Halting the scourge of gender violence
November 27, 2003
IF THE post-modern years of the women’s movement have done nothing else they have brought about the consciousness that sexual harassment and violence directed at women in the workplace or at home are causes for outrage since they each constitute a violation of women’s human rights. A generation ago, many women accepted physical abuse from their husbands and lovers as just another mood or phase of the man/woman relationship. The women most resigned were those who were totally dependent on their husbands for the maintenance of themselves and their children. Even some women, who were educated and employed, endured years of beatings either from a deep religious conviction that it was sinful or “not nice” to leave their husbands, or they were overwhelmed by the idea of heading households on their own without the guidance and contribution of a male. Furthermore, women did not even talk about the humiliation or the indignity they suffered at the hands of their spouses.
Within the last 15 years, more and more women have broken their silence on this issue and have summoned the courage to stand up for their human rights with the encouragement of women’s organisations, non-governmental agencies that provide moral support and counselling both to victims and batterers, and laws enacted specifically to protect women from the worst excesses of domestic and other forms of violence. On January 10, 1995, Guyana signed the Inter-American Convention on Violence Against Women, and reiterated its intention to institute laws “to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against all female citizens”. In brief remarks at the signing ceremony, which was conducted at the Washington headquarters of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Dr Odeen Ishmael, Guyana’s Ambassador to the OAS, noted his country’s abhorrence to any contravention of human rights. Dr Ishmael argued that violence against women was a clear violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as an offence against human dignity. Placing the subject of violence against women in a socioeconomic context, Ambassador Ishmael called it a clear manifestation of the historically unequal power relations that still continue to exist between women and men in various societies. He cited the importance of good governance, which, with people participation, can eliminate the deprivation that helps to create the climate in which women suffer violence. In July of the same year, Foreign Minister Clement Rohee presented the Inter-American Convention on Violence Against Women to the Guyana National Assembly and explained that the document applies pressure to governments to change those laws, which give immunity to the perpetrators of gender violence. In the 1990s also, the Guyana Government tabled into law, the Domestic Violence Act, which encodes a regime of procedures for the protection of women and children, who are victims of violence within the environment of the home. Agencies such as Help and Shelter give sterling service in the forms of counselling, advice, guidance and secluded haven, and even skills training to women who are victims of gender violence.
However, as much as legal regulations are important for establishing an enabling environment for aiding the victims of domestic violence, social activists are very much aware of the limits of legislation in modifying human behaviour. It is possible that the origin of gender violence goes back several millennia. In a world culture in which men, who are generally physically stronger, and who society views as the dominant sex, are still perceived to control most of the levers of power in the home, in the community and in the councils of government, eradicating domestic violence will require generations of campaigning and struggle.
Therefore, conscious parents, teachers, religious leaders and caregivers of the young must resolve to teach the nation’s children that violence is not the first or only option for conflict resolution. It is also important for persons to come to the realisation that reasoned discussion and a willingness to listen to, and respect the views of others would go a long way in helping disputing couples, siblings, families, neighbours and workmates to arrive at consensus and understanding without resorting to the mental and physical pain of violence.