LETTER: Violence against women in Guyana has become a runaway train; while Govt sleeps

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Dear Editor,

Even as we agonise over the gruesome murder of Zaila Sugrim by her intimate partner this past weekend, news came out of Essequibo of another woman cruelly stabbed to death by her husband. None of these incidents is the direct fault of the President or his Government. But Violence Against Women (VAW), including Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), has further escalated in Guyana and is getting worse every day. Intimate Partner Violence and deaths are a genuine national crisis, demanding urgent action by the Government.

As early as 2006, I called attention to this matter as a global public health challenge. In 2008, Minister Priya Manikchand made the fight against VAW a priority national programme. Exactly one year ago, I wrote about this national crisis and urged our Government to act with a sense of urgency. It is distasteful and completely unacceptable that any of us must still urge our Government to lead a vigorous fight against VAW. There are many voices calling for action. But without the leadership of our Government, we will lose the battle to combat VAW and IPV. The sad truth is that this APNU/AFC Government is MIA, missing in action, as VAW in Guyana has become a runaway train, leaving too many lives in tatters.

The death of young Zaila Sugrim this past week is, at the same time, a grim reminder that we are losing the battle against VAW and an urgent call for action. Zaila Sugrim, a beautiful young woman and a mother of five children, is the newest victim of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in Guyana, but too many have already preceded her. If her story does not prick our collective conscience, we are not humans. This week, Zaila’s life of domestic violence came to an end, not because she was able to escape her abuser, even though she desperately tried to, but because she was brutally murdered by her abuser-husband. Zaila was mercilessly beaten, shot in the head, burnt and buried in a shallow grave behind her husband’s business. Meanwhile, her children were excitedly waiting for her to celebrate one of their birthdays. Now these innocent children have become orphaned.

Like many thousands in our country and many millions around the world, Zaila was a victim of the Violence Against Women (VAW) pandemic. About one in three women in the world suffer from violence by their own partners. Dozens of these victims in Guyana will end their lives of terror and misery only by death, just as more than 40,000 women around the world this year. Of the 87,000 women globally murdered, about 40,000 of them are killed by a partner. Zaila Sugrim is now one of them. So too is Farida Khayum of Essequibo, the newest Guyanese victim, who has left three of the newest orphans in Guyana.

The nation is genuinely shocked and many of our citizens are demanding action. There has been no word from the Minister of Public Security. He is too busy thinking about men who frequent places where sex workers hang out, while conspiring to replace Moses Nagamootoo as Prime Minister. There has been no word from the Minister of Social Protection, under whom women affairs fall. She is too busy politicking. The Minister of Public Health is similarly silent, also too busy with politics and desperately trying to stop Basil Williams from emerging as a presidential candidate. The Prime Minister, desperately trying to stop Ramjattan from replacing him, is too concerned about dual citizens to even bother about the senseless killing of a woman. The President, as usual, seems too busy doing nothing to even care. The truth is that the President and his Government are missing in action, MIA, as VAW continues to escalate and the national crisis heightens.

Not so long ago, a man pumped bullets into the head of his wife in a busy Georgetown street. Less than a month ago, a young man drove his car back and forth over his wife. Now, there are the sad and fatal stories of Zaila Sugrim and Farida Khayum. But such brutal attacks on women by their partners are occurring nearly every week in Guyana. These stories prick our conscience too often. Each time, we are shocked and our conscience tells us enough is enough. But our country moves on, little action is taken, the Government chooses to be MIA, and we await the next death to prick our conscience a little more. The problem is our leaders seem to be numb by the frequency and the increasing brutality of these murders, that they treat them as just another unfortunate event in the daily grind of life in Guyana.

I heard today on a TV programme, Ms Gail Teixeira raising the issue and calling on Government to lead the fight against VAW and IPV. Ms Teixeira, who led Guyana’s team to the International Conference on Population and Development  (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994 has been relentless in demanding more action against VAW. Ms Priya Manickchand has been an ardent advocate, urging a vigorous national effort to combat VAW. Many women and NGOs have been actively working on their own to stem the tsunami of VAW in Guyana. But our present Government continues to behave as if VAW is not a matter for concern. Since 2015, the APNU/AFC Government has been either silent or extremely stingy in acknowledging Guyana has a VAW problem and that IPV is epidemic in our country. We are not alone. Both VAW and IPV are pandemics, public health crises, in every country in the world. But our Government cannot excuse itself because VAW happens to be a global problem. Guyana needs action now and the President must step up to the plate.

Sincerely,

Dr Leslie Ramsammy