Saturday, October 29, 2011

Renewing sisterhood in Guyana

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 22 October 2011)   
I have had both men and women tell me that in Guyana, some women are as cruel to women as some men are. I cannot rebut this claim as I have seen or read about women who have been very abusive to others of their own gender whether by a verbal beat down, proudly stealing the husband of another woman (even if he has children with her) or even physically harming a woman.

The harsh words I have heard from women about other women have baptised me in a deep grief. It seems some females would rather tear down other women than ever lift a hand to help. Even more, there are some women who critique others from head to toe without one kind word. She is fat or she is skinny or she is ugly or her hair looks stupid. I could go on and on.

To make matters worse, some women are often unwilling to help each other – even to the point that a neighbour could be beaten to death by her husband while the women of the area hear it and yet do nothing. Some even blame the woman for the beatings she receives or for a cheating husband.

I am not sure what caused this division between the women of Guyana. What drove this wedge between Guyana’s sisters? The hostility that some women display toward other women is highly disturbing. I do not know why this is so, but I do know it has got to end if the quality of life for women in Guyana is ever going to improve.

There is a saying by Ghandi that my sisters and I like to use, “Be the change you want to see.” Mind you, I do not have any biological sisters. When I speak of my sisters, I am referring to the “Break the Silence” team that consists of Varshnie Singh, Sukree Boodram, Dianne Madray and myself. These are my sisters and we work together to help other women.

Believe it or not, this group of sisters only met a short time ago, some longer than others, but none for over three years. Yet you would never know because when we are together we are a tightly knit group that operates with one mind toward one goal – to eliminate domestic violence.

I have had many friends in my life, though as a survivor of domestic violence (by my mother) I find it difficult to trust, but my sisterhood with these women is completely different. I know I can call any of them at a moment’s notice and if I need them, they would be there for me.

This gives me a feeling of security that is beautiful. We are all strong, confident women who do not often need a shoulder to cry, but it is nice to know a shoulder is there if it is needed. This beautiful sisterhood has filled a spot in my life that I never knew was empty.

Lately, I have noticed others calling me sis or sister – and I love it. I have made some wonderful friendships with women in Guyana who touch me deeply and I am glad to be called their sister. That means the sisterhood is growing. Even on Facebook, I have women refer to me as sister – not in a religious way, but in a sisterhood way.

This sisterhood is not an exclusive club; it is a fact of nature. We are born as females and endure this world as females and we need other females to help us along the way, whether to understand biological changes as we grow into women, or to garner wisdom on raising children or any number of other crazy and unpredictable issues life may throw at us. We need each other.

I recently decided that if you are a woman and you have the same goals that I do to help other women, you are my sister, too. But do not think this sister to be all flowers and giggles. I am much more than that. The situation for women in the world today is a grave one and as sisters we have much work to do.

The work starts by resisting the urge to be hostile to other women. Sisters do not make moves on husbands of other sisters. The word sisterhood itself produces visions of a strong unity among women. Women have enough in this world to tear us down, the last thing we need is for our sisters to do it, too.

This week, one woman stood by herself against powerful men who want to unseat her from her place as leader of TUF. This should not be. There should have been dozens, even hundreds, of women to stand with her. We have let men dictate our responses to situations like this instead of listening to that voice inside us that says go help our sister.

Last week, a young girl cried out to her father as he stabbed her to death. We are all shocked and upset, but we can stop domestic violence if we come together as one force against those who would beat women into submission. Those cowards would run from a sisterhood of strength.

Right now, the politicians scarcely know or care about the issues that plague women. They are more concerned with power. Even the good ones do not really get it. But as a sisterhood, we could change that. In fact, I am convinced that it is only as a sisterhood that we can change the lack of political interest in women’s issues in Guyana.

When the sisters from the “Break the Silence” team come together, we are a powerful and dynamic force, yet we are only four women. Can you imagine what a sisterhood of thousands could accomplish in Guyana? This is my dream, sisters.

Sisters, we have to be the change we want to see. This hostility between women has got to end and a sisterhood of support must take its place. Think of this the next time you see a sister hurting, or poor or being abused.

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