Peace counselling must be carefully handled in abusive relationships

Stabroek News
July 29, 2001

Dear Editor,

Your editorial of the 26th July 2001 welcomed the intervention of the United Nations Association of Guyana (UNAG) peace counsellors and mediation teams to help to resolve some of the conflicts in our society. Mediation and other forms of alternate dispute resolution have helped in many countries to ease the pressure on the formal court system. Reports from Berbice have indicated that the panchayat have been able to resolve many of the land disputes which would have burdened the court for example.

However, mediation in cases of spousal abuse could result in further damaging the woman who is being abused. Mediation is based on the assumption that both parties have equal power. A report from the Transition House of Nova Scotia in Canada found that " Far from providing a less adversarial forum in which women had a better chance of making their voices heard, the research indicates that mediation with an abuser instead became re-victimization. Nova Scotia women who had gone through conciliation or mediation with an abusive ex-partner shared remarkably similar stories. Consistently, abused women in conciliation and mediation felt intimidated by abusive ex partners. ... Their rights were compromised through misleading statements, and/or a lack of legal representation ... (Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, Summer 2000 Newsletter, from an article by Pam Rubin, Transition House Association of Nova Scotia)

Many of the women who are abused wear themselves out trying to do things to please an abusive and violent male partner so as to keep peace. One traditional intervention when a man beat his wife was to tell the wife that if she was `good' then the man would not beat her. One panchayat member advised a woman who sought respite from an alcoholic abusive husband to ` cook some nice food, buy a quarter and keep it home and then drink with him if necessary' , another well meaning person put a brother and sister down together to find out what was happening when the sister tried to break the silence on being sexually abused by her brother. There will be problems in many relationships. Any intervention must involve the recognition that violence and abusive behaviour are not going to solve the problem. In another case, the man promised the person who intervened to change then he went home and beat the woman for going out to talk.

Many people still believe that the woman has to play a part in changing an abusive man in `domestic disputes'. We must remember where that power lies, and when intervening, make sure that we do not make things worse for the person being abused.

Thanks to UNAG for restoring the idea of community based alternatives to dealing with conflict and to offer direct opportunities to justice for people who cannot afford the sometimes lengthy process. I sincerely hope that any persons who will intervene in abusive relationships will consider the imbalance of power in domestic violence and not further reinforce the imbalance.

Yours faithfully

Vidyaratha Kissoon