Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, but neither type of rape was frequently reported nor successfully prosecuted. Rape was a serious problem and pervasive in society. Many survivors did not report rapes because of fear of stigma, retribution, or further violence. Police and prosecutors were not effective in investigation or prosecuting rape cases. During the year authorities charged 97 persons with rape, but only one was convicted, due in part to the large court backlog. Additionally, authorities charged 31 persons with statutory rape, and four were convicted (including persons charged in preceding years). A judge has discretion to issue a sentence of any length in a rape conviction, depending upon the circumstances and severity of the act committed. The norm appeared to be a sentence of five to 10 years’ imprisonment.
In a case that drew public attention, a woman alleged that the GPF commissioner raped her in November. A women’s group held a press conference to draw attention to the charges; the commissioner declined to comment and took leave in December to allow for an investigation into the matter. The government requested investigative assistance from Jamaican authorities; an interim report was completed and sent to the DPP, with further action pending at year’s end.
Domestic violence and violence against women, including spousal abuse, was widespread and crossed racial and socioeconomic lines. The law prohibits domestic violence and allows victims to seek prompt protection, occupation, or tenancy orders from a magistrate. Penalties for violation of protection orders include fines up to 10,000 Guyanese dollars ($50) and 12 months’ imprisonment; however, this legislation frequently was not enforced because of a lack of willingness to press charges on behalf of the victims and/or a lack of confidence in obtaining a remedy through the courts. Some victims preferred to reach a pecuniary settlement out of court. There were reports of police accepting bribes and other reports of magistrates applying inadequate sentences after conviction. In addition cases heard involving violation of a protective order tended to be categorized as assault cases.
According to a nongovernmental organization (NGO), the GPF reorganized police units in order to require inclusion of domestic violence units where victims can be counseled in private. The group observed that in most cases domestic violence reports were not taken confidentially but rather in the open at the front desk at police stations and were not treated as a matter of urgency. The organization handled 252 cases of abuse and violence, including child, spousal, and other domestic abuse, of which 12 were formally filed in a court.
The Help and Shelter NGO ran a free shelter for victims of domestic violence and operated a hotline to counsel victims with the funds it received from both private donors and the government. During the year Help and Shelter conducted 52 awareness sessions to sensitize individuals about domestic violence, reaching 1,304 persons, and counseled 479 persons affected by domestic abuse or violence during face-to-face counseling sessions and via a hotline.
Another NGO, Red Thread, promoted the empowerment of women through organized protests that led to passage of several laws protecting women and children, including laws on domestic violence, sexual offenses, and the protection of children. During the election campaign, one of its founders called on all parties to make domestic violence a campaign issue. Red Thread also promoted provision of services such as literacy projects, flood relief, transportation provision, and training in personal finance for mothers.
Sexual Harassment: The Prevention of Discrimination Act prohibits sexual harassment and provides for monetary penalties and award of damages to victims, but its application is confined to the workplace. For instance, the law does not cover harassment in schools. Any act of sexual harassment involving physical assault can also be prosecuted under relevant criminal statutes. Reports of sexual harassment were common, and there were six cases filed under the Prevention of Discrimination Act. Charges of sexual harassment were often settled out of court.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to contraception and skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care were widely available. UNICEF reported that 83 percent of births had a skilled attendant. The UN Population Fund reported a contraceptive prevalence rate of 43 percent and estimated the maternal mortality ratio in 2008 at 270 deaths per 100,000 live births. Media reports highlighted cases where severe bleeding after childbirth and hypertensive disorders resulted in maternal deaths, leading to the high maternal mortality ratio. The media also highlighted cases where family members’ complaints about lack of prompt attention were ignored by nurses, leading in some cases to sickness or death. Women and men had equal access to diagnostic services and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
Discrimination: Although women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men, gender-related discrimination was widespread and deeply ingrained. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, but there was no legal protection against such discrimination in the workplace. Only 48 percent of women were in the workforce, compared to 85 percent of men. There were also credible reports that women were treated and paid unequally and faced disadvantages in promotion. Job vacancy notices routinely specified that the employer sought only male or only female applicants.
The Women’s Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Labor monitored the legal rights of women, but its role was limited to employment-related services. The bureau also held seminars on leadership and gender equity issues for women throughout the country. The constitution provides for a Women and Gender Equality Commission, which met and compiled its first periodic review and submitted it to parliament in August. The law protects women’s property rights in common law marriages. It entitles a woman who separates or divorces to one-half of the couple’s property if she had regular employment during the marriage and one-third of the property if she had not been employed. In practice women’s property rights were generally observed.