Calling a halt to gender violence

Guyana Chronicle
November 25, 1999

WHEN THE Guyana Government passed the Domestic Violence Bill early in 1996, feminists and women in general must have breathed a sigh of relief over the fact that the laws of this land would help to protect them from physical and psychological abuse perpetrated in the main by men in the environment of the home.

The Domestic Violence Act had it genesis in a Draft Bill prepared by the Women's rights Campaign and presented to Labour Minister, Dr Henry Jeffrey in 1993. Under this Act, a man, who is the perpetrator of violent behaviour against his wife, could be restricted by the Courts from living in the same house with her for a period of three months. Further, a Protection Order can be applied for by someone who is a victim of domestic violence, or by another person such as a parent, guardian or relative, on behalf of the victim. The Protection Order is issued when the Court is satisfied that the person in question is in danger of physical or verbal abuse, or any act of harassment.

On January 10, 1995, the Guyana Government had become a party to the Inter-American Convention on Violence Against Women by pledging to institute laws "to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against...all female citizens". Guyana's Ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS) Dr Odeen Ishmael, who signed the Convention in Washington, remarked at the time that gender violence was a clear manifestation of the historically unequal power relations that still continue to exist between men and women in society. He cited the importance of good governance, which, with people-participation, can eliminate the deprivation that helps create the climate in which women suffer violence. In July 1995, Guyana fulfilled its pledge by enacting the Inter-American Convention into the nation's laws.

With such formidable legal weaponry against the practice of gender violence, or as it is more familiarly referred to, "violence against women", it is difficult to comprehend the current wave of violence which is seen largely as being directed against women. In recent times, both the print and broadcast media have been saturated with news stories of women who have been wounded, brutally abused, or killed by the men to whom they were married or with whom they cohabited. Since the middle the 90s, there has been the establishment of the Help and Shelter agency, which specialises in counselling and giving advice to individuals undergoing stressful and destructive relationships. There are also a number of groups conducted by trained social workers who offer advice and assistance to troubled persons.

Violence, we accept, is a cause for worry in most countries of the world. We also accept the fact that it is impossible to legislate human behaviour. Yet the trend of gender violence in Guyana is a serious cause of concern given the small population and the high level of conscious-raising against this negative behaviour in recent years. It is frustrating to realise that despite all the talks, the public service programmes and the sensitivity training, women, educated or illiterate, peasant or upper-class, professionals or housewives, are still the likeliest victims of violence perpetrated by men who, in most cases, have pledged to love and honour them.

Let us make greater efforts to put an end to this scourge.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples