Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Over 300 Strong Walk for Equality to End All Violence in Guyana

Over 300 persons from all walks of life took part in the Walk for Equality on Sunday, February 9, to say “No to violence”. Despite heavy rain at the start of the event, people came from as far away as New Amsterdam, Moraikabai, Linden and Parika. There was an impressive turnout from the Catholic and Anglican churches, youth groups, and members of the diplomatic corps. Participants included His Lordship Bishop Alleyne, OSB, leader of the Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan, MP, and Stabroek News’ columnist, Iana Seales.

His Excellency Francisco Olguin, Ambassador of Mexico (left), His Lordship Bishop Francis Alleyne, OSB (middle) and Khemraj Ramjattan, MP (right) participating in the Walk for Equality.

The purpose of the walk was to bring people together and to celebrate our common humanity and dignity by saying no to violence. Melinda Janki of the Justice Institute Guyana, and Joel Simpson of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), led the walkers as they chanted “No More silence! No to Violence!!” with banners and placards.

Melinda Janki (far right) from the Justice Institute Guyana and Joel Simpson (far left) leading the Walk.

At the closing rally at the Parade Ground, Vanda Radzik speaking in an individual capacity gave some stirring remarks about the influences of culture on gender and society. Ms. Radzik is also a Commissioner on the Women and Gender Equality Commission.
Melinda Janki stated, “We have to respect people even if they do things we do not like. We can condemn the behaviour but not the person.”
Melinda Janki called for justice for Colwyn Harding and other victims of police brutality, but she also asked the crowd to remember the police officers who had been killed while on duty.
Lance Corporal Sherwin Panlitz: shot and killed close to here on Middle Street. Lance Corporal Michael Forde also shot and killed in the same incident. Corporal Romain Cleto: gunned down. We also have to say NO to violence against our police officers.”

Justice Institute Guyana's Melinda Janki making her remarks at the closing rally.

Wintress White, a survivor of gender-based violence and member of Red Thread, read out the names of 29 persons who were killed by their intimate partners in 2013. She referred to Guyana's $35,000. minimum wage as a form of economic violence which often leads to domestic abuse. She reiterated the message on Red Thread's banner, “The first step to ending all violence is to end state violence.” “If we want to end violence, we have to stop beating our children – end corporal punishment now! If we want to the end violence, then police must stop brutalising and raping our youths; our young men and boys, and our women and girls,” White said.

Red Thread's Wintress White speaking at the closing rally.

Also speaking at the rally was Paula Niles, aunt of Wesley Holder, also known as Tiffany – a transgender teen who was murdered in January 2012. Ms. Niles showed photos as she spoke of her undying love for Tiffany. She was followed by Seon Clarke of the Guyana Trans United, also known as Falatama or Angel, who recounted the violence she experienced by the police during the February 2009 crackdown against cross-dressing in Georgetown.
Concluding the speeches was Dr. Philbert London of Archbishop of Beacon Ministries who urged the gathering to say no to violence and yes to love. His charge was one asking persons to be more loving and forgiving towards each other.

Dr. Philbert London, Archbishop of Beacon Ministries, delivering closing remarks

The Walk for Equality is an event of the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF), a group of civil society organisations working for equal rights and justice for all Guyanese. GEF members who marched include Family Awareness Consciousness Togetherness, Guyana Trans United, Red Thread, Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous People, Guyana Sex Work Coalition, Youths For Guyana, Artistes In Direct Support, Justice Institute Guyana, S4 Foundation, Help and Shelter, among others, along with SASOD, which serves as the GEF's secretariat.
           Red Thread and Guyana Trans United banners on display at Parade Ground.

His Excellency Francisco Olguin, Ambassador of Mexico, and Ms. Olguin, Mr Derek Lambe of the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana, and Ms. Lambe, and Ms. Kadija Mousa, Resident Representative of UNDP, were present on the Walk. There were walks in solidarity, including at Hopetown in Berbice, and at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

The GEF thanks everyone who took part in the Walk or supported the event. We thank the musicians for giving us their time and wonderful music. We thank Pegasus Hotel – Guyana, Mr. and Ms. Bernie Fernandes and an anonymous donor for providing water for the walkers. We thank the police officers who took us safely through the city traffic. Special thanks also to the nurses from the Guyana Nurses Association who were on call at the Walk for Equality to provide first-aid assistance, in the event of a medical emergency. Thanks too to Vic Insanally for donating some of the printed banners for this Walk. We also acknowledge with sincere gratitude the support of the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana which enabled the GEF to give participants tee-shirts stating “Equal Rights and Justice for All / No to Violence.”