Can you do me a favour? If you’re reading this in a public place then after this sentence, I’d like you to look at the women around you. If you’re reading this at home alone then I’d like to think of the various women you last saw when you were out and about – in the street, at work, in the café. Better yet, think of all the women in your life – your friends, coworkers, family.
Two thirds of all Guyanese women are abused, according to Guyana Public Hospital estimates. This was based on detection of obvious signs of abuse. Given the lack of sophistication of training, the GPH admitted, this statistic could actually be erring on the side of optimism. That’s right, it could be, and probably is, worse.
What does this mean? It means if you spotted 5 women just a minute ago, it’s highly likely that 3 of those 5 women are being or have been abused. It means that someone you know personally is suffering from abuse. It means that your little girl is at high risk of being abused when she grows up. It means that Guyanese society must be turning a serious blind eye to the plight of women, that women are deeply disrespected and neglected, that when politicians of all stripes fail to make violence against women a key campaign issue they are woefully ignorant or sickeningly apathetic and that there is a saddening and dangerous lack of love for women in this country.
It means that when men and women point out and object to instances of sexism, they are not “kill joys” or “man-haters” or “nazi-feminists”. They are the people who will not stand for the continued suffering of the abused two thirds. It means that if you will not shoulder your responsibility, as a member of this community of people who live and work and play right next to one another, to do whatever you can to assist, relieve or empower women, you too fail at being loving and respectful. Failing to love and respect is neglect and neglect is a form of abuse. Since sexism is “normal”, since society is structured in such a way that it puts down women in the most seemingly harmless of ways, at some point in time or the other, all of us have been guilty of neglecting women.
So what can you do about it? Well, you can learn to recognize signs of abuse. For instance, you should be wary if someone you know seems constantly anxious to please her partner, talks about how possessive her partner is, has to check in frequently with her partner on where she is and what she is doing, rarely goes out in public without her partner or has frequent “accidents”. Pay attention, lend a sympathetic ear, give company and show loving support. It is not helpful to criticize her for staying in such a relationship or try to pressure her to leave even though you might really want to do this. She would not be in her current situation if she wasn’t already confused and emotionally and psychologically exhausted. What she needs is to know that she is worthy of being well treated and the best way to show her is to do it yourself.
You can also show kindness to strangers around you. Share a smile with the woman sitting nearby. You never know what she may be going through.