Honourable Prime Minister, Honourable Minister of Human Services, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Ministers of government, Members of Parliament, US Ambassador, members of the diplomatic corp, distinguished guests, students.
If we are to be successful in addressing and eliminating gender based violence, of which domestic violence is a form, then we have to treat not only the signs and symptoms but we have to get to the root causes of this and not only address these but also uproot them.
In doing so, we have to have a clear understanding of what is this thing we called domestic violence. The first thing we have to know is that gender based violence, including domestic violence, is not unique to Guyana but what is unique to Guyana are the very high levels of domestic violence, its pervasiveness and its increasingly brutal and deadly consequences.
What are some of the facts about domestic violence in Guyana?
Apart from children, there is no single category of persons who are so verbally and psychologically abused, intimidated and threatened, beaten, brutalized, raped and sexually abused as the women of Guyana. And by whom – their husbands, partners, ex-partners, boyfriends, in laws and relatives.
Why is this so?
Why is it that women, not only in Guyana but all over the world, are the primary victims and survivors of domestic violence – why is this so? Is it because we are bad or evil? Absolutely not. The key to this questions of course lies in the fact that our only problem is that we were born female. Because gender based violence, and by association domestic violence, is rooted in the socially constructed roles assigned to men and women that society and its institutions impose on us – and are reproduced in the way we socialize and raise our children. When we raise our boy children to be aggressive, in charge, head of the household, dominant, un-educated, the enforcers- ashamed to show pain and hurt, to cry to show emotion- we are doing a great disservice to them and to all those they will come into contact as they progress through life. And when we raise out girl children to be docile, submissive, accepting, uneducated and un-empowered we are setting the stage for the cycle of gender based violence and domestic violence to rotate and gather speed on its path to misery and destruction.
How do we do this?
Perpetrators of violence do not drop from the sky neither do they come from Jupiter or the far reaches of the universe – they are created by us and our society. We are their enablers. How do we as a society enable and produce so many person who are abusers or who support abuse or accept abuse?
We do this –
- when we beat our children – demonstrating to them that the person with power, has the right to enforce the rules through physical punishment and determine right and wrong.
- We enable a culture of violence and abuse when we insult and bully our peers in school and do not speak out against this or do not enforce strict guidelines outlawing this type of violence in our school system.
- We enable a culture of violence when those in positions of power and influence use their power to dominate, control and demand compliance of others in subordinate positions.
- We enable violence and abuse -when agencies and support services fail to take necessary and decisive action to prevent domestic violence.
- We produce abusers and victims of abuse when our children are witnesses to domestic violence and when family, relatives, friends and neighbours do not report and speak out against violence in our communities.
- When we abuse, neglect and brutalize children we are creating adults who will in turn be our brutalizers and abusers.
- We enable abusers when survivors of domestic violence and their dependent children find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of violence because they are financially dependent and there is no place for them to go to to escape the brutality of their lives.
The Government and parliament of Guyana must re -set their priorities. What better investment is there than the investment in Guyana’s human capital – its children, women and men; and services that allow all of us to achieve our full potential and live lives free from violence and the threat of violence regardless of our sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, geography or religion?
All have to become actively involved in the elimination of gender based violence. This is not the job of someone else it must be the responsibility of all of us. This has to be a national priority. We hope that this launch of a National Conversation on Domestic Violence will help us as a nation to re-focus and re-dedicate ourselves to the elimination of all forms of gender based violence within our society.
Speech given by Danuta Radzik of Help & Shelter at the launch of the National Conversation on Domestic Violence on 27th June 2012.