Through a woman's eyes: Could you be next? By Cheryl Springer
Stabroek News
January 4, 2004

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Hey there woman, sister, friend! Is there the remotest possibility that you could shortly find yourself on the receiving end of a shove, a slap, a cuff, a stab, a chop, a rope around your neck, a bullet? These are some of the things that lead to women's deaths. It starts sometimes with a shove or a slap and increasingly ends with a mother, sister or daughter six feet under. If by any chance you are guilty of condoning or turning a blind eye to violence against any woman, remember that it could come knocking at your door, or close enough to hurt.

In November, Ahilia Kuar, a clothes vendor of Mon Repos died in her sleep, but there was nothing peaceful about her death. Her husband stabbed her, then turned the knife on himself before disappearing into the night. A relative of Kuar attested to the many violent quarrels the couple had in the past "mostly when he was drunk."

In November, Abigail Hazlewood of Yarowkabra died just after she had taken a bath. Her husband beat and stabbed her after accusing her of infidelity. He then turned the knife on himself and when last heard of was recovering in hospital. A neighbour watched the beating, which he said was a regular occurrence, and subsequently heard her screams; no one went to her rescue.

In December, Robin Chester-Barth was literally turned into a piece of meat by her butcher husband. According to reports, he beat her with a rolling pin, cut off her hands, slit her throat then ripped open her stomach. This woman had also been accused of infidelity and had been constantly abused by her husband. "A relative of the attacker was overheard telling someone, 'I coulda predict something like this happening. Dat man bin very frustrated over he marriage life of late.'" The attacker then drank kerosene oil and is recovering in hospital.

These are only three of the most recent cases of domestic abuse that ended in death. In each instance, it was obvious that there was nothing accidental about the death; it was the culmination of years of domestic abuse.

Right now, even as you read this article a woman somewhere in Guyana is being abused physically, mentally or emotionally. Could it be you? Or someone you know? Is it not strange that the issue of whether condoms should be distributed in prison caused such a huge furore but the nearly every day killing of women and their constant brutalising passes almost unnoticed?

A recent report released by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) revealed that one third of women will be beaten, raped, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Statistics which UNIFEM has gathered from around the world reveal that at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime; the abuser is usually someone known to her.

A World Bank report estimates that violence against women is as much a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents and malaria combined. The economic cost is also considerable. A 2003 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that the cost of intimate partner violence in the USA alone exceeds US$5.8B a year. Direct medical and health care services cost US$4.1B, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8B.

Statistics on domestic violence in Guyana may not be readily available, but the evidence is all around us in news stories, local knowledge and personal experiences. What is even more frightening is the fact that many people who are in abusive relationships are unaware of what constitutes abuse. Are you in an abusive relationship?

Has your spouse/partner:

* Withheld approval, appreciation or affection as punishment?

* Continually criticised you, called you names or shouted at you?

* Ignored your feelings regularly?

* Ridiculed or insulted your most valued beliefs, your religion, race, class or sexual preference?

* Acted very jealous-harassed you about imagined affairs?

* Manipulated you with lies?

* Insisted you dress the way he/she wants?

* Humiliated you in private or public?

* Insulted or driven away your friends or family?

* Taken your car keys or money away?

* Subjected you to reckless driving?

* Thrown objects at you?

* Punched, shoved, slapped, bit, kicked, choked or hit you?

* Raped you or subjected you to other violent or degrading non-consensual sexual acts?

* Threatened to kill you and/or commit suicide if you left?

If you have answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you are in an abusive relationship. If you have committed any of the above acts you are an abuser. What can you do? The first most important thing an abused person can do is to stop being a victim in their own eyes. Fear and shame prevent women from speaking out, from reporting acts of violence. Abused women tend to believe - warped though this thinking is - that they have done something to deserve being ill-treated. Sadly, the more they bend over backwards to please, the easier it is for them to be trampled upon.

International organisations have been promoting the need for zero tolerance of domestic violence. If this is taken literally, and it should be, any person who has answered yes to any of the above questions should be walking away from that partner/relationship. However, the reality is that in many instances there is no place to walk to and if the abuse has been ongoing the woman lacks the willpower to go it alone. But zero tolerance also involves empowering women and not just economically and financially. Emotional support from family members and counsellors help to promote zero tolerance, as does showing complete disapproval of any and all acts of abuse and of the abuser, privately and publicly. Zero tolerance also costs nothing or very little. Can you weigh the cost of a telephone call to the police against a woman's life?

Women's and other organisations have been assisting by providing various services, lobbying, raising awareness through advocacy, education and training and Guyana has a Domestic Violence Act, though it is not being fully utilized.

Women are being beaten and killed every day and although it is hardly a popular topic of conversation, there are very few of us, if any, who do not know or know of a woman who is in an abusive relationship. Activism against all forms of abuse of women must not only surface on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, why not start today?