(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 01 January 2011)
I cannot help but joyfully note that articles in the newspapers about domestic violence cases are substantially lower. Compared to the situation six months ago, when there seemed to be an article about a woman being beaten and/or murdered almost every day – the apparent scarcity of those stories as 2010 came to a close is like a breath of fresh air.
It seems the campaigns (by both the private and public sectors) to educate men and women on the evils of domestic violence have made an impact. However, I am only cautiously optimistic because I know there is still so much work yet to be done. I know that since domestic violence has not yet been eradicated in Guyana, we must continue to speak against it and find a holistic approach to eliminate it.
There was much effort in the last part of 2010 to bring awareness to this issue. Some of which included the “Break the Silence, Stop the Violence” rally (held by local NGOs), workshops held throughout the country, government- and privately-sponsored television discussion panels and commercials, a march organised by ROC, 14 religious bodies signing a joint communiqué taking a zero tolerance stance against domestic violence (I hope they remain true to their commitment), the Skeldon Declaration being initiated, house-to-house awareness visits were conducted, training sessions held by the government for community leaders and a White Zone being established in Berbice.
Also, the media did an excellent job in highlighting this issue and getting the word out about the various events.
In other words, a lot of work went into making Guyana safe for women in 2011. It was well worth the effort, too, when we pick up a newspaper or watch a newscast and no woman has been beaten or murdered. It is what we do not see that is important. However, as I have already said, there is still so much work yet to do. All of the labour of 2010 was just to lay the foundation for the real work that must now be done in 2011.
Now that we have brought awareness to the issue, now that we have established that it is wrong to beat your wife, we must now ensure a strong infrastructure to keep women safe if they need to remove themselves from a violent situation; establish counselling centres for victims, survivors and perpetrators; continue to address the social and cultural practices that encourage domestic violence; offer counsel on how to communicate in a way that does not lead to violence; educate young people on better communication practices; create a friendly law enforcement environment in which women feel that can safely – and without ridicule – ask for protection and seek justice; and offer training courses for survivors so they can make a living for themselves.
The chore before us for 2011 may seem daunting, but is essential to the well being of the women of Guyana – and the nation as a whole.
If we are to preclude another case like Neesa Gopaul, we must be vigilant to take the necessary steps to wholly correct this matter and keep it under control on a permanent basis. We cannot drop our guard and pretend that all is well now. All is not well yet. However, it is my hope that by the end of 2011, we can indeed say – with good conscience – that all is well.
My promise for this year is that I will continue to do all I can possibly do to end violence against women in Guyana. Still, I am just one woman and I can only do so much. It has been a privilege for me to work with a dynamic team in 2010 that included Dianne Madray, Varshnie Singh, Sukree Boodram and Luke Daniels. As a team, we have plans to continue our fight against domestic violence in 2011.
It is my hope that Minister Priya Manickchand and the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security intend to continue their efforts as well. I do believe that the combined efforts on many fronts have saved the lives of women in the past few weeks. I also believe that if we were to stop right now, the beatings and the killings would resume. Which is why we cannot stop.
Moreover, the fight against domestic violence must involve more than just the group with whom I work, the Ministry of Human Services, community leaders and organisations like Red Thread and Help and Shelter.
I have said this countless times, but it bears repeating, if we truly want to see an end to domestic violence it is the people who have to make it happen. I have seen a dramatic change in attitudes concerning domestic violence, but I have also seen remnants of the old way of thinking, too. This proves we still have more work to do to eliminate this bane of society.
It is heartening to read newspaper reports about neighbours calling the police when a woman is being abused – as recently happened in the case of Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud. It is little adjustments like this that make a world of difference concerning this issue.
Just this week I saw an exchange on Facebook where one man was taken to task for insinuating a pregnant woman from Barbados – who was beaten till she lost the child – somehow deserved the beating. The overwhelming response was made that there is never a circumstance where a relationship should become violent. Yes, change is happening.
The single most central obstacle that I see that now stands in the way of convincing women to get the help they need is that they are afraid that if they leave the abusive relationship, they will not be able to feed and care for themselves or their children. This is Guyana’s most pressing barrier concerning domestic violence and it must be addressed in 2011. And address it, we will.
Have a happy and safe 2011!