Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, but many incidents were not reported to law enforcement. Authorities seldom successfully prosecuted cases that were reported. Based on media reports and commentary, there was a high of incidence of rape and sexual assault not reflected in official statistics. Many survivors did not report rapes, presumably because of fear of stigma, retribution, or further violence. During the year authorities charged 102 persons with rape, but only 28 were convicted, due in part to the large court backlog. Additionally, authorities charged 89 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 November 2011 a woman accused the then GPF police commissioner of rape. After an investigation conducted with assistance from Jamaican authorities, the DPP recommended in February that the commissioner be charged with rape. However, before police could bring charges, the acting chief justice granted temporary orders blocking the DPP’s recommendation and barring the police from instituting the charges. After hearing the case on several occasions and reviewing written submissions, the justice ruled on March 29 against the DPP, finding “her decision was unlawful and, even if not unlawful, was irrational” because the circumstantial evidence did not present a realistic prospect of a conviction.
The ruling attracted widespread criticism from civil society, including the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and another NGO. The GHRA said that the ruling was “profoundly disturbing” and lamented that “an opportunity for a meaningful test of this country’s commitment to both the protection of females from sexual offenses and the principle that no one is above the law, should be short-circuited by such specious reasoning.” In April the commissioner retired from the GPF.
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. Court records showed that there were 279 domestic violence cases filed during the year, with 143 persons convicted. Penalties for violation of protection orders include fines up to 10,000 Guyanese dollars ($50) and 12 months’ imprisonment. However victims frequently were unwilling to press charges due to 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 an NGO, the GPF reorganized police units to require inclusion of domestic violence units where victims can be counseled in private. The NGO 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 418 cases of abuse and violence, including child, spousal, and other domestic abuse, of which 32 were formally filed in a court.
The government and private donors funded an NGO to run a free shelter for victims of domestic violence and operate a hotline to counsel victims with the funds it received from both private donors and the government. During the year the NGO conducted 180 awareness sessions to sensitize individuals about domestic violence, reaching 4,367 persons, and counseled 641 persons affected by domestic abuse or violence during face-to-face counseling sessions and via a hotline.
Another civil society group promoted the empowerment of women through organized protests, which have led to passage of several laws protecting women and children, including laws on domestic violence, sexual offenses, and the protection of children. This organization also promoted provision of services such as literacy projects, 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; however, there were no 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. The UN Population Fund reported a contraceptive prevalence rate of 43 percent and an estimated maternal mortality ratio in 2010 of 280 deaths per 100,000 live births; 87 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. According to UN estimates, 40 percent of women ages 15 to 49 were using a modern method of contraception. 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 enjoy 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 meaningful enforcement 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 to draw attention to issues that affect the development of women. During the year the commission engaged in a countrywide dialogue and met with regional representatives, stakeholders, government officials, and residents to listen to the concerns of women to more effectively plan and implement policy at the national level. 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.