Friday, May 27, 2011

Serving alcohol at Feminition is like asking a woman to kiss a cutlass

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 27 May 2011)

There has been debate amongst highly regarded women’s advocates concerning the Feminition Expo that will still be in full swing as most people read this column.

There are two main points at hand: the first point is whether Feminition should be serving alcohol and the second is whether the money spent on the Expo could have been better used in other ways to help women.

I will address the issue with alcohol first by saying that I fully agree with Vidyaratha Kissoon (Stabroek News, May 25 Letter to the Editor), S. Nageer (Kaieteur News, May 27 Letter to the Editor) and Andaiye (Stabroek News, May 27 Letter to the Editor) on this topic.

In fact, my colleagues and I in the “Break the Silence” group recently had the same conversation as Minister Priya Manickchand said she and her team had about whether to serve alcohol at an upcoming event. We decided against it.

We chose not to serve alcohol because of the message of duplicity it would send as we talked with our attendees about the role alcohol plays in domestic violence in Guyana. Although our group primarily focuses on bringing awareness to the issue of domestic violence, we have helped enough women to know that alcohol does indeed play a part in the ongoing violence toward women.

In fact, one of our own colleagues, Sukree Boodram, has just released a book about her own experience of being married to an abusive alcoholic. I just finished the book this week and I can say without a doubt that having followed her tormented married life, the link between domestic violence and alcohol does, in fact, exist.

Manickchand released a statement saying, “In our team’s discussion on whether alcohol should be available at the event, the team, mostly comprising women, was of the firm view that our participants, exhibitors as well as patrons, who we expect to be mostly women, are very capable of using alcoholic products in a responsible manner.”

I can understand this point of view. However, it is my opinion that concerning the presence of alcohol at the Expo it does not matter that I can drink alcohol responsibly. What matters is the degree to which alcohol has contributed to the still ongoing slaughter of women in Guyana. There is no statistical data available on this matter, but as it can be seen from the NGOs who work closely with abuse victims (i.e., those who wrote the aforementioned letters to the Editors), there is no doubt in their minds as to whether there is a connection between alcohol and abusive behaviour.

Furthermore, according to the October 1997 National Institute of Justice Research Preview published by the U.S. Department of Justice, “Victims and family members reported that 92 percent of assailants used drugs or alcohol during the day of the assault.” To make matters worse, there are abuse victims who then turn to alcohol to numb the emotional and physical pain of the abuse.

It is not as if I do not understand the desire by Manickchand and her team to create a celebratory tone for this event. In fact, unlike the letter writers, I do support the concept of this Expo to highlight the accomplishments of women. I believe it to be money well spent. Building self-esteem in women is a necessary component to give them the courage to discover a way to escape their abusive situations and build a good life for themselves.

That is the stated focus of this Expo, to highlight women and their accomplishments. I know there are some who feel like this event is just another political ploy to garner votes for the incumbent government. This may well be the case, I do not know. But in my opinion, as long as women are helped in the process, I will support the endeavour.

Having said that, Manickchand is also fighting a war against domestic violence and by allowing alcohol at this event, it gives the appearance that she sanctions one of the contributing factors to domestic violence.

It is a great idea to celebrate women and if I were in Guyana this weekend, I would have attended Feminition to show my support. Conversely, there were three women brutally attacked this past week – two of whom died – and we cannot simply turn a blind eye to those deaths and the role of Manickchand’s Ministry to help prevent more deaths.

I have attended women’s expos in the U.S. and I have always left feeling empowered and proud to be a woman. And yes, there is often (not always) alcohol at these events. However, Guyana is different, in that with a population of only 750,000 it is unconscionable that so many women are constantly brutalized, tormented and murdered.

As such, it is right for women’s advocates to question the prudence of serving alcohol at an event to celebrate women when alcohol could very well play a role in their brutal death one day. Look at it this way, how many cutlasses will be at the expo? How many crazed, jealous-fuelled husbands? I bet none.

Yet if you have a crazed, jealous-fuelled husband with a cutlass who has been drinking all night, the outcome could very well mean death for the wife. Yes, alcohol most certainly plays a significant part in domestic violence, and to say otherwise is to show ignorance of what is really going on every single day in Guyana.

In other words, let’s do get together and celebrate women. Let’s sing and dance. Let’s praise feminine accomplishments. Let’s enjoy the creativity of the fashion designers. Let’s support the female entrepreneurs by purchasing their goods. Let’s encourage each other to be healthy. Let’s give due regard to the wise women all around us. But let’s do all of this with a strong heart and a sober mind.
Refrain from the alcohol facet inserted into this celebration. By doing otherwise is the same as kissing a cutlass.

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