Campaign launched to halt domestic abuse
-courts must do more, says advocate
By Edlyn Benfield
Stabroek News
June 25, 2003

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With reported incidents of domestic violence on the rise, Help and Shelter has embarked on a major drive “aimed at breaking the psyche of (this type of abuse) in the society.”

Figures submitted to the Police Commissioner from Divisions `A’- Georgetown to `G’ - Essequibo indicate that acts of domestic violence totalled 1,555 in 2000, 2,144 in 2001, 2,229 in 2002 and 534 up to April, 2003.

This disclosure came at a launching ceremony held yesterday in the Demerara Mutual Life boardroom to promote Advocacy Against Domestic Violence.

“This project is not intended to break up family units or separate wives from their husbands..., its purpose is to prevent the abuse of men, women and children,” Public Education and Skills Training Officer, Dennis Cuffy Jnr. explained.

H&S Co-ordinator Margaret Kertzious provided a background to the project and said that her organisation was “established as a response to the high incidence of domestic violence and abuse, brought about by alcoholism, poverty, family instability and the lack of support systems for persons wishing to leave abusive situations and/or in need of counselling and crisis services.”

The mission of H&S “is to contribute to bringing about a society where attitudes to the use of violence (sexual, physical or psychological) have been transformed. (The project) will play an important role in the recognition of the intensity of the problem and its effects on society,” Kertzious stated.

It was revealed that information on domestic violence in Guyana suggested that two out of every three women experienced physical abuse on a regular basis. Additionally, many women have been deprived of the right to live a life that is free of violence (while) others have not been given the opportunity to realise their potential and to participate in decision making.

Moreover, the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, which was passed in 1996, has been slow and despite more victims being aware of the act, the unwillingness of some police officers and magistrates to impose penalties under the act has led to fear among victims to seek justice, or fear of further discrimination by the justice system, Kertzious stated.

“In some cases, victims have no option but to return to an abusive environment therefore there is urgent action to be taken to facilitate the implementation of the act and to encourage the advocacy work that has been carried out by Help and Shelter.”

A Government Information Agency (GINA) press release recently stated that a major percentage of the women who seek the services of the Women’s Affairs Bureau (WAB) did so “for matters relating to abuse, and this has become the leading cause for visits... referred to Help and Shelter.”

The release disclosed that the WAB’s clientele for last year numbered 1,500. GINA said that one of the organisation’s most significant priorities was “updating the National Policy on women. This policy addresses the legal rights of women, discrimination against women and the advancement of women.”

It added that the WAB and the National Commission on Women recently presented their “Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) report.”

Meanwhile, local Co-ordinator of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) Gender Equality Fund, Vanda Radzik noted that Guyana still had a long way to go in terms of educating the public about domestic violence and alternative ways of dealing with such situations. She underscored the need for men “who are also abused” to become actively involved in advocating non-violence and pointed out that the nation’s youth was the main target group for this type of advocacy.

“It has to be a shared responsibility between men and women. Citizens of Guyana must take on their mantle of citizenship to ensure that the society is gender-just and gender-balanced,” Radzik asserted.

A moment of silence was observed for the victims who have lost their lives or suffered physical injury or psychological impairment as a result of domestic violence and abuse. Also included in the programme was a video production of a local dramatic piece depicting the signs and effects of abuse and the importance of seeking appropriate counselling as provided by H&S.

Also present were H&S Director Vidyaratha Kissoon; Director of Human Services within the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Shyam Doodnauth; WAB Admin-istrator, Hymawattie Lagan; NCW Co-ordinator Shirley Ferguson; Police Inspector, Derrick Jossiah and Family Life Director of the Seventh-Day Adventist Conference, Pastor Stanton Adams.

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