CEDAW Reviews: Guyana

12 Jul

The Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) began the morning of 10 July 1012 with a discussion between the Committee and nongovernmental organizations from Cooperative Republic of Guyana (hereafter “Guyana”).

With representatives from the Ministry of Human Services and Human Security, Jennifer Webster, and Ministry of Education, Priya D. Manickchand, as well as representatives from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Guyana to the United Nations present in the room, Guyana gave an overview of the status of women and gender equality domestically. Guyana noted progress made on legislative reform, access to land, access to education, elimination of discrimination against women, and promoting gender equality between women and men. On domestic violence specifically, it is considered a national priority and relevant laws have been amended to include new offenses or severe penalties. Legal clinics are also available to provide aid to six of the ten administrative regions of the country; such legal aid clinics are run by a nongovernment organization but are state-funded.

Overall, in her introductory remarks, Webster focused on the many legal achievements Guyana has made and the country’s strong commitment to women’s rights and human rights.  Also mentioned were Guyana’s four Human Rights Commissions – on Rights of the Child, Women and Gender Equality, Indigenous people, and Ethnic Relations— all of which include women at the leadership level. The Parliament is currently 32% female and five of these female parliamentary members are also indigenous women. Finally, Guyana reemphasized the importance of Guyana’s constitution, and also brought up a few newer acts on sexual offenses and women with disabilities, which Guyana believes will have a significant impact.

Questions from the Committee ranged on a wide array of issues, mainly on the status of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (hereafter “Convention”) as well as statistics about the status of women and accessibility of counseling services to victims of violence.

On how the Convention is enforced domestically and justice system reform, Guyana noted that the Convention part of its national constitution. As such, the terms of the Convention can be enforced as fundamental rights. When national laws are amended or reformed, Guyana is still bound by the rights protected by the Convention. Furthermore, Manickchand explained that even if the Convention is not explicitly referenced in related court decisions, by drawing upon the Constitution, these decisions all implicitly invoke the Convention. Since Guyana has four to five women judges, Manickchand expects that members of the judiciary are informed about the Convention and its provisions.

Some debate arose in the afternoon session when statistics from alternative sources were incorporated in the questions posed to Manickchand and Webster; these statistics were not used in Guyana’s report to the Committee.  Guyana refuted many of the referenced statistics, especially those regarding any gender imbalance in the education system, but admitted that gathering reliable statistical information was a central challenge and future priority the Guyanese government. One noticeable statistic that was not refuted regarded mental health services in Guyana; Committee members were concerned about counseling services for victims of violence because only one hospital currently provides psychiatric support to victims. Guyana agreed that, while there were psychosocial services provided by various NGOs, there are few medical services offered for mental health. A psychosocial service provided by the government is a men’s empowerment network. After receiving complaints and requests in surveys on domestic violence, Guyana created the network to reach men at different community levels and offer counseling and anger management services.

Overall, as the first review of a state party for the 52nd session, the review process seemed to run rather smoothly. Even when questions from the Committee were more straightforward, Guyana elaborated on statistics by assessing the structural difficulties (usually political, economic, and geographic) that must be addressed in order realize greater equality and comply with their country’s CEDAW commitments. It was good to see the steps Guyana has taken nationally on the implementation of the Convention. Implementation of the Convention, of course, is a main issue of the Committee that will likely frame many discussions for the rest of the month.

– Henry Neuwirth

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