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Local Government Minister, Nigel Dharamlall, has offered an apology of sorts for his crass behaviour in the National Assembly on Wednesday, February 9, when he reportedly told a woman MP on the opposition bench “You got to get a dildo, that’s what you looking for.” This behaviour is vulgar, unparliamentary and further perpetuates a culture of violence and misogyny towards women in Guyana, particularly women in politics. We the Sisters of Mercy and Associates in Guyana condemn in no uncertain terms the minister’s statement and his behaviour.
We also note with dismay and deep concern that the Speaker of the National Assembly did not upbraid Minister Dharamlall for his “dildo” comment, neither did any of his colleague ministers. The fact that the minister’s comment went unchecked by the Speaker points to a dangerous normalization of violence against women MPs and a total disregard for parliamentary norms.
It is our considered opinion that the Speaker has a responsibility to ensure that order and decorum are maintained in the House. He fell woefully short of his obligations when he failed to reprimand Minister Dharamlall for his vulgar attack on a woman MP. Misogyny and violence in Guyana have resulted in the deaths of thousands of women and girls. Therefore, the Minister’s statement has to be seen as part of a larger culture of violence against women in our country. The safety of women is always under threat whether in the home, workplace, on the street, places of worship and now in the National Assembly. Those who legislate against gender-based violence cannot also be seen to perpetrate that same kind of violence.
For women to be safe in Guyana, changes must occur at every level of our society, including the Parliament. Maybe it is time to take a serious look at gender-based violence training for parliamentarians. This should begin by teaching respect for each other and outlining what sexual abuse and misogyny look like. There is need to also examine the institutional and cultural sexism that engenders violence against our women and girls. ALL parliamentarians must be held accountable for their behavior, both inside and outside of the National Assembly.
The people of Guyana want better from our elected leaders. We deserve transparency and accountability in how the affairs of the State are to be managed, and we demand civility and decorum from those who are tasked with governing this nation. It also goes without saying that we cannot, and must not, ever become a nation where misogyny and violence against women are accepted or condoned.
Mercy Associate (Guyana)