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Last week Wednesday, March 3, 2020, the National Assembly took another downward slide with the news that Minister of Public Affairs and Member of Parliament Kwame McCoy allegedly physically assaulted Opposition Member of Parliament Tabitha Sarabo-Halley. Since the alleged incident, whilst Ms. Sarabo-Halley has reinforced the claim that she was assaulted, Mr. McCoy has denied committing what is classified as a criminal and cowardly act.
The alleged assault came on the heels of a National Assembly plagued by some Members who no longer see the place as deserving to be treated with honour or themselves honourable. At times the behaviour of these members will force the thinking that the dregs of society are prowling the hallowed halls and occupying seats once occupied by men and women of honour. These bad behaviours are happening in a House whose leader, Speaker Manzoor Nadir, does not know better, does not care, or remains incapable of bringing order and decency to the place.
The back and forth whether Mr. McCoy indeed committed the act has taken on a political characteristic of partisanship. It is a reminder when a first lady of a former president was alleged abused by him, supporters of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic were quick to jump to the alleged abuser defense and ignored the harrowing stories of the alleged assaults. It is the same situation Ms. Sarabo-Halley is facing.
The political polarising attitude suggests to Guyanese that there is still a long way to go in dealing with allegations of abuse, violence and assault against women. It also suggests that the enforcement of the law, the Guyana Police Force, is less likely to initiate action through investigation and charge where necessary. It suggests that with power or being in powerful positions women could be subject to mistreatment and their fellow women prefer to stay silent or deny the incident ever happened, depending on which side of the political divide they fall. It further suggests some people are prepared to turn a blind eye and would not loudly declare for that woman’s voice to be heard, to tell her story.
Some may proudly announce that women have come a long way in Guyana. Women have even served as President which is the highest office in the land. But coming a long way could mean nothing or be reversed if women cannot act in sisterhood in protection of their dignity, space and body. This publication, whilst we hope the Police do due diligence in investigating the incident, is registering its disappointment that on this troubling issue women are divided. Whether true in whole or part, women across the political divide have not rallied behind Ms. Sarabo-Halley, even if to say they do not support the alleged allegations and join the chorus for police investigation.
It is not known whether the Minister responsible for women’s welfare has said anything or opted for silence. There is no need to like Ms. Sarabo-Halley or share the same political belief, as is greater the need to send a unified, strong message to men that such behaviour, real or perceived, will not be tolerated and even more in the hallowed halls of the National Assembly where legislation is made.
Last week Wednesday was not only another sad day for the National Assembly but also women’s rights. Even by the alleged physical assault Guyana has been set back to days before icons like Janet Jagan, Jane Phillips-Gay, Winifred Gaskin, Viola Burnham, Shirley Field- Ridley, et al blazed the trail in the fight for women to be treated with dignity and respect. There is serious doubt the named women, in spite of their diverse political views, would not have together spoken out against the alleged assault of a fellow woman.