By Desiree Kissoon
The economic situation of women in Guyana is a serious problem, says American charge d’affaires Bryan Hunt.
Speaking to Stabroek News on Wednesday ahead of the announcement of preliminary results for the May 11 general election, Hunt said he did not expect U.S. agendas here to change significantly under the newly elected government. However, he said, there is still work to be done on some major issues. One of these issues is the empowerment of women to enable them to improve their economic status.
According to him, “… the economic status of women at all levels in Guyana is a serious problem, whether they are victims of gender-based violence or not. The top U.S. diplomat in Guyana said it’s very clear that Guyanese women have lower income potential than men in their lifetimes.
“There is not yet enough effort to try to close this gender gap in the workplace,” he said.
According to him, the US mission here is in active discussions with various private sector organizations to find ways to minimize this gap. He said the United States has a number of programs in place designed to help women who want to become entrepreneurs. These included numerous training programs here and in the United States. Hunt noted that economic viability must be a priority at all levels and most definitely for gender-based victims.
He said that the United States has spoken with the various organizations that are working on this issue, on the need to find lasting solutions for these women. However, he said, while everyone agrees on what needs to be done, the challenge is that Guyana’s economy is not creating enough jobs to absorb even the new entrants coming out of the country. university let alone those women who are now deciding they want to enter the formal workforce. He said a lot more work needs to be done to create these opportunities. The United States also plans to work “quite a bit” with at-risk youth, trying to help them acquire the skills necessary to enter the workforce as productive members of society.
Hunt noted that even though the USAID-funded Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) program ends in June, the United States will continue to seek opportunities for dialogue with all political stakeholders in an attempt to strengthen the democratic process and ” widen this process outward.
“… Ultimately the LEAD program will end in June, but this particular program has finished its work. Our hope is to work with the government to find a way forward, to engage with a new intervention in this area and, hopefully, to work to try to overcome this deeply rooted division within the Guyanese political system ”, did he declare. Hunt noted that the new government must work in the best interests of all Guyanese people.
According to Hunt, the United States would continue to focus its efforts on the Caribbean Basin Safety Initiative to help Guyana and the region cope with the problems of crime and violence that exist.
Regarding the issue of drug trafficking, he said the United States has a very active, technically collaborative relationship with the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, the Organized Crime Unit and the United States. police anti-narcotics unit. He said this collaboration will continue in efforts to decommission the various narcotics organizations that use Guyanese territory.
Hunt said the efforts are paying off and referred to what he described as “a significant increase” in the number of seizures of cocaine transiting Guyana. According to him, this was the result of “new international collaborative efforts that we (the United States) hope to continue.”
He said the recent creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office in Guyana is a major asset in the fight against drugs. DEA personnel would continue to work from the United States Embassy. Hunt revealed that those officers are currently on temporary duty, but that there will be a permanent staffing of the office later this year.
The diplomat noted that the United States is working to find ways to improve investigative and prosecution services in Guyana with respect to major drug players. “We have an ongoing cooperative effort to review the training of judges and magistrates. We also have ongoing support to the forensic laboratory to try to improve the quality of the evidence the prosecution service receives, ”he said.
“We fully anticipate that we would be able to move forward with a broader legal aid program that would focus on helping prosecutors and the police to build credible cases that can be brought before the justice system. and increase conviction rates, ”noted Hunt.
In response to a question about handling reports of gender-based violence, he said the United States is actively engaged in training law enforcement officials to process and respond to reports of these crimes. Hunt said this was done with the help of the Pennsylvania State Police, which has a partnership with one of the police divisions in Georgetown. He said the focus was on the appropriate treatment of crimes against special victims, including gender-based violence, sexual assault, rape cases and human trafficking cases. “They have an ongoing training and assistance program to try to dramatically improve the handling of these cases,” he said.
According to him, there are already new guidelines that have been drafted for line and senior officers in handling such cases. “Simultaneously, we worked with various civil society groups across the country supporting their efforts to educate about domestic violence and to increase community and police engagement on the issue. All with the message that gender-based violence is a serious crime and must be treated as such and we must prosecute those guilty of it if we want to eliminate it from Guyanese society, ”he said.
Hunt said that while the United States works closely with a number of organizations that provide assistance to victims of domestic violence, victims would still be in danger unless their abusers are prosecuted and convicted.
“The crux of the matter is that although these organizations do an incredible job of getting victims out of dangerous situations, without actually being able to prosecute and convict the offender, these victims are still going to find themselves in danger,” he noted.
Hunt also noted that the new government should thoroughly review the legislation, not only in terms of gender-based violence, but also on rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and human trafficking (TIP). “I think there are things that could be done legislatively to increase the efficiency of the prosecution of such crimes. I think there are definitely things that could be looked at during the sanctioning phase to make sure they are important in deterring such crimes, ”he said.
According to him, more should be done to ensure that Guyana meets the minimum standards. “We have seen consistently for several years that the government needs to redouble its efforts to show significant progress towards meeting these minimum standards,” he said.
He said further prosecutions and convictions of those involved in human trafficking revealed a significant change from previous years.
He said the United States was in the process of writing its next State Department report, but was not sure Guyana had done enough to improve its ranking.
Over the years, Guyana has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the crime of human trafficking. The country received a poor ranking for its response to the TIP.