Cultural change needed to reduce gender-based violence

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By Bibi Khatoon

The Women and Gender Equality Commission believes that the culture of Guyanese towards gender-based violence needs to change in an effort to combat the problem.

Presenting its preliminary findings on Guyana’s gender laws, the Commission today pointed out that the patriarchal assumptions governing the country’s legal system.

 

Chairperson of the Women and Gender Equality Commission, Indra Chanderpaul

Gender –based violence is a serious problem in Guyana which has resulted in several deaths, the Commission noted.

 

At a forum which was held at the National Library’s conference room, Chairperson of the Women and Gender Equality Commission, Indra Chanderpaul pointed out that Guyana has done well in its push for laws which protects women.

However, referring to the  findings of Attorney-at-law Melinda Janki, she noted that the enforcement of those laws need a complete overhaul.

“There is little point in having a progressive framework if magistrates, judges, police officers and other public officials lack the resources to identify, arrest, try, convict and punish offenders. It is also self defeating to rely on public officials who do not understand women’s rights to continue to hold patriarchal attitudes. There appears to be something close to a culture for immunity for discrimination against women,” she said.

Chanderpaul said the findings are similar to that of the access to justice programme which the Commission undertook.

Representatives from various women’s organisations and agencies at Friday’s forum

Another issue she referred to is the limited access to courts in rural areas where it can take days to get to courts, only to be told that the matter is being adjourned.

Additionally, court times are sometimes inconvenient for working women –something which was aided with the setting up of the night court.

Janki said the government has failed to protect women against gender based violence

“Guyana’s legal system originated with European colonists, mostly Dutch and British who regarded women as inferior. In the 21st century, Ducth and British have moved on a long way from that, Guyana has not. The deep structure of our law remains colonial and patriarchal and if you understand that, you will be more aware of how law can oppress women while appearing to liberate,” she explained.

Attorney-at-law Melinda Janki

The Attorney-at-law pointed out that marital rape for example, was not recognized until 2010. This she said is possibly because in traditional marriages, a woman becomes her husband’s property. “This idea of a woman as the man’s property is still there in people’s minds and it shows up in law enforcement.”

She also pointed to the Sexual Offences Act where a man is not guilty of rape if he reasonably believes that the woman gave her consent.

The Women and Gender Equality Commission solicited recommendations for improvement of the gender laws. The proposals will be made to Parliament to have them changed.

Some of the recommendations proposed in the findings document included the provision of mobile courts for women in rural communities, raising fines for criminal offences and adding a wider range of penalties, carry out an analysis of the employment sector to identify what jobs women are in and how does their pay compare to men, and introduce paternity leave in law.

According to information obtained by the News Room, there were 2,431 reports of domestic violence in 2016 and 2,140 in 2017 with majority of the victims being women.

Of the sum, 1,240 persons were charged in 2016 and 1,187 in 2017 while 16 and 17 were warned respectively.

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