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AT THE launch of the UN/EU Spotlight Initiative, the newly appointed Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud MP, did not mince words about the level and impact of violence against women in Guyana.
Gender-based violence continues to darken our development. The world is still a dangerous place for women and girls.
In Guyana, more than 55 per cent of our women between the ages of 15 and 64 years have experienced some form of violence. Four in 10 of those experienced sexual or physical violence.
Two coastal administrative regions (of 10) have the highest reported rates of violence, 29 and 16 per cent respectively.
Passionately the young minister called for this to change: “Too many and for too long! These are our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.
“We need to ask ourselves why violence continues to be a pervasive and entrenched culture in our country.
“We cannot remain impervious to the heartrending cries of women who are beaten, chopped, stabbed, raped, brutalised and, yes, killed in this most horrific form of gender oppression. This is not the world that we want … we need to stop this and stop it right now!”
Violence against women dehumanises women as a group and most personally and profoundly as individuals; the psychological damage is long term; lost opportunities for development and the socio-economic impact on the victims are in most cases immeasurable.
Violence against women and children impedes the social and economic development of families, communities and the entire nation.
It is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of deep imbalances of power in Guyanese society.
While the Guyana constitution guarantees equality for women and statutes such as the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act and the establishment of the family court offer some protection, violence against women and children continues unabated.
The vulnerabilities of a large percentage of women are epitomised by financial dependence, lower employment rates and a culture of silence in the face of violence.
These become exacerbated during a crisis, when vulnerabilities are at their peak and protections at their lowest.
In the past five years under an undemocratic government, with 30,000 jobs lost and the removal of safety nets for the poor and vulnerable, violence against women and children increased.
We already know that the immediate effects of Covid-19 disproportionately affect women and children — loss of family members, family pressures, job loss, isolation, restrictions on in-person schooling and anxieties over health and finances have led to the escalation of violence in homes.
Globally it has been acknowledged that the incidents and reports of violence against women and children have increased alarmingly as result of Covid-19 as the victims are forced to be isolated with their abusers.
The Guyana Ministry of Human Services and Social Security has partnered with various agencies of the UN on women and children’s rights, violence and poverty reduction.
The launch of the UN/EU Spotlight Initiative in Guyana will add enormous support to these ongoing efforts.
The Spotlight Initiative advocates a systematic, comprehensive, multisectoral and sustained approach, facilitated by strengthened institutional mechanisms, informed policies, national action plans and efficient advocacy support services.
Through these collaborative efforts to prevent all forms of violence, critical partnerships with civil society organisations, women’s rights groups and other stakeholders will drive the movement.
Programmes under this initiative will directly boost early and tangible interventions.
The minister stated that “it is imperative that we continue to highlight the importance of ending that culture of silence and the acceptance of violence against women and girls wherever they exist.
“Violence, whether it affects women and girls, or men and boys, is unacceptable. In Guyana, we are strengthening our prevention strategies, multisectoral responses and survivors’ advocacy to combat this.”
President Irfaan Ali’s government commits to focusing on poverty reduction and improving the conditions of life of our women and facilitating their active participation and advancement in the society.
Programmes being reintroduced and or enhanced in the government offer social and economic support and opportunities for skills training, small loans, psycho-social counselling, provision of safe havens, sensitisation of the police and timely prosecution and judicial hearing of cases of domestic and sexual violence cases — these are all critical components of a comprehensive approach to violence against women and children.
The government of Guyana remains committed to working with all partners to ensure that the human rights and dignity of all women and children are respected.
On this 2020 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it is this generation’s chance to tangibly change the lives of women and girls as was promised at the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 25 years ago.
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