(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.