The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination, on Thursday April 16, 2015 hosted the Civil Society Stakeholders Consultation for the Guyanese Vulnerable Communities Capacities Strengthening Project, funded by the delegation of the European Union to Guyana, which aims to build civil society capacity to better engage policy decision-makers at all levels of government. The two-day conference, held at the Grand Coastal Hotel at Le Ressouvenir, East Coast Demerara, marked the end of the first phase of the project. Chaired by SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator, Chelauna Providence, the conference’s opening was attended by representatives of civil society groups working with marginalised communities, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of the United Nations and other special invitees.
John Quelch, Project Coordinator, opened the ceremony highlighting the objectives of the project and the intended outcomes that will benefit the work and advocacy of civil society organisations (CSOs) representing marginalised communities. Quelch outlined the three phases of the project and the relevance of each to its eventual success. The first phase concludes with this consultation with members of civil society, on the findings of Baseline and Mapping Studies, conducted by the three consultants drawn from the Commonwealth, Gordon Floyd; Caribbean, Deborah Nurse; and Guyana, Kesaundra Alves. The Baseline Study measures the current level of capacity among Guyanese civil society to engage in public policy advocacy on behalf of vulnerable groups. The Mapping Study describes the processes by which policy decisions are made in the Guyanese context and highlights key opportunities for civil society to intervene and participate. Quelch related that the project is timely in light of upcoming elections. “Guyanese civil society will now be more equipped to engage the engage the next government and twelfth parliament on behalf of the marginalized groups we serve. We are preparing to take collective and pro-active action to have human rights issues addressed now – both during the campaign and when the next government and parliament takes office after the May 11 polls. We are no longer waiting. Our issues must be addressed now,” Quelch said.
The project’s Caribbean consultant, Deborah Nurse, shared a brief synopsis of the two studies and the findings of their interviews with key stakeholders among government, civil society, religious communities, private sector, media and other opinion leaders. “What we found was that there was consensus among all interviewees that a ‘rights-based approach’ was an absolute imperative for policy reform with respect to social change towards vulnerable groups,” Nurse reported.
Photo 2: SASOD’s Caribbean consultant, Deborah Nurse, presenting findings.
The feature address was delivered by Ambassador Robert Kopecky, Head of the Delegation to the European Union to Guyana, who said “One of the main tenets on which the European Union's work is pillared is the defence of human rights.” He stated that civil society performs a vital role in bridging the gap between the general populace and policy-makers. He closed by applauding “SASOD and all of the organisations present in the relentless fight to rid this beautiful country of the scourge of child abuse, domestic violence, discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and all forms of human rights abuses.”
Photo 3: Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana, Ambassador Robert Kopecky, delivers feature remarks.
SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson, delivered the vote of thanks expressing gratitude to the European Union in Guyana for their continuous support of its works, and to its civil society partners in the Guyana Equality Forum for working with the organisation.
Photo 4: (From left to right) SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator, Chelauna Providence; Commonwealth consultant, Gordon Floyd; Guyana consultant, Kesaundra Alves; Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana, Ambassador Robert Kopecky; Caribbean consultant, Deborah Nurse; SASOD’s Project Coordinator, John Quelch; and SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson, after the opening session.
The feedback from the two-day conference will inform the development of a tailored, specialist training programme on public policy advocacy for Guyanese civil society which is slated to be delivered in July. The Guyanese Vulnerable Communities Capacities Strengthening Project is funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana.