by Rakesh Rampertab

ON October 19, Ms. Digna Ochoa, a human rights attorney in Mexico, was murdered. Ms. Ochoa, a notable opponent of wealthy landowners, had previously survived several death threats, a kidnapping, and torture. This extreme example of violence against women is not unique to Mexico, but also exists in Guyana where women are quickly becoming endangered; here, male-perpetrated violence, sexual assault including rape, and criminal aggression are on a rise, ignoring race or class and including even the pregnant, girl children, and very old women.

Four years ago, a man threw his burning stove on his wife with whom he had a 30-year marriage; they had a dispute and she died from burns the following day. In July 2001, Ms. Ivy Sugrim (33), a mother of 6 was stabbed to death by her husband during a quarrel. They had been disputing for days. That same month, the death of Ms. Solamie Mohabal of Chateau Margot, East Coast, further convinced women that domestic abuse had not abated. Ms. Mohabal died 2 days after falling into a coma from a fractured skull. According to her relatives, her husband had abused her for years. In September, Mr. Bowin Persaud, a sugar worker from East Canji, Berbice, hanged himself after chopping his “estranged” wife and her sister. And in a case that exemplified, arguably, the commonest “abuse” scenario, Ms. Julie Moore (34) was beaten by her husband (Mr. Winston Moore, 32) after she remarked about his “untidy” habits. For the several “cuffs” received by Ms. Moore, medical attention was required, which further illustrated that it’s often from this small-scale abuse that women eventually become victims of extreme violence.

The Domestic Violence Act (1996) is being invoked with unprecedented efforts by attorneys today, and recently, a report prepared by various civic organizations including the Ministry of Health on domestic abuse was made public. In addition, more workshops are being staged, primarily in areas reputed with high numbers of domestic abuse cases such as Black Bush Polder, Berbice. As with most, a recently organized workshop sponsored by the Yakusari/Canje Pheasant Women's Group and the Roadside Baptist Church Skills Training Centre, became possible through funding from foreign donors, in this case UNICEF. However, there is still a lot to be done; one thing that is desperately needed is the establishment of counseling centers.

Domestic abuse exists primarily but not exclusively within poorer communities, including traditional sugar- and rice-oriented areas of the coastal plain. There are numerous reasons that help explain this, some of which are; role of subservience often assumed by women, lack of constructive and educational dialogue between husbands and wives, intolerance by husbands, financial instability, and inadequate social methods to address this problem. That is, the existence of community centers with councelors. And men who do not venture socially outside their immediate circle of friends, are often very susceptible to solving domestic disputes when angry, frustrated, and impatient.

The idea of taking private dilemmas into a public arena is often regarded with suspicion among Indian spouses; it is not uncommon for a case that reaches the courtroom to be withdrawn, with the victimized female “feeling sorry” for the male. Also, many abused spouses who never worked publicly but are housewives, are usually reluctant to have their husbands incarcerated for long terms, since this will result in their having to venture publically to earn a salary. Then there has always been the fear among others who avoid punishing their abusive husbands out of fear of future retaliation, or because they believe that an abusive male will eventually reform.

While there has been an increase in the number of those charged for domestic abuse, there has also been, unfortunately, an increase in those charged for sexual assaults, including rape. A disturbing percent of these assaults involve minors, some as young as 9-years-old. Last year, a female student involved in a minor auto accident was placed into a minibus for the Georgetown Hospital; she was taken instead by the driver/conductor to a quiet city spot and raped. In October 2001, a trial began in which a man is being accused of luring a 9-year-old girl into a cinema bathroom where he allegedly raped the child. Another man had been convicted of impregnating a 12-year-old. This child was 4 months pregnant when her relatives, having discovered marks on her stomach, sought the assistance of a doctor (she kept silent because the rapist had threatened her with death). In Berbice, a young farmer gagged and raped a retarded teenager who was left alone at home.

Since the 2001 general elections ended, most of the victims who suffered in the wave of violent crimes have been women; they have been beaten with gun butts, cutlasses, and knives, and in some cases, shot to death. In Success on the East Coast, one mother has been stripped before her children after the bandits threatened to rape her 12-year-old daughter. In Sophia, Georgetown, a 7-month-pregnant mother was beaten and also stripped, while her mother-in-law suffered a broken arm. As expected, numerous rapes committed by criminals during robberies were not reported to the media or police officials because of the humiliation involved, but some have surfaced through communities via “word-of-mouth.”

But some have surfaced nationally, such as a few cases that occurred between July and October 2001, exhibiting the use of extreme violence and brutality, even against senior citizens. In these, there existed a streak of carnality and brute force that are, at best described as perverse. In August, an 18-year-old woman (Ms. Anita Persaud) was raped, murdered by strangulation, and thrown into a trench in Mahaicony. Her hands revealed gashes made by some kind of blade, and her left elbow bone was protruding, exhibiting evidence of a fierce struggle. Only a few months earlier, another young woman returning home from typing classes was kidnapped, raped, murdered, and buried in a shallow grave in the Parika area.

In Berbice, a senior citizen was raped and murdered, while two counties westward, in Essequibo, another senior citizen who lived alone was likewise murdered. In this case, a metal “instrument” has been forced into her vagina. In between three weeks in October 2001, two mothers, each with 2 children who are minors, were murdered, one by criminal(s) and the other by a lawman. Ms. Savitri Pershad (49), a sole breadwinner for her pre-teen daughters, was chopped severely, raped, and thrown into a creek on the East Bank of Essequibo (before Parika). The other, Ms. Sonia Jerrick (23), was shot in the face by a policeman, an acquaintance of hers. A married woman, she was killed after refusing to have sex with the lawman. Ironically, his response after being refused sums up a prevalent attitude amongst Guyanese men in relation to Guyanese women; the lawman reportedly said; “It not what woman wants, but what man wants.”

The role of men in the arresting of violence against women is tremendous, especially since we have little forum for discussions between the genders. More men have to become involved, and the first step to this is becoming fully conscious of what is happening. More must begin to attend workshops on domestic violence, and help diminish the gulf between themselves and critical information. Additionally, it is men who are in the most suitable position to challenge themselves (and other men), simply because there is a stronger conduit amongst men than there is between women and men. More than any other need, there is the need for men to communicate with their wives, common law partners, and female friends on the issue of domestic violence.

Unquestionably, there is great room for improvement in the relationship between our men and women, and in the manner in which men regard women and female children. Community leaders, in particular religious priests, have to begin to send a message to the men within their congregations. If this troubling trend of sexual assaults on preteens continues, our laws for rape and such assaults will have to be made sticker. The Domestic Violence Act will have to invoke more but more important than this law is the need for women to be less reluctant to go public if they’re suffering this domestic violence. Hopefully, we will establish more counseling centers around the nation, which will be not only an incentive to get apprehensive and fearful women to voice their problems, but will offer protection and measures of prevention.

Nov 7, 2001 [Reprinted from
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