Understanding power relations key in addressing violence
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From left to right: Coordinator of the Guyana Help and Shelter, Colin Marks; Psychologist, Wil Campbell; and Gender Affairs worker, Diego Alphonso
From left to right: Coordinator of the Guyana Help and Shelter, Colin Marks; Psychologist, Wil Campbell; and Gender Affairs worker, Diego Alphonso

— affirm stakeholders working to eliminate intimate partner violence

VIOLENCE, particularly intimate partner violence (IPV), has been of great concern locally, emphasised by frequent, fatal occurrences, and stakeholders who work to eliminate IPV agree that an understanding of power relations is crucial to addressing this problem.

At a recent forum organised by the Guyana Association of Professional Psychologists, Coordinator of the Non-Governmental Organisation ‘Help and Shelter’, Colin Marks, postulated that power dynamics in relationships contribute to the manifestation of violence.

“When we talk about violence, especially in the Guyanese context, it is our social psyche being affected,” Marks said, adding: “When I look at the phenomena of violence, it’s being taught and if it’s not taught, it’s being caught in the socialisation process.”

He continued: “Let’s not mince words, it’s all about power in the relationship… that is why many victims or survivors are women and perpetrators are men.”

For context, the World Health Organisation (2012) defines IPV as any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship, including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.

And according to the Guyana Women’s Health and Life Experiences Survey (2018), conducted by the United Nations (UN) Women, inequitable gender attitudes and the normalisation and justification of violence are often associated with increased rates of IPV.

That study noted that the respondents from Guyana believed that women have certain gender roles (such as taking care of the home). It was also noted that behaviours intended to control women’s bodies, autonomy and contact with others were strongly correlated with an increased experience of IPV.


“Women who reported that their partner exhibited one or more controlling behaviours (such as stopping her from meeting friends, insisting on knowing where she is at all times, frequently getting jealous or angry even if she just talks with another man or checking her cell phone, among others) also reported experiencing economic, emotional, physical and sexual violence at more than twice the rate of women who did not report any controlling behaviours,” the study noted.

These power relations, Marks noted, impact the life experiences of women, children and men too, though they are often the perpetrators of violence.

He explained that in a household a child may see or experience violence and may grow up internalising that violence is a way of dealing with disagreements. Eventually, that child may, in turn, either become a perpetrator of violence or accept when violence is meted out to him/her.

According to the 2018 study, some women believed that there are instances where violence meted out by a male partner is justifiable. These instances include going out without informing the male partner, neglecting the child/children, arguing with him, refusing to have sex with him, burning the food, or if he suspects that she has an outside relationship.


Marks, as well as local psychologist, Wil Campbell disagreed that IPV is justifiable. Instead, they emphasised that resolving disagreements can be done in other ways than resorting to violence and abuse.

Importantly, Campbell highlighted that the occurrence of IPV has an impact on children too. Often, he said, that impact can be long-lasting.

“We, unwittingly — for the most part, teach violence to our children. When that child gets into a situation, where they are unable to control somebody by any other means or they have not learnt how to resolve that, that child who might now be an adult, might now resort to violence,” he said.

He said efforts must be placed on relearning conflict resolution through dialogue and managing one’s emotions and behaviours.

“We have to teach conflict resolution skills. Children should be able to see that mommy and daddy can disagree but they are able to resolve the issues,” the psychologist explained.

Marks also noted that a concerted effort has been placed on offering men a space to “offload” and interrogate the violence they might have normalised. He also noted that women who accept this violence must be supported and given space to realise that it is not right.

Campbell, however, explained that people who are exposed to traumatic experiences over a long period of time, moreso if those experiences are unresolved, develop emotional or cognitive defects. In fact, he underscored that every form of interpersonal abuse results in psychological distress.

Meanwhile, a gender affairs worker, Diego Alphonso, agreed that men should be given the space to talk about their experiences and feelings.

“Over the years, we’ve been listening — in my field, my profession — there are men out there, the very perpetrators too, they’re in need of real help,” he related.

Importantly, in a previous engagement with this newspaper, women’s rights activist, Danuta Radzik, highlighted that 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.

She said: “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.

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