Guyana must now be one of the most dangerous places for a woman to live

Since January, over twenty women have been murdered at the hands of men they knew, the most recent and horrific crimes involving a son allegedly locking his mother in a room and beating her to death and a spurned ex-lover allegedly setting in wait and killing the mother of the woman he wanted to marry. This week’s column comes from Guyanese Luke Daniels, a UK based social activist and domestic violence counsellor, whose work with men at London’s Everyman Centre received recognition in a 1995 television documentary “Pulling the Punches”. He is completing a book by the same title (see http://www.pullingthepunches.com). Next week’s column will continue this discussion by expanding on a point hinted at below, namely that we cannot abstract the brutality that is being manifested against women from the wider brutality and indifference that have come to characterise so many dimensions of contemporary Guyanese life. It is symptomatic of a profound disconnection that combines with underlying power differentials to result in women being regularly targeted for assault and murder. Without ever losing sight of the women, in fact because we must not lose sight of the women, it is important that we not reduce these horrific accounts simply to a private matter, a man-woman dynamic. In short, we need to ensure that we do not domesticate our discussions of domestic violence.

Stop This Slaughter
By Luke Daniels

Guyana must now be one of the most dangerous places for a woman to live with regular newspaper reports of women brutally murdered by their partners. It is time to put a stop to this senseless slaughter of women. Growing up in Guyana my father always cautioned me and my brothers not to hit girls as it was cowards who hit women. What has happened to our men that we think it is ok to abuse and even kill women?

For too long we have been encouraged to believe that what happens between a husband and wife is not our business. This attitude has left our sisters, aunts, mothers, daughters and friends vulnerable to abuse with no one to come to their rescue. It is time for a change in attitude, for all of us are affected when a life is destroyed by domestic violence.

Men have to learn that it is acceptable to intervene to stop the violence as when some men abuse it is all men that are tainted by their actions. If we feel unable to intervene alone we must get the support of family members and friends. We cannot afford to wait on the police to protect women, direct action is necessary to save lives.

The government has a responsibility to protect all of its citizens and ensure that they live lives free from fear of violence. The law has an important role to play in protecting women and the police force must be made accountable for its failings in upholding the law.

What is happening in Guyana? Why is the police force failing to protect women? Is it because too many of them are abusers themselves that they treat domestic violence as less serious a crime? The government has a responsibility to not only see that there are adequate laws to protect but that the police force is adequately trained and are accountable for their actions or inaction as the case might be.

The message has to be loud and clear that if anyone is abused the police will make an arrest. Instead of this we see the force failing to take action, often despite repeated desperate complaints. Too often even if action is taken the abuser is let off lightly. When we have government officials and members of the police force abusing women behind closed doors it will take a great deal of effort to bring about change in attitude and behaviour.

In the meantime women have to learn to protect themselves. For those not already trapped in a violent relationship having some sense of the type of man who will pose a future threat to their safety is important for their survival. From my experience of working with perpetrators of domestic violence I have observed that men who are extremely jealous, controlling and possessive are more likely to perpetrate. Of course at the beginning of a relationship these attributes can make a woman feel very special, but it is not long before the controlling behaviour creeps in –who were they talking to and what about? They are discouraged from having friends. This is especially dangerous as friends and family are cut off, leaving the victim dependent only on the partner. Woman need to check out the man’s attitude to women generally; is he disrespectful and abusive in his language to women? And of course in the early days of courting it is important to ask their opinion of domestic violence. Many perpetrators believe that women like men who beat them and some women have internalised the notion that ‘if my man don’ beat me he don’ love me’. Women must make it clear that they detest men who abuse women and taking action at the first instance of any violence is important or the violence can only get worse.

We must also teach our children that abuse of any kind is unacceptable. From my work I have learnt that hitting children is one of the root causes of domestic violence. When children are hit and told that ‘it is because we love them’, we confuse them about what loving is. It is not surprising that many grow up believing that abuse is a sign of love. We must teach our children that using violence is unacceptable, but we cannot do this if we continue to beat them as parents. Some argue that they have to ‘teach them a lesson’; the only lesson we teach is that violence is an acceptable way to control behaviour. These same boys grow up to be men who feel they can use violence to control their women.

If beating children did any good, as many believe, the Caribbean should have the most peaceful societies when you consider how much violence is done to children. Instead violence abounds, with shockingly high murder rates per capita in several countries in the region.

Women have to be aware that the most dangerous time for them is when they decide to leave a violent man. This is where state intervention is absolutely necessary. There are organisations like Red Thread that help women negotiate this difficult period and getting professional help is important. Providing protection for women escaping abusive situations – like enough safe houses and adequate resettlement arrangements – is an absolute responsibility and necessity of the government if women are to be protected.

Nothing will change until we get men to realise that hitting women is never acceptable. If a relationship is not working out it is time to move on –not abuse or kill.

(This is one of a series of fortnightly columns from Guyanese in the diaspora and others with an interest in issues related to Guyana and the Caribbean)

http://www.stabroeknews.com/2009/features/07/27/in-the-diaspora-69/

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