Where is our outrage at child abuse?

Woman's-eye View
Stabroek News
November 5, 2000

Andaiye will be taking a sabbatical from this column, which she has inaugurated. Vanda Radzik will be writing the weekly column in the interim. Woman's Eye-View will feature an Honour Roll each week naming an individual or organisation for outstanding example. A Media Watch and Dishonourable Mention will also be added from time to time as a means of monitoring the state of gender justice and gender health in the nation.

The world march of women against poverty and violence

"...one cry, one however begun, human cry, contains all..." (Martin Carter)

These simple, stark lines from our own poet, Martin Carter were the ones I keyed into my computer to send as my personal message to the head of the UN, Mr. Kofi Annan as part of the World March of Women. The campaign involved 5000 groups in 175 countries and was initiated by The Federation of Women of Quebec in Canada. The purpose of the Signature Campaign was to collect 10 million signatures in order to petition the United Nations and its member states to adopt concrete measures to eliminate violence against women and poverty.

Many Guyanese joined in the on-line signature campaign and I thank Anna Iles of the Canadian High Commission for E-mailing me the information. I thought this was a great campaign mixing the virtual with the actual and allowing for short, personalized messages to be included.

This is the kind of initiative that builds awareness, connects people and gives people an opportunity to take collective action. This is a good month to initiate something like this at the local level and to add it to the "Say No To Violence Campaign" which will run until December 10. There are now computers in some fortunate schools and one or two Internet cafes are springing up that can be targeted and many organisations and companies have on line access. And, of course, there is still good old paper and ink upon which to collect signatures.

Perhaps the Sustainable Development Networking Project (SDNP) can design something appropriate and other agencies and the corporate sector can help with sponsorship costs?

A Dim View I am writing this article in a deep, dark black-out and believing as I do, that the Guyana Power & Light Company is an uninspired deal that is bringing inadequate light and less power to the majority of the population. I am bearing this particular outage with better patience than usual and with some sense of solidarity with the call for better pay by the local workers.

The price of gender inequality is too high to pay Turning to darkness and disempowerment from another woman's perspective, the Report on the State of the World's Population released by the UNFPA on September 20 paints a dim enough world scenario. "The price of inequality is too high to pay," says Nafis Sadik, the Executive Director. The evidence collected for the report demonstrates that "gender inequality, discrimination and violence are holding back not only women but men, not only families but communities and whole nations."

Some of the facts and figures tabled in the Report are daunting:

In Bangladesh, 47% of all women are violently assaulted by their male partners. In India, the figure is 40%, followed by 29% in Canada and, 22% in the United States and 20% in South Africa.

Sixty million girls are "missing" mostly in Asia, as a result of infanticide or sex-selected abortions and another 5,000 are murdered each year by their own families in "honour killings". The spread of AIDS/HIV is linked to social as well as physical gender inequality. In Africa, for instance HIV-positive women outnumber men by 2 million as a result of women's lack of right to control their own bodies.

In the rest of the world, women have 80 million unwanted pregnancies, suffer millions of beatings and rapes and undergo 20 million unsafe abortions.

In Guyana, gender-based violence is endemic. In an IDB sponsored survey conducted by Dr. Linda Peake and Red Thread Women's Organisation it was found that one out of every four women experience some form of domestic violence in Guyana.

November 25th is the International Day to mark efforts the world over to stop violence against women, the Guyana Campaign this year, launched on November 1st has at its theme: "Men and Women Uniting To Stop Violence". This is a good and timely initiative, and we should all get involved in making the pledge and being the vision-carriers for violence-free lives for women and children and men everywhere.

But the truth is that it will take much more than public campaigns and annual events to tackle the issue at stake. The real challenge is how to transform our own attitudes and behaviour patterns and actions privately towards ourselves, our spouses, partners, and children; and publicly - in the stand we take, the opinions we utter and the decisions we make.

Gender discrimination is like racial discrimination The chapter on Gender in our own National Development Strategy states that discrimination on the basis of gender is akin to racial discrimination. This is a powerful and true statement.

And it strikes at the heart of the matter. Gender-based discrimination is as abhorrent as racial discrimination and as devastating to all forms of human development.

Attitudes are the hardest of all to change and gender prejudice like racial prejudice is acquired in the formative years of our lives and shapes our gender relations and worldview. But all negative attitudes and behaviours can be transformed and the more champions we have in every household and each community and church and social club the greater the change and the more positive our society.

Gender prejudice is entrenched in the Guyana society. The recent public remarks made by the Chancellor of the Judiciary are an example of this and coming from such a prominent figure, the statement spoke volumes. It must be said that there is no intention here to insult Mr. Kennard himself but this was definitely not his finest moment.

With both the estimable Chief Justice and current President of the Bar Association being women of quality, publicly recognized for their contributions to engendering the Laws of Guyana and the Constitution reform processes, one would have thought that this would have given the Chancellor sufficient pause before passing his gender judgment on national TV. Children at risk: where is our outrage?

Many citizens are still waiting and hoping that the Commission on the Rights of The Child and the Teaching Service Commission will speak up and out on the dangerous and alarming report of child abuse committed by a teacher. Other reports made about teachers committing crimes of child abuse should also be investigated. These persons should be blacklisted and their teaching licence rescinded, if found guilty.

We citizens are altogether too silent, too inured to the brutalizing of our children in all its varying forms, including the beating and flogging of children in the home and in the school, which cultivates and internalizes the cycle of violence in our society. Rarely are there public rallies and protest marches and picket lines in defence of our children's rights when these are flaunted. We need to take a firm stand for our children, because we are guardians to their welfare. We need to broadcast our sense of outrage at their exploitation in whatever form it takes.A shining example: "Mothers in Black"

The Mothers in Black weekly vigil is a heartening and inspiring demonstration of outrage made into action. They provide us with a visible act of conscience and stand as a bulwark against the tide of violence and acts of inhumanity that threaten Guyana.

Mothers in Black are the first group inscribed on Woman's Eye-View Honour Roll.

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