I saw on the news on Friday, November 23, 2012 that Chris Brown had to cancel his concert in Guyana because of women’s rights groups and opposition lawmakers who said Brown would not be welcome in Guyana three years after his assault of Barbadian superstar Rihanna.
Growing up in Guyana I was never knew that there was such a thing as domestic violence or violence against women. I didn’t know a lot of things until I came to North America. Perhaps these things existed in the little South American country I called home for fifteen years but it was kept quiet. People did not talk about their problems publicly like here in North America where people talk so freely about very personal things on television on talk shows. When I was in Guyana, we didn’t have television but we had the radio and the movie theaters to entertain us. I saw movies where women were brutally raped and sometimes killed.
Domestic violence in Guyana is widespread. The NGOs report a widespread perception that some police officers and magistrates could be bribed to make cases of domestic violence “go away.” The government also does not prosecute cases in which the alleged victim or victim’s family agreed to drop the case in exchange for a monetary payment out of court. NGOs assert the need for a specialized Family Court.
Domestic violence is a problem in all regions of the country. Enforcement of the domestic violence laws is especially weak in the interior, where police do not have as strong a presence and courts meet only once a quarter. Fortunately, there is help and shelter for victims of domestic violence. Help and Shelter was founded in 1995 to work against all types of violence, especially domestic and sexual violence and child abuse. Since its inception it has become a recognised leader in the fight against violence in Guyana, particularly in the areas of domestic, sexual and child abuse. On their website they make the following statements:
- Studies of domestic violence in Guyana estimate that between 1 and 2 in every 3 women are victims. We also know that domestic violence against children, against the disabled and against the elderly is endemic
- Help and Shelter’s mission is to is to work towards the elimination of violence in all its forms by helping to create a society where attitudes to use of violence and practices of violence have been transformed
- In a client base of over 8,000 persons, 85% are female and 80% victims of spousal abuse
A June 2012 article published in Stabroek News stated that the 2000 study, which was carried out with the support of the University of Guyana and the University of the West Indies, found that Guyana had one of the highest rates of domestic violence among the Common wealth Caribbean, and that nearly 40 percent of women had experienced domestic abuse (17 June 2012). A 2010 UN Development Programme (UNDP) survey on citizen security, in which over 11,000 male and female adults in 7 Caribbean countries were interviewed, found that approximately 17 percent of respondents in Guyana had been subject to punching, kicking, of other physical violence by an adult household member, in comparison to the region-wide average of 10.9 percent (UN 2012, 11, 29).
Sources indicate that domestic violence incidents in Guyana are becoming more violent (Stabroek News 17 June 2012) and the number of deaths as a result of domestic violence was increasing in both 2009 (ibid. 17 Feb. 2009) and in 2012 (Help and Shelter 27 Sept. 2012). According to staff members at Help and Shelter, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury in Guyana for women between the ages of 15 and 44 (Stabroek News 20 Feb. 2011). Yet, according to the article from UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, there are problems with the Government, the police and the judicial system. The police receive training in domestic violence, there is concern that despite the training, the police are still “not very effective” in handling cases of domestic violence. Women’s rights organizations complain that the police response to domestic violence cases is “unsatisfactory”.
Similarly, the courts’ response to victims of domestic violence is deemed as “unsatisfactory”. The Guyana Chronicle reports on the sentences meted to perpetrators of domestic violence, including: a sentence of six-weeks imprisonment to a man who threatened to stab the mother of his child in the abdomen (1 July 2012); a sentence of seven-days imprisonment to a man who threatened his reputed wife (20 Apr. 2012); and a fine of $15,000 Guyanese dollars [C$72.61 (XE 3Oct. 2012)], with the alternative option of 10 days imprisonment, to a perpetrator who assaulted the mother of his children (26 June 2012). Courts were faulted for allowing many of the perpetrators who killed their partners as a result of domestic violence to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter instead of being charged with murder (Stabroek News 15 Apr. 2009). There were instances where magistrates applied “inadequate sentences after conviction” (US 24 May 2012, 13).
According to a representative of Red Thread, some lawyers were “inhumane” towards victims, and some magistrates do not believe that the Domestic Violence Act is part of Guyanese law (Stabroek News 2 Apr. 2012). The Minister of Human Services reportedly included magistrates among those in need of greater sensitivity towards domestic violence and gender equality (Stabroek News 23 May 2010).
The treatment of violence against women sounds all too familiar. In India, the government is in-effective when it comes to preventing violence against women. New Delhi is known as the “rape capital”. The people of India are rising up now in the wake of the tragic death of the 23 year old woman who was gang raped on the bus by six drunk men. India’s response in the fight against violence against women has inspired many others, says US playwright-activist, Eve Ensler. She was in India to address a press conference for her One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign and said after the brutal incident, the “good men around” have also realised that they need to stand with women to fight for the issue because it is not only a women’s issue. Read more
It’s time to take action. Tell the government of Guyana to do something! Women should not be afraid to report rapes because of fear of stigma, retribution, or further violence. It’s time to start punishing those guilty of rape and domestic violence. It’s time to protect women. A life free of violence is everyone’s right. It’s time for the government, law enforcement and the courts to take off the band-aid and address this problem.
We can do something to help. We can educate ourselves and help to raise awareness. Here are some brochures that you can download and share with your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Get the word out–enough is enough. We want to end violence against women not just in Guyana and India but everywhere.
We can all take responsibility for helping to bring about change, and keeping our friends and colleagues safe from domestic violence”
— Charles Clarke
“For most of recorded history, parental violence against children and men’s violence against wives was explicitly or implicitly condoned. Those who had the power to prevent and/or punish this violence through religion, law, or custom, openly or tacitly approved it. …..The reason violence against women and children is finally out in the open is that activists have brought it to global attention.”
— Riane Eisler
“It’s not enough for women to speak out on the issue – for the message to be strong and consistent, women’s voices must be backed up by men’s.”
–Rep. John Conyers, Jr., Michigan
Sources: http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/story/2012/11/23/chris-brown-guyana.html; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_violence_in_Guyana; http://www.hands.org.gy/; http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/50aa28bf2.html; http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca:8080/RIR_RDI/RIR_RDI.aspx?id=454212&l=e; http://www.demerarawaves.com/index.php/201205253877/Latest/rape-domestic-violence-largely-unchecked-in-guyana-us-report.html