Op-Ed: Violence Against Women, a national crisis being neglected

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Below is an opinion piece done by former Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy;

Former Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy

It appears to have been missed by our government, but Domestic Violence Against Women (Intimate Partners Violence) has long passed a national crisis in Guyana. It is with deep concern that I make an appeal to President Granger and his APNU+AFC Cabinet.

Guyana is presently in the midst of a serious crisis of domestic violence and this national crisis demands the attention and attending action of the President and his Cabinet. The physical, sexual and mental abuse of women in Guyana continues to escalate unabated. The frequency of the murders of women by their spouses (Intimate Partners), close associates and by other individuals has increased to unprecedented and frightening levels. What is worse is that the cruelty of these murders has also reached unfathomable levels.

It is incumbent of the President to declare a national emergency in confronting this obnoxious phenomenon. It is necessary for President Granger to demand that the relevant ministers present a national action plan now. In fact, the President must scold the relevant ministers for neglecting the issue and allowing it to escalate to beyond a national crisis.

The truth is that the increasing frequency of killings of women appears to have not gained the attention of the President and his Cabinet. The President has been totally absent in addressing the crisis that women and our country faces. The Prime Minister is preoccupied in proving his relevance in this government. The Minister of Public Security has been AWOL, missing in action, on this issue. Other relevant ministers, like the Ministers of Social Protection and Public Health, Amna Ally and Volda Lawrence, appear too busy with other matters. None of the Ministers with direct responsibilities and none of the Cabinet Ministers have shown any empathy or concern. It is as if the increasing violence against women in Guyana is invisible to President Granger and his APNU+AFC Cabinet. While the President and his Cabinet appear to have a very demanding appetite for media attention, they have totally abrogated their responsibility to ensuring the rights of women and children are respected, promoted and defended.

Yesterday, two women were killed by their spouses in Guyana. In appears that this has become an everyday event. In fact, violence against women is increasingly and daily occupying the pages of our newspapers and filling the minutes on TV and radio newscasts.  Social media now is filled with the daily occurrences of violence – physical, sexual, mental – in Guyana. To be sure, this is a global crisis and not limited to Guyana. But in Guyana, it seems as though the authorities are still unmoved and not paying the kind of serious attention that a national crisis demands. The invisibility of domestic violence to the government and the authorities in general, even as it has reached levels far beyond a national crisis, is startling, troubling and a national scandal.

But it is not invisible to the Guyanese people. I commend the Leader of the Opposition for demonstrating by his expression of concern that domestic violence demands an urgent national response. In this regards I commend Priya Manichand, the former Minister of Social Services and the former Minister of Education, in Guyana for using her Facebook Post to highlight the growing crisis. I commend the media, across the political divide, for ensuring that they frontally highlight the cruelty and the neglect of domestic violence and the increasingly cruel and violence murders of women and girls in Guyana. I commend the thousands of Guyanese sisters, in particular and Guyanese brothers, who have taken to Facebook and social media to highlight the growing crisis and to urge action.

The WHO and PAHO, UNICEF, UNFPA have been making sterling efforts globally and nationally to highlight violence against women (VAW) and the impact on society. In fact, for more than a decade, the WHO has been warning that VAW has become a global crisis that demands urgent global and national responses. In 2008, as President of the WHO, I declared that VAW is a public health crisis and actions to combat VAW must become a priority agenda item on national and global development programs.

Domestic violence against women and girls remain one of the most systematic and widespread violation of the Rights of Women globally. This is very much evident in Guyana today. To be sure, this is not a new problem globally and it is certainly not a new problem for Guyana. In highlighting this issue, therefore, I am not in any way trying to place the blame on President Granger and his APNU+AFC Government. It would be unfair of me and of anyone to do so. When I was a Cabinet Members, domestic violence was a major national problem that we were forced to confront. Priya Manickchand, as the then Minister of Social Services, made it a national priority social issue to address. Throughout the period of the PPP tenure in Government, we were robust in keeping the issue on the national agenda.

While not casting blame on the government for the escalation of domestic violence in our country, I am accusing the present government of being neglectful and not addressing the problem in any urgent and comprehensive manner. There is need for the government to say something and to do something. Their silence show that they are tone-deaf and insensitive to the problems women and girls face and that is an albatross around the neck of our country.

Globally 35% of women are subjected to daily violence and abuse in a domestic setting. It is estimated that in Guyana, the figures are now surpassing 50%.  The time for silence is long past. The Government must act now. Domestic Violence Against Women is not merely another problem that affects Guyana’s development, it is a national crisis at this moment. The Government of Guyana is AWOL and abrogating its responsibility. In lieu of its silence on this matter, I am asking the Women and Gender Equality Commission to declare VAW in Guyana as qualified to be a national crisis.

Dr. Leslie Ramsammy

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