…to curb surge in domestic violence, says women’s rights activist
By Vishani Ragobeer
GENDER inequality and gender discrimination, which are some of the root causes of domestic violence and gender-based violence should be addressed in order to stymie their occurrence, according to women’s rights activist, Danuta Radzik.
In a recent interview with the Guyana Chronicle, Radzik, who is a member of the NGO Help and Shelter, emphasised that domestic violence and gender-based violence are not just a man getting drunk and beating his wife, or him beating his wife because she is not a good housewife. While these are issues which should be addressed with much alacrity, she clarified that those occurrences are symptoms of a system which oppresses women and women’s rights.
“Domestic violence and gender-based violence have been around like forever and unless the root causes and the structural causes of gender-based violence are not tackled, it will continue,” Radzik said.
She subsequently explained that these root causes include gender inequality, gender discrimination and the social system of patriarchy.
The activist further posited, “These persons who are abusers of women, [who are] domestic violence abusers, they didn’t drop from the sky. They were created by our society here and every single country of the world because of the way persons are socialised from birth.”
She also lamented that there is little progress being made on transforming gender relations, which results in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and the policing of women’s bodies- extending to their sexual and reproductive health.
According to the United Nation’s Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, gender discrimination is, “Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
Gender equality is: “The concept that women and men, girls and boys have equal conditions, treatment and opportunities for realising their full potential, human rights and dignity, and for contributing to (and benefitting from) economic, social, cultural and political development.”
So far, for this year alone, a total of 17 women have been killed by their spouses, leaving 43 children motherless, according to Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud.
In a recent statement, Dr Persaud highlighted, “Domestic violence remains a taboo, shuttered behind closed doors and only emerging as bloody faces, bruised limbs, broken spirits and dead bodies. Fear of societal judgement, insecurities about children and finances, family pressure and manipulation keeps this a hushed conversation or results in an overwhelming silence.”
Radzik explained that for this year, there were a number of challenges stemming from the COVID-19 which led to an increase in domestic violence cases. She stated that the stay-at-home guidelines constrict women and children to homes where there abusers are; here, there may be increased tension due to a loss or reduction of livelihoods, for example.
Also, social services offered by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Help and Shelter, the Ministry of Human Services and other agencies may not be operating at full capacity. This reduced the amount of help that can be offered to vulnerable groups.
And yet another challenge is that it is more difficult for women to find some sanctuary staying with a friend or relative. This could be because persons are wary of the spread of COVID-19, or simply because they too are financially constrained and are not capable of providing any extra support.
“Where would you go? You can’t go back to the abuser’s place and you can’t necessarily go to a friend or even family,” she said.
Cognisant of these challenges presented by the pandemic, Radzik stressed that the national COVID-19 planning and management should include persons who are grounded in women’s rights and supporting vulnerable populations.
“The [National] COVID-19 Task Force has some representation, but it does not have that kind of representation. From the little I know, it has never been broad-based enough,” she said, adding, “these issues [domestic violence and gender-based violence] come from a position of knowledge and understanding of things like domestic violence and how women are affected by it.”
In December, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security will launch its 914 emergency hotline in an attempt to link survivors to agencies, advocacy programmes, referral pathways, microenterprise industries, public-private skills employment database matching and offer immediate help to extricate them from violent situations.
Operators of this 24-hour hotline will offer support, referral to victims and survivors, family, friends and professionals via an integration of the services available at both the domestic violence unit and the Childcare and Protection Agency.
Minister Persaud highlighted that nine social workers were trained through the Survivors Advocacy Programme, to offer emotional support and crisis counselling to victims of domestic and sexual violence and act on the victim’s behalf when necessary.
This is one of the measures being employed to help tackle the scourge of domestic and gender-based violence. Radzik commented that the 911 hotline, which is the national emergency hotline, has received numerous negative reviews, but she is optimistic that this new hotline would function better.
“I really hope it works well, so that people can get quicker and better responses, especially in response to domestic violence, gender-based violence issues, and even [human] trafficking,” Radzik said.
Beyond this hotline, next year, Minister Persaud highlighted that the ministry will create a centralised database system to facilitate information-sharing and capture reports in a systematic manner to guide intervention and programme and policy development.