RECENT news of the murder of two women may have been smothered by the political impasse resulting from the March 2 election and the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent years, Guyana has recorded a steep rise in violence against women and children. We cannot, as a country, be happy with this development. It is true that such violence has become commonplace throughout the world, but that should not serve to make us immune to it. We cannot be comfortable when citizens, mostly males, kill our womenfolk with such frequency.
The nature of the two most recent incidents at Linden and Bartica, respectively, betrays something deeper than crimes of passion. From all reports, these were premeditated acts that were seemingly well planned. In both instances, the violence, or threat of violence, against the victims were known by the community and the police. This raises the question of the safety of citizens in situations of domestic violence. When the community and law enforcement seem incapable of protecting women from the scourge of wanton violence, then it is clear that our society is in deep distress.
It would appear that citizens, for some reason, have become cynical about the value of human life. If that is true, then something has to be hastily done to rectify that moral failing. We have heard stories of relatives, and in some instances, the victims themselves being lenient towards men who physically and mentally abuse women. It is understandable that the power of forgiveness is a strong motivation, or in some instances, the fear of retaliation is clear and present. Maybe the society as a whole has become too wrapped up in the culture of individualism to care much about what happens to their fellow humans.
Whatever the reasons, it is time Guyana wakes up to what is fast becoming a crisis of huge proportions. When children are forced to witness the murder of their mothers at the hands of their fathers or stepfathers, it is no longer just another crime. The children are being traumatised in ways that would affect them for the rest of their lives. In the final analysis, then, the effect of these violent acts is universal. Our communities cannot continue to endure such shocks much longer without becoming spaces of social deviance and alienation. The normalisation of violence is a prerequisite to a dysfunctional society.
And what about the police? Why are they so seemingly helpless in the face of this extreme form of intentional violence? We have already drawn attention to the apparent leniency of the victims and other loved ones. But that should not, in the final analysis, prevent the police from doing their job of protecting citizens, especially the most vulnerable. It is time for a zero-sum approach by the police regarding domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and children. True, there must be regard for due process and human rights, but there is enough evidence that a stern reaction is needed. It must not be left to the courts to administer extreme penalties after the fact; there must be strong preventative measures by the police and other civil society institutions.
This brings us to the role of government, the family and other established institutions. We repeat, it must be clear to all by now that we are in the face of a moral crisis that demands immediate intervention, both at the back and front ends. There must be a crusade against violence and for the respect of life. The right to life for women and children must be front and centre; the family must begin to teach our boys to respect women as equal humans endowed with the same rights as men. This credo must be extended to institutions such as the church and schools. In other words, these teachings must be integral to our spiritual and educational experiences.
Finally, the government, as the overarching national institution, must show leadership in this area. Ultimately, the welfare of citizens is a primary function of government; those who govern must see this crisis in national terms, and not as an isolated area of concern. We cannot be a functioning democracy when our women are being killed with such frequency. It’s time to act.