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May 07, 2013 - Interpersonal Violence

Hits: 2615 | Published Date: 07 May, 2013
| Speech delivered at: 56th Sitting - Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Rev. Dr. Kwame Gilbert, MP

May 07, 2013 - INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE
Rev. Dr. Gilbert: Just before I make my brief presentation I would like to put into context, for the benefit of this House and also I believe for the nation as well, that the process that we undertook that may have appeared or given the indication that the Government may, in some way or the other, be opposed to this motion, I do not believe that it is or has ever been opposed to the motion. The challenge, though, was that we saw difficulty with respect to the implementing  of the motion and that in itself necessitated some amount of discourse dialogue which manifested itself in the back and forth.
Also with respect of the use of the word “epidemic”, I think the reason it sent off a red flag it is because we are conscious of how words are bandied about and used sometimes loosely in our context. Well, generally, but sometimes with an intent to communicate a certain message, language even gravity of a particular situation can be interpreted or misinterpreted by those who may not necessarily understand our local context. I believe, in that sense, we want to ensure that we did not send a message, which was not carefully thought out, that may give a misrepresentation of the true issue. I think what the Hon. Deputy Speaker was seeking to convey was the gravity of the situation. We want to ensure that even as we examine that the language was not going to communicate something that can send a message, which we did not want it to necessarily send, because there is such a thing as local posture and the local context, when that is viewed in an international context, can have all kinds of meaning that one may not necessarily want to communicate about the state of affairs in one’s nation. I want her to be very sure, reassured that we do recognise the gravity of this situation.
I have considered the motion which has been moved by the Hon. Deputy Speaker Mrs. Deborah Backer. I must say that I was very intrigued in the Hon. Member’s presentation, in that I have grown use, for the years I have been here, to see her in her political element and to look at her tonight speak on a social issue without being so political was quite refreshing indeed.
The motion in several WHEREAS clauses provides us with, first of all, a definition of violence, which is limited to the use of physical force, that is a WHO definition. I do not want to tear a  strip  tears off a  definition, but except to say that the manifestation of violence, which the  world is sadly familiar with, and which we see in well in our country, is not only the use of physical force. There are various forms of structural violence perpetrated everyday which are deadly but are ignored by a great many of us. That, I believe, is because we are socialised to pay attention to physical or behavioural violence and sometimes fail to recognise that there are other forms of violence. Even that WHO definition of violence in recognising the physical force may miss the mark as well.
The other WHEREAS clauses identify some other expression of interpersonal violence such as family and intimate partner violence, community violence, child maltreatment, elder abuse, youth violence, property crimes and workplace violence. These are all relevant to our context. Yes, they do exist. I do not believe that it is a deliberate exclusion, but I would have also like to see listed for condemnation the influence of music and the entertainment industry that glamorises violence as a normative behaviour. The Hon. Minister of  Human Services and Social Security alluded to that in her presentation, that our music industry should take some responsibility, a very great degree of responsibility, and how also the media, in the various forms, tend to perpetuate this ill that is perpetuated in society, which is that a lot of the lyrics... We cannot discount the influence. This debate is not about music, but we are looking at violence. It might be instructive to consider how we, on one hand, seek to bring about change, also need to consider how, on the other hand, the thing we do, maybe, in subliminal ways make our work more difficult. It is how also the music industry continued to feed - I do not know if it is an appetite - this need for our music to be violent, in terms of its lyrical content, and also to treat our women as though they are just sexual objects, referring to them in language. A woman is referred to as a female dog. Those things are abhorrent. One might say it has no bearing on the violence, but it does, because music, in a large way, determines the philosophy our people. Music informs philosophies.
Another WHEREAS clause makes the conclusion that the incidents of interpersonal violence have reach epidemic proportions and there has been some issues with respect to the use of that word. I am not going to go there.
The motion, as is expected - I am talking about the motion, as is, presented by the Hon. Deputy Speaker - articulates the mischief and offers a remedy. I agree, and we all agree, that with the conclusion of the Hon. Deputy Speaker that a solution must be arrived at. We must of necessity move from description to prescription. I take no issue with the mover of the motion diagnoses of the problem. She adumbrated for us some of the manifestations and the implications of those violent acts and how they impact on our workforce; how they impact on our economic stability; how they impact on the social equilibrium of our country. I believe that she very effectively provided the diagnoses of the problem. However, I believe that there has to be a very reassessment of the propose prescription that is contained in the original motion. I am using the word “original” because there have been some amendments proposed which I will address before I conclude.
I support the remedy proposed in the first resolve clause and join in an unequivocally condemnation of all forms of violence. I agree that there should be the designation of a day. I think that I speak for most of those on this side of the House of  an unequivocal condemnation of violence and  that there should be a designation of a day to observe and to organise activities in condemnation of violence. They are all in order. They are very useful and we support those. But the resolve clause, which follows in the original motion, requires a very serious consideration because it demands that some necessary question be asked and answered. As I alluded earlier, in my open remarks, that the challenge was with respect to the implementing and that was because the aims and objectives of this proposed motion, with respect to the establishment of a broad based committee, we need to be cleared on what benefit it will bring to the already existing committee and work, initiatives and programmes and strategic interventions that exist.
We also need to be very clear on how the broad based committee may, in some ways, even   subvert some of the works of what those other committees are doing. Those are some of the things we need to talk about. Those are some of the things, I believe, created the initial reservation, with respect to how we move forward with accepting the motion in the way it was presented. As I said, fundamentally, we understand the gravity with what we are dealing with, but Government also have a responsibility, being the executing agency of a number of these initiatives. The Hon. Minister of Home Affairs alluded to several of them. It is necessary for Government to ensure that anything that it supports, anything that we are a part of, that the loose ends are tied up properly, that it is tidy in its arrangement. I think principally, while we support, we could not go ahead and support a motion that we perceive had implementation challenges. That is where the initial challenges were with respect to this motion.
While this motion, the initial motion presented, recognises the problem and proposes solutions, what are unclear are the actual implementation and how the mischief behind this problem will be solved. This motion makes an assumption that the problem of interpersonal violence is the ailment and that a legislative and a programmatic intervention is the prescribed cure. I believe that the therein lies a worrisome dilemma. Worrisome, in the sense, that interpersonal violence is not the problem. I believe that Mrs. Backer, in her presentation did allude to that. It is symptomatic of a deeper problem affecting individuals who gave expressions to their dysfunction in violent expressions. What we see, in terms of the manifestation of interpersonal violence, is an indication that there are deeper and more fundamental problems existing.
If we therefore try to address interpersonal violence without recognising that it is just symptomatic, we may very well continue to have the lack. If I am to agree with the assessment and the conclusion of the Deputy Speaker, that the result that we have had not being of significant we will continue to have that if we were to assume that is just the problem. It is symptomatic of a deeper issue. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that violence is genetically predetermined, therefore the conclusion has to be that violence is a learned behaviour. The questions therefore are: What is happening in our society that is preconditioning people to embrace violence as a normative behaviour? What is fuelling the culture of violence in our communities? What should we be doing differently to bring about sustained changes?
I want to submit that part of our focus must be on supporting and strengthening the existing structures and institutions that would bring about the one solution to interpersonal violence and that is sustained behavioural changes. Those are what we are seeking to accomplish.
With the greatest of regard to this National Assembly, with the greatest of our intention, it will never be able to legislate for behavioural change. Behaviour cannot be legislated but it can be regulated. We must not believe that we can fix all of our problems through a legislative means, that all of our problems have to be fixed by having the legislature involved.
Apart from Government and Government Ministries and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), there are other social institutions better suited, better equipped to impact on the lives of men and women, impact on the victims and perpetrators of violence and people who can only express their pains and frustration through violent means and expressions, such as community based organisation, Faith Based Organisations (FBOs), and so forth. 
Again, the Hon. Deputy Speaker alluded to the fact that the family..., and some sociological thoughts would suggest that of the social institution the family is the most basic of those social institutions. There are some social institutions that are best to address social problems, including the one that we are discussing tonight. Maybe we should talk about strengthening the capacity of these, we should talk about supporting the ability and the capacity of these institutions to deal with the root cause of violence. The Men's Affairs Bureau is one, for example, that has been over the years, from the time of its implementation, focusing on the issue of addressing the root. For example, it has been conducting much work in schools dealing with the issue of challenging gender norms, issues of anger management, issues of understanding emotional teaching, teaching men to understand their emotional needs, issues of fathering. Women’s Affairs Bureau, for example, it is instructive to note that the Women’s Progressive Organisation, from as far back as 1950s and 1960s, from a political perspective, has been seeking to address the whole issue of violence, how interpersonal violence affects people at the various levels.
The Deputy Speaker also talked about involving men.  That has been a deliberate attempt, deliberate effort focusing on the establishment of a Men's Affairs Bureau, indicative of this approach, but men are critical. The involvement of men, the inclusion of men, is a critical component of addressing, because violence is not a gender issue, it is human rights issue.
Before I conclude I want to ask the question: What about personal responsibility? Should there not also be a call to personal responsibility? Could it be that, at the root of this violence and this cultural violence, there is a problem of self-governance? Could it be that at the root of this problem that there is the issue of the lost of respect for human life and the absence of the fear of God? Maybe, it would be prudent also to call upon our people to return, even as we continue in this discourse, to the fundamental values of the love of God and the love for your neighbour and the love of yourself. Maybe it would also be prudent, Hon. Deputy Speaker and Members of this House, to encourage our men to begin to love their wives and their children again, to invite our citizens, our families, to go back to church, to go back to their temples, to go back to their mosque, to return to the embrace of their religious values. I am confident that if nothing else can bring the change we seek, God can bring the change that we seek.
In principle, we support the motion, but with respect to the issue of the implementation of the motion we were able, during the break, to come to a comprise, this I believe  is very indicative of Government’s comments to addressing, not just this one social issue, but all of the issues that impact the life of our people. The fact that we were willing and committed, even in this process of negotiating in this eleventh hour, to get to a place where there is unanimity, with respect to this motion, should speak clearly about our commitment to putting aside political issues and partisanship through working  in the interest of our people.
2nd AND WHEREAS clause:
Replace the words “has” with the word “have”
Remove the word “epidemic” and replace with the word “alarming.”
4th AND WHEREAS clause:
Remove the word “epidemic” and replace with the words “disturbing trend.”
BE IT RESOLVED clause:
Delete original clause and replace with the following paragraph which reads as follows:
“BE IT RESOLVED:
That this National Assembly unequivocally condemns all forms of Interpersonal Violence and re-affirms its previous commitments to the implementation of the Parliamentary Resolution No.72 of December 11, 2008 against Violence against Women and Children unanimously passed by this House;”
First BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:
Delete original clause and replace with the following paragraph which reads as follows:
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:
That the Members of this National Assembly commit to  setting a standard within Parliament  that rejects interpersonal violence in the conduct and proceedings of the Guyana Parliament and sends this motion to the Parliamentary Management Committee to develop such a code conduct and to consider a day to be observed under the theme “Parliamentarians Against Interpersonal Violence” during which that National Assembly will organise appropriate activities to highlight the political parties’ contributions to reducing Interpersonal Violence in Guyana;”
Second BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:
Delete original clause and replace with the following paragraph which reads as follows:
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:
That he Members of this National Assembly commit to actively supporting existing programmes in Ministries, agencies and civil society bodies such as religious, women, youth and community organisations, that addresses violence and interpersonal violence in particular, such as the Domestic Violence and Gender Based Violence programme,  the Men’s Affairs Bureau and the Child Care and Protection Agency in the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, the National Commission of the Family, the National Commission on Law and Order, Prisoner reintegration programmes, Anger management, and substance abuse programmes, both in the Ministries of Health and Home Affairs and civil society bodies, and the Ministry of Education on school violence.”
Delete Third BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED clause.
The amendments that have been proposed, I will just speak to them briefly. It is that we did proposed some initial amendments that were presented by the Hon. Chief Whip, on our side, but the WHEREAS clauses, which  have been presented in the original motion by the Hon. Deputy Speaker, we have come to an agreement that they will remain as they are. However, with the first resolve clause, we have been more specific with respect to the call made, not only to the National Assembly, but specifically calling on the Parliamentary Management Committee (PMC) to designate that day that has been referred to.
The second resolve clause, we came to an agreement that that will not remain.
The final resolve clause will be replaced. We believe in our discussion, and I believe it was unanimous in the agreement, that the gravity of this matter, not just to us politicians, but to the nation, requires that we submit the motion to a Special Select Committee - I suppose in her  summation the Hon. Deputy Speaker will speak more on that - so that it could be further ventilated, discussed and what is in the best interest coming up, not just with a programmatic approach but something that is sustainable, something that will bring about the much desired change that we seek, which will come out of an engagement at the  Special Select Committee level.
In principle, we support the bringing of this motion by the Hon. Deputy Speaker to this House and we, as a Government, commit to continuing work on ensuring that after this motion has been ventilated in the Special Select Committee that we would begin to see the kind of results needed in bringing a cessation to the problem of interpersonal violence in our country.
Thank you Sir. [Applause]

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