When I ponder the effects of gender-based violence (GBV) in Guyana, I try to force myself not to feel hopeless. But I am overwhelmed by the daunting task of reducing the high levels of domestic violence, rape, child abuse, and suicide in our society.
Given mounting global evidence highlighting the correlation between experiencing violence and increased vulnerability to HIV infection, Guyana must tackle the causes of GBV head-on. On November 25, Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) Guyana joined the global community in observing the 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence.
In exploring Guyanese’s attitudes related to GBV, a 2015 survey revealed that 10 percent of men and women between the ages 15 and 49 believe it is justifiable for a husband to hit his wife if she goes out without informing him, neglects the children, argues with him, refuses to have sex, or burns the food. While this is a considerable reduction from the 18 percent in 2006 who agreed with these circumstances, it is still unacceptable.
Within Guyana’s key populations (KPs), the picture is even bleaker. The 2013–2014 Bio-Behavioral Surveillance Survey revealed that 27.7 percent (N=110) of transgender (TG) individuals and 21.9 percent (N=535) of men who have sex with men (MSM) have experienced physical violence by a partner. More alarmingly, 26.9, 21.5, and 25 percent of TG, MSM, and sex workers respectively were raped at some point in time.
Research indicates that Guyana’s mix of social norms and cultural practices are primary facilitators of violence against women and KPs. UNICEF notes that violence against women is related to the control that men believe they (should) have over women, which extends to children. There are several contributing factors such as gender inequality, childhood experience with violence (whether it is experiencing it or witnessing it), and the widespread acceptance by society in general of the norms that favor males and male dominance and control.
Despite the aforementioned, all is not lost. In May 2013, Guyanese parliamentarians agreed unanimously to condemn all forms of interpersonal violence. This position was affirmed in Resolution No. 47 of the 10th Parliament of Guyana for the Session 2012–2013: “…that the members of the National Assembly commit to actively supporting existing programmes in ministries, agencies and civil society bodies such as religious, women, youth and community organizations, that address violence and interpersonal violence in particular, such as, the Domestic Violence and Gender-Based Violence programme.”
Even with these legislative efforts, the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) struggle to create realistic and sustainable programming to the affect societal changes that are essential to reducing gender-based violence. APC Guyana, with support from USAID, is strengthening the capacity of NGOs and relevant governmental agencies to respond more effectively to GBV within the HIV response. NGOs on the front line of the HIV response have new tools and processes for uncovering GBV, linking those who suffer it with care and protection to interrupt GBV, and where possible, helping perpetrators to seek assistance to discontinue harmful behaviours. NGOs are also tasked with encouraging improved GBV response from governmental agencies such as law, health services, and social assistance, and challenging social norms to reduce violence and the spread of HIV.
We don’t want the next generation to experience the endemic violence that has been all too common in Guyana for decades. We hope that campaigns during the 16 days of activism will replenish spirits and renew determination to tackle GBV head on so that all Guyanese can live in a just society.
 Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Public Health and UNICEF Guyana, April 2015.
 Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF Guyana, 2008.