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Red Thread engages GPF on implementing Domestic Violence laws

By iNews Guyana Staff

Red Thread engages GPF on implementing Domestic Violence laws

Senior Members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) including Crime Chief, Assistant Commissioner Paul Williams, met with Ms Karen De Souza and other representatives of Red Thread.
The discussion surrounded the “preliminary report” of a two-year project which commenced in 2016 focusing on “Engaging communities for improving implementation of Domestic Violence laws”.
According to the police, communities targeted were: Plaisance/BetterHope, La Parfaite Harmonie, Bartica, Lethem and Anna Regina.
During the research, police stations within the stated communities would have been observed as it relates to how members of the Force are dealing with domestic violence and other related matters.
This publication understands, from the discussion held, that both positive and negative behaviours and actions would have been observed.
It was highlighted that during the meeting those issues were addressed.
Moreover, the officers in attendance pledged to continue to focus on strengthening their collaborative efforts, in addressing Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, Sexual Offences and other aspects of crime prevention.
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Women and Children’s rights in Guyana: Rhetoric and reality

By Wintress White and Joy Marcus

Women and Children’s rights in Guyana: Rhetoric and reality

Protecting the rights of women and children is always an important obligation of any government. In Guyana, violence against women and children has been a serious problem for many years. In addition, women’s equality overall remains lacking; there are still strong cultural and religious traditions in Guyanese society that promote male domination over women and prevent women and girls from fully enjoying their human rights. In this context, the government has a responsibility to play a leadership role in terms of re-shaping harmful societal attitudes, promoting gender equity, and protecting women and children. This obligation however, remains largely unmet.

The current government of Guyana – like the previous one – has several female Ministers and does claim a commitment to women’s rights; however, the reality for women and children on the ground remains largely unchanged. Laws on the books and lip service to empowerment and equity aside – Guyanese women and children remain extremely vulnerable and disadvantaged, compared to their male counterparts. Specifically, serious flaws in the judicial system remain – although women currently hold the top positions of the Guyanese judiciary. Sexual violence matters remain under-reported, inadequately investigated, and conviction rates woefully low.

Although there is a Sexual Offences Act and a National Task Force designated to assist with its proper implementation, the fact is that that entity is largely non-functional. In addition, law enforcement officers are themselves often perpetrators of violence against women and children and also regularly collude with victimizers to thwart the course of justice. This has created a culture of distrust among women and children of the systems that are supposed to protect them. Other constitutional structures that are supposed to be in place to protect women and children such as the Human Rights Commission also have not yet been set up by the current government.

In other areas such as health and employment, the rights of women and children remain significantly unmet. Maternal and infant mortality rates in Guyana remain among the highest in the world, with little progress made towards improving these outcomes and consistent failure on the part of public healthcare facilities around the country to safeguard the wellbeing of women and children. In the hinterland regions in particular, pregnant women are not even receiving regular antenatal HIV testing – something which has been the gold standard of care for over two decades in other parts of the world. Hospitals are routinely out of stock of basic medications like saline, Panadol, and oral rehydration solution – key for treating diarrhea among young children- a major cause of infant mortality. That such crucial yet basic supplies and standards remain lacking in Guyana in 2017 point to deep and systemic failures on the part of government entities to function in ways that protect and safeguard women and children.

In terms of employment, the present government has not embarked on any real job creation; instead their main focus has been on entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise – areas in which Guyanese women have long engaged but which have not provided enough resources to lift generations out of poverty. Women in Guyana are routinely overworked and underpaid, and face regular harassment (sometimes sexual) and exploitation – on the streets as well as at their workplaces. Recent attempts by Junior Minister Scott to protect women security guards instead further entrenched notions of paternalism and female victimhood; instead of implementing systems to halt and hold the perpetrators of abuse and harassment accountable for their actions, the Minister suggested that the women should not do night work. Attitudes like this from government officials highlight the fact that women and children are still seen as second class citizens in Guyana, and that male perpetrators of abuse and violence against them are not held accountable – fueling a culture of inequity and impunity. Employed mothers are also not provided with any consideration such as affordable and accessible childcare facilities or breastfeeding breaks at their workplace, and children are regularly left alone in unsafe situations by parents (often mothers) who have no other alternatives. Instead of supporting families in ways that would strengthen and keep them intact, governmental agencies instead regularly remove children from their parents, without regard for the additional emotional trauma they are thereby inflicting. The case of the George brothers who burnt to death while at the drop-in center run by the Child Care and Protection Agency – a government facility – highlights this lack of true consideration for vulnerable women and children by the entities that are supposed to be protecting them. Lack of affordable housing remains another major problem affecting women and children in Guyana – especially those who are economically marginalized. Failure of the land allocation system to provide house lots to families in a timely and affordable manner has led to widespread squatting and confrontations between families – often female headed households – and government entities, most recently, the demolition crew from the Ministry of communities in A Field Sophia.

Groups such as elderly women, women and children with disabilities, and non-gender conforming women (members of the lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community) are also underserved by government agencies. There are no specific legal protections for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women and stigma, discrimination, and violence against these individuals remains widespread in Guyana. There is little to no recourse to justice for victims of such hate crimes, and many suffer in silence. Poverty, depression, suicidal ideation, and other negative mental health states are common in this community, with many persons struggling to survive economically. Although this current government has increased the old age pension, it is still a pittance and totally inadequate to meet living expenses, especially since the subsidy on water and electricity has been removed for elders, adding onto their costs. A similar situation exists for women and children with disabilities – while public assistance for them has increased, it does not reflect the true cost of living and is largely insufficient to meet persons’ daily needs. Women (and men) who are elderly or on public assistance are unable to access good medical care when free public facilities lack needed medications or testing facilities.

The minimum wage of $44,000GYD – also slightly increased by this government – is still not enough for a small family of four persons to live on, and it is the women who have to do the work of stretching the money. That the government points to these slight increases as proof of their caring for and commitment to providing a better life for all Guyanese would be laughable if insult had not been added to injury by the Parliamentarians giving themselves a significant salary increase six months after they came into power.

In some of the hinterland communities there are no police stations, magistrates’ courts , schools and health centres. Women who are abused by their husbands/partners have to suffer and sometimes die because there is no police station in the community and the nearest one is sometimes quite a long distance away with lots of bushes where the abuser could lie in wait for them. Some children have to walk distances away to go to school and when they are housed in dormitories there is sometimes lack of food and proper supervision. Hinterland regions often have just one child welfare or child protection officer for the entire area.

As Guyana is a signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, we can also use the concluding observations /recommendations made by the expert committee in response to the State’s report to measure our progress on a number of fronts. The most recent observations, responding to the 2012 report submitted by the previous administration are still a useful yardstick since little has been done to improve the situation of women in a number of areas. Some selected recommendations from the committee are:

“….9. The Committee calls on the State party to:

(a) Take the necessary steps to ensure the adequate dissemination of the Convention and the Committee’s general recommendations among all stakeholders, including Government ministries, parliamentarians, the judiciary, law enforcement officers, and religious and community leaders, so as to create awareness of women’s human rights and establish firmly in the country a legal culture supportive of women’s equality and non-discrimination; and

(b) Take all appropriate measures to enhance women’s awareness of their rights and the means to enforce them, including through providing women with information on the Convention in languages accessible to them in all regions of the State party, in particular in hinterland and rural areas and among the Amerindian communities, emphasizing ways to utilize the available legal remedies for violations of their rights. …

  1. The Committee encourages the State party:(a) To clearly define the mandate and the responsibilities of the national machinery for the advancement of women and to expeditiously strengthen that machinery by providing it with adequate human, financial and technical resources for it to coordinate and work effectively for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming;(b) To provide training on women’s rights to women and men working in the national machinery for the advancement of women; and(c) To strengthen its impact assessment of measures taken so as to ensure that such measures achieve their goals and targets…
    1. The Committee urges the State party:

    (a) To accord high priority to the full implementation of the Sexual Offences Act and to put in place comprehensive measures to prevent and address violence against women and girls, recognizing that such violence is a form of discrimination against women and constitutes a violation of their human rights under the Convention and a criminal offence and ensuring that women and girls who are victims of violence have access to immediate means of redress and protection and that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished, in accordance with general recommendation No. 19 of the Committee;

    (b) To provide mandatory training for judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials in procedures to deal with women victims of violence; (We should note that the judiciary have been very active in this regard)

    (c) To encourage women to report incidents of domestic and sexual violence by destigmatizing victims and raising awareness about the criminal nature of such acts;

    (d) To provide adequate assistance and protection to women victims of violence by strengthening the capacity of shelters and crisis centres, especially in hinterland areas, and enhancing cooperation with non-governmental organizations that provide shelter and rehabilitation to victims;

    (e) To collect statistical data on domestic and sexual violence disaggregated by sex, age and relationship between the victim and perpetrator; and

    (f) To provide effective protection against violence and discrimination against all groups of women through the enactment of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that includes the prohibition of all forms of discrimination against them and the decriminalisation of consensual adult same sex relations as indicated in the oral statement of the delegation. …”

    In conclusion, the Guyana government continues to fail the women and children of Guyana – especially those who are economically marginalized- on multiple fronts. With all the talk in their manifesto about women’s rights and equality, they are yet to submit a report to CEDAW due since 2016 on the current state of women and children in Guyana.

    This article was submitted by the Red Thread organization

    October 11 2017 , Stabroek News

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In The News

Protests over VAT measures question promised good life

By Dreylan Johnson 

Members and supporters of Red Thread gathered outside of the Ministry of Finance yesterday. “No new taxes, we already pay and punish enuf!” and “[No] VAT on human rights” were among some of the statements written on their placards. (Photo by Keno George)

Two separately organized protests in front of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) yesterday saw protestors questioning the concept of the “good life” that has continuously been promised by the Government of Guyana in light of recent Value-Added Tax (VAT) measures.

“I think the range of new taxes that the government has introduced over the last two years are extremely burdensome for the majority of the population and I think they need to rethink, they need to review the impact of these policies on working class people and even middle class people and see whether this really fulfills campaign promises, manifesto promises, promises of the good life, because certainly from my perspective the burdens are heavier and they need to reassess,” protestor Melissa Ifill commented during the protest in front of the ministry.

The demonstrations, which occurred simultaneously, started midday yesterday and lasted one hour. The group that met in front of the MoF was led by NGO Red Thread, while businessman Roshan Khan was responsible for mobilizing the group that congregated in front of the GRA.

Members and supporters of Red Thread gathered outside of the Ministry of Finance yesterday. “No new taxes, we already pay and punish enuf!” and “[No] VAT on human rights” were among some of the statements written on their placards. (Photo by Keno George)“The good life that we were promised, we are not feeling it, we are not seeing it. And we would really like to be able to enjoy it,” Red Thread member Joy Marcus, who was a part of the protest held in front of the ministry, stated.

Marcus called for the reversal of the institution of the 14% VAT on water and electricity, as was rumoured would be done for education. The woman stated that the burden of these taxes is felt mostly by the small man, the single parents and the pensioners. She related that shops have already started to raise their price, the excuse being that they need to cushion the additional costs they incur from the tax implementations.

“So when these things happen it’s the poor man or the poor woman and their family who are feeling the squeeze. And we would like these people to know that you need to think about your economy from the household and not from a national level,” Marcus stated.

There was no one issue for which the protesters had gathered. Filmmaker Kojo McPherson, being father to two children, expressed deep concern at the notion of taxing private education, while stating that parents oftentimes would sacrifice to get the best for their children.

McPherson opined that if the government’s position is that public school is available as an alternative to the private system, there is need for investment in the public school system so that students can actually be absorbed and their needs effectively catered to.

“It’s not easy to send your children to private school but this is something we do for our children and to be punished for that, it doesn’t make sense. I think the ministers’ comments were just callous and that’s the reason I’m out here,” McPherson said.

Some of the protesters who came out with businessman Roshan Khan yesterday to protest the VAT measures. All the placards called for education to remain VAT-free. (Photo by Keno George)

Khan, who had alluded to the taxes proposed in the sectors of private education and healthcare, had shared similar sentiments during his protest, calling the situation of the tax additions “unfortunate,” “depressing,” and “demoralizing,” and alluded to the possibility of brain drain as a result of the move to tax private education.

“People make sacrifices. I know employees can’t go and join lines for a day, 12 hours, 24 hours to get medical attention. I know people want some good education for their children so they sacrifice tremendously of all the important necessities of life in order to give their children an education and to have the compunction and to my opinion, the moral immaturity to impose VAT on this is very unfortunate and very depressing,” Khan said. He had also stated that the taxes were imposed on the populace without consultation or education.

Private education became subject to VAT on February 1, following the removal of zero-rated items, a measure of the 2017 Budget. An online petition started by the Sixth Form students of the School of the Nation’s Sixth Form College for the removal of the 14% VAT on private education, which got 14,000 signatures, was distributed to various government ministries last Friday.

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Judicial reform needed to end violence against women, children– experts

By Derwayne Wills

As the world observes 16 days of activism to end violence against women and children, the European Union’s (EU) mission here in Georgetown has lit up its building orange in solidarity with the movement.

While EU Ambassador to Guyana, Jernej Videtic believes judicial reform is necessary to end violence against women and children, local voices feel such reform must be complemented by behavioural shifts.

“A lot has to be done in terms of reforming the judicial system making it more effective to fight criminal acts,” Videtic told Demerara Waves Online Thursday evening. “A lot has been done already by the government. But not enough it seems because we see things are still happening.”

The ambassador expressed concern at the number of women who have died this year from acts of domestic violence or intimate partner violence saying these women must be remembered in our activism. He called for more sensitisation in the population, especially among men, on how to behave towards girls and women thus putting the sexes on more equal terms.

Red Thread Guyana, a women and child rights group, shares a similar position to the ambassador. “We have domestic violence law but there are gaps,” Red Thread member Joy Marcus told Demerara Waves Online. Marcus said the application of protection, occupation, and tenancy orders for victims of domestic violence and intimate partner violence would differ between the coast and hinterland or riverine areas.

Guyana’s established laws against domestic violence and intimate partner violence in 1996.“Not all communities have courts,” Marcus said, adding that a person can only be held for 72 hours whereas court sessions in some communities, like Mabaruma in Region One, are held every three months.

“When you release that person on bail the next day or three days, what happens three months down the line when there is the next court day?” Marcus questioned as she pointed to Red Thread’s experience.

Police outposts in hinterland areas also presents a problem since these locations are spread out and sometimes far away. “In Lethem, the perpetrator could escape over the border to Brazil and once he or she escapes then what happens?” Marcus continued.

As part of the US State Department-funded project, Red Thread is working in five communities across Guyana. These areas are Plaisance and Better Hope on the East Coast of Demerara, in Parfaite Harmonie, Lethem, Bartica, and Anna Regina.Red Thread is training two persons from each of the communities to recognise domestic violence and to work along with victims to navigate through the penal and judicial systems and offer moral support.

Outside of those structural issues, Marcus said there is also a need for behavioural shift especially among police officers. She said while there are police officers who have done as much as they can to assist, there are others who “push around victims.”

Marcus said although police stations profess to have a zero tolerance policy towards domestic violence and intimate partner violence, the attitudes of some officers say otherwise. Marcus called for further training of police officers to recognise the complex issue of domestic violence especially as it relates to the victim’s confidence in reporting domestic violence to the police.

Rights Activist Sherlina Nageer shares a similar position to Marcus and Red Thread. Nageer told Demerara Waves while reform is necessary and long overdue, it is only part of the solution. “What’s needed as well is a revolution in social thought and norms around gender and the constructs of masculinity and femininity.”

Nageer, a public health advocate who grounds regularly in public spaces with passersby, said work must happen on the ground, in the streets and in the communities. where it is essential. “At the end of the day, it’s people who implement and enforce the laws and we see time and time again how person’s biases affect the application of the law in Guyana.”

Nageer and Marcus’s comments came just weeks after the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released its 2016 situation analysis on women and children in Guyana. That report, drafted in collaboration with the Social Protection Ministry, states men in Guyana perceive themselves as having control over women’s bodies, and further that that perception of control extends to women’s offspring.

The 16 days of global activism ends on December 10. The EU mission located at Croal Street, Georgetown, will host a street fair to raise awareness of the need to end violence against women and children.

Cases of extreme violence against women continue to feature in this country’s media. Between august 2016 to November 2016, three women were shot in their mouth by men they shared an intimate relationship with. One of those cases was reported to be accidental.

Outgoing UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, this year, launched the UNiTE campaign which emphasises the need for “sustainable financing for efforts to end violence against women and girls towards the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” according to the UN women’s agency.“

One of the major challenges to efforts to prevent and end violence against women and girls worldwide is the substantial funding shortfall. As a result, resources for initiatives to prevent and end violence against women and girls are severely lacking,” the international agency noted on its website.

The theme for this year’s 16 days of activism to end violence against women and children is ‘Orange the World: Raise Money to End Violence against Women and Girls’.”

Guyana’s social protection ministry just recently draped trees along Camp, Main, Carmichael, and Waterloo Streets in orange fabric to raise awareness of the social scourge that is violence against women and children. The Ministry’s hotline number for reporting such violence is 231-6556.

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Stabroek Market vending: Red Thread accuses Mayor, Town Clerk of double standards; calls for compensation

By Denis Chabrol

Red Thread, a women’s rights organisation, on Thursday accused Town Clerk, Royston King and Mayor Patricia Chase-Green of double-standards on the removal of street vendors.

“When the previous Town Clerk was in office and wanted to remove the vendors, this current Town Clerk and Mayor were fighting against it. Now they are in power they are doing the very thing they condemned not so long ago. It is their approach that we are strongly against,” Red Thread said.

Red Thread called on the Chase-Green, Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan, King, the  Councilors, and the Guyana government to “immediately  ensure that the vendors regain their livelihoods with compensation for their losses.”

The non-governmental organisation said if an unclean environment is a major reason for the vendors removal, then anti-litter monitoring personnel should have been deployed. On the other hand, if vending is illegal, Red Thread said adequate provision should have been put in place to accommodate the vendors who are mainly poor female and male single parents who are “scrambling honestly to earn a living to ensure the survival of themselves and families.”

The organisation questioned whether the displacement of hundreds of persons from their livelihoods that allow them to send their children to school, pay bills, rent, repay loans to lenders like the Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED) and other expenses   amount to a “good life” that they had been promised in the run up to the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections. “This government promised “A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL” . Is taking bread out of poor peoples’ mouth a better life?”

A small group of vendors Thursday afternoon picketed outside Parliament  Building while the National Assembly was in session. Placards held up by the group of mainly women included “Royston King, Damn Blasted Liar,” and “We voted like a boss, now we be treated like an ass,” and “We vote for you, you must stand for us. We have to live.”

The City Councillors plans to hold a meeting with vendors Friday morning at City Hall.

There have been mixed reactions about the clearance of the Stabroek Market area, with many passersby praising the move because the area is clean and there is a reduce risk of being robbed. Large amounts of food boxes, bottles, other types of solid waste and silt have been removed from the drains around Demico House.

The Routes 41, 45 and 46 buses as well as vendors have been removed from outside Stabroek Market.

However, bread and phone card vendors crawl out after sunset to eke out a living.

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Ministerial code of conduct falls short on sexual offences- Red Thread

By Denis Chabrol

The women and child rights organisation, Red Thread, on Tuesday rubbished government’s proposed ministerial code of conduct, saying that it does not provide for sexual harassment and child molestation.

Executive Member of Red Thread, Karen De Souza told Demerara Waves Online News that the code of conduct should have included the dismissal of persons if faced with enough evidence.

Asked how a satisfactory provision in the code of conduct should be structured, she said “any instances of sexual behaviour with under-aged children, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct in the office would be grounds for removal; it is not about discipline, it is about removal.”

She said dismissals should not merely be left to a police probe and prosecution because proving in a court is tougher. “It is possible to investigate and to prove without going t court. The standard of proof is higher in the court than at the workplace,” she told Demerara Waves Online News.

She said issues would arise about who should conduct the probe and how it should be conducted. “It really shouldn’t be left to be proven in court. Once there is enough credible investigation and there has been an investigation or hearing of some sort that shows that you are tarnishing the appearance of the government…,” she said.

The Red Thread activist noted that harassment at the workplace by mainly men in authority is a very crucial issue for women that might require the application of the Sexual Offence Act to prove consent. De Souza said except in the case of couples, every effort should be made to discourage liaisons between senior and junior staff.

She expressed disappointment that the code of conduct states that it does not seek to regulate the conduct of public office holders in their private and personal lives. The code further states that public office holders have a duty to uphold the law, including the general law against discrimination and sexual harassment, and to act with propriety on all occasions in accordance with the public trust and confidence placed in them.

De Souza argued that the private and public lives of ministers could not be separated because victims would have already lost the case.

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Red Thread protests Government’s salary increases

By Kaieteur News Staff

https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2015/10/17/red-thread-protests-governments-salary-increases/

A group of about two dozen people picketed the Office of the President Thursday to voice their disapproval of the recent salary increases of Parliamentarians and Ministers of the Government.

Protestors on the picket line outside Office of the President.

Men and women under the Red Thread banner stood on Vlissengen Road with placards which made clear their grievances.

Red Thread member, Joy Marcus, on the picket line said that her group is highly offended by the 50 percent increase for government officials while public servants only received a mere five percent on their salaries in the recent budget.

“We don’t think it is right to tell workers that the country doesn’t have money to give more increases for public servants and pensioners yet (government officials) can give yourself and everyone else an increase.

“Public assistance persons only receive $6,500 a month while (government officials) are already getting a lot of perks and still they have raised their salaries. They gave the excuse that the officials must be paid for their “quality work” what kind or work is everyone else doing then?” Joy asked.

The women of the organization also said that they are “highly insulted” by the way the matter of the pay rise was dealt with. The lack of a public announcement about the pay increase was seen as a “sneaky” act by the administration similar to the ones they condemned during their time in opposition.

They were not amused by Minister of State Joseph Harmon’s uttering to justify the pay increase that government officials needed to be paid well so that they would not be tempted to “thief” like former Ministers.

The justification was seen as disturbing by the women’s group. It insinuates that Government officials cannot survive on $500,000 a month while “normal tax-paying Guyanese” are expected to survive on $6,500, $17,000 and $50,000 per month without any of the benefits enjoyed by government officials, they said.

Marcus expressed disgust. “We don’t get all these perks and allowances that they would get and we are the taxpayers.” She further argued that Government cannot say that they does not have money to give public servants a 20 percent increase but yet could find money to pay itself as much as 50 percent after just five months in office.

She said the group believes that by this unfortunate decision the government has betrayed the people who voted for them.

“We voted for them to rid our government of twenty three years of arrogance and now this government is doing the exact selfish thing. We too are quality people just like those in high offices and should be given the same treatment.”

She said that several other picketing exercises are planned for Office of the President and the Parliament buildings. “Its taxpayers’ money why are you taking so much from us and not giving us anything at all,” she said.

Ultimately the group was adamant that the government needs to review their position about the increases and they have to be a listening government for the people.

“You can’t only want us around elections time and after then you have no time with us, do what yah want and then come to us when you need us to vote again. We are the ones who put you there as a government to serve us not yourselves.

“Thief or tek all is money out of poor people’s pocket.”  The group’s contention is that Government should “raise public servants pay to decent rates first then we can perhaps negotiate.”

Member of the Red Thread women’s group, Karen DeSouza, also on the picket line said that the recent increase was a major misstep for the new administration even as the Government is believed to have contradicted themselves many times regarding the salary increases.

As a result, their rationalizations for the increase are being interpreted as a very negative sign for the future of Guyana under the David Granger-led administration.

“However they want to rationalize the increase, Ministers should have hung back until workers who have families to maintain were made comfortable before they made moves to increase their pay,” DeSouza stated.

The salary increases which caused public outrage came on the heels of the recently passed 2015 budget. The budget saw public servants receiving miniscule increases as opposed to what they were promised during the pre-election campaigning.

On August 5, 2015, Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman made claims that increases were not being considered for the immediate future in the wake of rumours of the salary increases. On September 25 however, Trotman’s claims proved to be spurious and placed him in an unfavorable position with the public.

Constitutional Commissioner, sitting on the Women and Gender Equality Commission, Nicole Cole expressed her disappointment in the party, especially Trotman and termed the increases as an abuse of the people’s trust.

“The same Minister who lied to us had the temerity to face us and tell us to trust them. How can we trust them when they would have abused our trust? They saw the public outrage when the matter was just a rumor and should have known it was too soon.

“They have backdated their increases to the first of July which means they were only six weeks in office when they issued themselves increases. The Government touted itself as being people centered, a people centered Government doesn’t look after their own self interests first. They put the people first,” stated Cole.

Several members of Red Thread shared the opinion that the Granger-led administration was just awaiting their turn in office to become what they termed “the fattest cats.” They claimed their belief of this stemmed from the party’s actions. When the party was in Opposition, they decried “fat cats” and cut several aspects of budgets as they regarded the former administrations spending as “shady,” only to attain office to do something quite similar.

Last week The Red Thread women’s group announced its intentions to stage a protest in front of Parliament buildings on Thursday.

However, the group decided to host two different protests. The protest which was to be held in front of Parliament Thursday was shifted to Ministry of the Presidency. The other will be staged October 22 when Parliament is scheduled to be reconvened.

“We know it may not change anything but we are not just going to stand idly by as they do what they want,” stated a member of the Red Thread organization.

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In The News

Karen de Souza and (Red) Threads that bind

By  Lisa Allen-Agostini 

Published in Issue 130 (November/December 2014)

https://www.caribbean-beat.com/threads-bind

Today, the Guyanese women’s advocacy group Red Thread is one of the Caribbean’s best known in the area of gender justice and equality, and earlier this year co-founder Karen de Souza was named the Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence laureate for public and civic contributions. But the collective — begun by seven women in October 1986, with the “underlying aim to bring grassroots Guyanese women together across race to work in their common interests” — started with women being locked up for political demonstration, says de Souza.

“Our initial focus was on income-generation,” says the collective in an email interview, “because of the expressed need of poor women for increased income during an acute economic crisis. One of the income-generation programmes was embroidery, and there was a time when we couldn’t get any red thread to buy in Guyana. So one of the women jokingly said we should give the organisation this name, since we used up all the red thread.”

But gender advocacy in Guyana — and the wider Caribbean — is no joke. Since its founding, Red Thread has gone on to work in the areas of domestic violence, rape and child abuse, violence in communities, ethnic and other forms of interpersonal violence, and juvenile justice. And they have seen some significant successes. “There’ve been some changes in laws,” says de Souza. “For example, after lots of lobbying, we have a very new Sexual Offences Act . . . the struggle now is to get it fully implemented.”

Among its other achievements, Red Thread counts the Guyanese government’s zero-rating of a number of basic items when a sixteen per cent value added tax was imposed in 2007. “We knew it would not have been poor-people-friendly, so we began campaigning against it. We put together food baskets with a list of food items that poor families use, to show how the VAT would affect us, and publicised same through print and electronic media.” But that wasn’t the end of it. “When we realised the government was not going to abandon the VAT, we stepped up our campaign: prepared lists of basic food items which are essential to the survival of poor women and their families, and demanded that they be zero-rated along with all education materials, and medical supplies. We succeeded in winning that.”

Red Thread describes itself as “an organisation of women, by grassroots women, and for grassroots women.” The collective adds: “Gender issues are always on the front burner for Red Thread.”

In the Caribbean, “gender” can be seen as a bad word. Conservative groups in the region often argue the term “gender” invites consideration of homosexuality and disrupts the traditional family structure, to the detriment of the region’s morality. “Whenever we engage in political lobbying or advocacy, it is inevitable that gender is the frame through which we speak — that is simply our reality,” the collective says. “It is not always easy, and we don’t always succeed, but our commitment to the work is first and foremost on our minds. Even when we feel defeated, the importance of this work fuels us to pick ourselves up, refocus and go forward.”

The bedrock of Red Thread’s work has been “reducing violence against women and children; winning a living income and affordable access to goods and services for grassroots women and their families; and strengthening the political visibility, voice, and influence of grassroots women.” It has done academic research as well, such as studies on Guyanese women’s unwaged work and on domestic workers in Guyana’s coastal and interior regions.

And the group’s programme includes practical, hand-on activities as well. Since 2002, Red Thread has run a women’s centre in Georgetown, staffed by members who work full-time on a wholly or partially voluntary basis. The centre also draws on members of the Red Thread network Grassroots Women Across Race. It is “an invaluable resource for the women of our network, who use it as a base for self-help activities and to plan campaigning,” the collective says. The centre has wheelchair access and a child-friendly space, to accommodate women with family duties. “It is the first centre in Guyana owned by grassroots women, who raised the money both internationally and locally, including by foregoing their stipends.”

Among its other projects is a drop-in/outreach service started in 2013, “providing not only information and support to women facing particular work exploitation, but training in the labour laws and international conventions.” Not many women know, for instance, that International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189 outlines and protects the rights of domestic workers. Red Thread plans to continue lobbying for the implementation of this ILO Convention, and and for Guyana’s domestic violence and sexual offences legislation. It is also working towards organising a campaign to reduce school and gang violence, and to work with youth to better their social and literacy skills.

De Souza’s Sabga Caribbean Award for Excellence comes with a TT$500,000 (US$79,000) grant, which will go towards Red Thread’s programmes. But money isn’t the only necessary resource. “Skills are always welcome.”

“We believe that when grassroots women in any part of the world come together in their own defence to fight systems that are not poor-people-friendly, and win, all grassroots women win, regardless of their location,” the collective explains. “Readers in their various places can be aware of the social ills which affect women, children, and youths, be aware of the types of changes that are necessary across the region, and commit themselves to the work of bringing about that change.”

To learn more about Red Thread or contribute to their programmes, contact them by email at red_thread@gol.net.gy or by phone at +592 227 7010 or 592 223 6254.

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In The News

Ms. Karen de Souza

By ANSA Caribbean Awards

Ms. Karen de Souza

Karen de Souza is a women’s and children’s rights activist from Guyana. She is the co-founder of Red Thread, an advocacy organization which provides service and support, education, and advocacy for victims of rape and domestic and other forms of violence and for the lowest-waged sectors of women.

Ms de Souza and Red Thread also conduct research and have contributed to the drafting of laws and training for judicial officers to support protection of women and children and victims of human trafficking. They also participate in national, international and regional agency programmes on areas of interest, as well as taking education directly to the people.

Since co-founding Red Thread in 1986, Ms de Souza has worked tirelessly for the organisation and in an entirely voluntary capacity. Her leadership has enabled the provision of services like face-to-face counselling in a drop-in centre for women and children and survivors of rape and abuse, and enabled the rescue of victims of domestic violence. The organisation participates in court proceedings, legislative initiatives and international conferences on women’s and children’s welfare.

Ms de Souza is also a pioneer in public education. She has scripted and produced videos and dramatic performances on the subjects of domestic and sexual abuse. These programmes have been disseminated widely through the country. With Red Thread she conducts “speak out” events where rural communities are apprised of the ways of dealing with violence against women and children. The organisation also provides computer literacy and library facilities for children. It has produced “Household Guides” which explain the domestic violence and sexual offenses acts (Guyana) in simple language for the benefit of ordinary people.

It has taken educational and informational programmes across racial and geographic divides, into Guyana’s vast hinterlands working on the coast as well as in the interior, in the North Rupununi.
Through research and investigations, in which she was the principal researcher, Red Thread’s work has been funded by the British High Commission, UNICEF, UN Trust Fund, UNIFEM, USAID and the Japanese Embassy. Red Thread has provided the most extensive data on domestic violence in Guyana via its own original research and compilation. Ms de Souza was the lead researcher for articles and reports on child abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and women’s reproductive issues published in The Guyana Review, for the International Office of Migration in Guyana, the InterAmerican Development Bank, and the British High Commission in Guyana. She is regularly cited in international publications on those issues.

Karen de Souza has been recognized by various international organizations for her work. She has been a Fellow of the Commonwealth Understanding Fellowship Scheme (London/Barbados), and was the US Embassy (Guyana’s) nominee for the 2012 Woman of Courage Award.

Categories
In The News

Red Thread has three priorities, including protection and justice for women in violent situations

By Karen de Souza

Dear Editor,

I write in response to a Demerara Waves news story which came out on August 4 that at the just concluded PPP Congress, Mr Shyam Nokta reported from his group that there is  opposition party influence in the General Registrar’s Office, Gecom, and the military. He then added:

“The group further observed that the opposition was accessing international donor funds through organisations like the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), Red Thread and the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO).”

For the record, Red Thread does not pass on any of the funds it raises to an opposition party and to say otherwise shows a really reckless disregard for the truth.

I assume that this is the old story about Red Thread being WPA, so let’s state what we’ve said many times before. Red Thread was founded in 1986 – over 26 years ago – by seven women who were then all members or supporters of the WPA but who wanted to create a women’s group that was autonomous of the party. Of these seven women, two – myself and Andaiye – remain active in Red Thread. We stopped being members of the WPA at different times but in both cases, more than 15 years ago.

We have heard quite high-ranking PPP members say before that this was a clever ruse to appear independent, but they think this because they cannot conceive of any political ground on which women can stand other than as an arm of a political party.

If Mr Nokta has something he thinks is evidence of his group’s accusation he must publicise it.    I assure the public that there can be no such evidence. Instead, the evidence will show that since we ended the period where we focused on income generation (1986 to 1992/93) we’ve spent funds received mainly to pursue three priorities:

1. Protection and justice for women and children in violent situations; activities here include a drop in centre, court  and police support, home and hospital visits, referral for legal advice and assistance and follow up, representation, advocacy for improvements in the law and/or its implementation, training workshops, community visits and workshops/ discussions to build active support for women and children in violent situations in those communities, training with magistrates, police and prosecutors on the Domestic Violence Act  and the Sexual Offences Act, workshops with other groups including teachers, and facilitation of a Domestic Violence and Rape Survivors Self Help Group. Our training often uses research that we’ve conducted on domestic violence, women’s reproductive health and sex work, as well as material that we’ve produced including video and household guides to the law which have also been used by other groups working against violence, community groups, the police and the Women’s Affairs Bureau. We’ve also attempted (and encountered difficulties with) research into the racial/political violence of the early 2000s.

2. A living income for unwaged and low-waged women; activities in support of this priority have included advocacy for the removal of VAT from essential items,  increases in wages for  low-waged women workers including domestic workers, security guards, and shop assistants,  and  increases in old age pensions and public assistance. The advocacy has been backed by research including a time use survey.

This area of work is now to have an increased focus, including via a drop in centre for women workers to get information about their rights and towards this end we’ve begun training in labour legislation.

3. Increased visibility and voice for grassroots women; activities include extensive training with sectors of grassroots women and speak-outs designed to provide a forum for grassroots women to address issues that they identify as critically important, for example, after the flood of 2005 when women who had suffered from the flood presented their experience and demands to representatives of the media, parliament, trade unions, government units, local NGOs and international donor agencies.


As part of addressing this aim we also use other popular forms, including street theatre and in the 1990s, a radio serial and a play called Every body’s Business.

Almost all of our main projects of work related to our three priorities have been carried out in parts of the interior as well as along the coast and we try to ensure that what we do always crosses race divides.

Back in town, for 13 years, we also ran free reading and computer classes with over 80 students from schools in South Georgetown (and a few adults) and we continue to run a library, workshops and camps for youth. The literacy classes included a feeding programme three times a week for which we received donations.

Finally (and here’s the problem for Mr Notka and his group, no doubt), we picket and speak out in defence of the rights of grassroots women, children and sometimes men, but we don’t pay for those: issues have included calls for justice for several victims of violence, especially at the hands of the powerful, and solidarity with the people of Linden and with various other sectors and communities defending their rights.

Yours faithfully,
Karen de Souza
National Coordinator
Red Thread