Full House at Moray House Trust for Public Forum on Gender Equality and Sexual Rights
Four leading civil society groups hosted a public forum yesterday, April 4, 2013, on “Gender Equality and Sexual Rights in Guyana” attracting a full house at the Moray House Trust in Georgetown.
Red Thread, Stella’s Sisterhood for Service and Support (S4) Foundation, Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBow) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) teamed up to discuss several issues faced by women, sexual and gender minorities in Guyana.
Attorney-at- Law, Ms. Sadie Amin from the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, presented on “Gender, Sexuality and the Law.” She stated, “There are laws which protect women, but implementation is sorely lacking.” Speaking about possible protections for lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women she added that, “our laws do not offer any specific protection.”
Gender equality has been a topical issue in Guyana. Ms. Imarah Radix, Programme Coordinator of S4 Foundation spoke about workplace issues and other challenges women face living in our patriarchal Guyanese society. In outlining the horrid discrimination and harassment faced by LBT women in the workplace, she called for repeal of the laws which criminalise consensual same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing, and inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories against discrimination in the realm of employment, training and recruitment under the Prevention of Discrimination Act, Chapter 99:09.
“These discriminatory laws are not harmless as they legitimize the harassment and discrimination meted out to LBT women. Access to justice particularly in the cases of sexual harassment and rape are non-existent,” Karen De Souza, National Coordinator of Red Thread, who extensively discussed sexual violence against women and children, continued and emphasized the non-implementation of the Sexual Offences Act. She contended that, “Yes we have fancy laws, but you try to use them. To protect people who are poor, voiceless who have no influence.” She passionately pointed out that “the barbaric practice called the confrontation is still being done by the police even though the 2010 Sexual Offences Act specifically states it must not be done.” In closing she said, “we cannot talk about preventing violence, whether it is domestic, sexual or any other form of violence; we cannot begin to be serious about that if we continue to be vague about whether we as adults have the rights to be cruel to our children. Enforcing physical harm to our children because we are bigger than they are? If we are serious about addressing any of the forms of violence in Guyana, we have to start with corporal punishment.”
Colleen McEwan, Executive Director of the Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBow) discussed discrimination against LBT women. She pointed out that, “police harassment meted out to transgender women is real and triple jeopardy.” She discussed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee’s most recent review on Guyana in July 2012. She reiterated that the CEDAW Committee in its concluding observations urged Guyana “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 decriminalization of consensual adult same sex relations.”
SASOD’s Zenita Nicholson, who moderated the forum, challenged everyone in her closing remarks to play their part in ensuring that we build a Guyanese society where all women are empowered and have equal opportunities to their male counterparts. “Every Guyanese is entitled to the rights and freedoms outlined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and should be protected from discrimination, regardless of our differences,” she concluded.