Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires Bryan Hunt: Silence Hides Violence – Speak Out

First Lady, Ms. Sandra Granger
The Honorable Volda Lawrence, Minister of Social Protection,
Mr. David Armogan, Regional Chairman,
Indranie Autur, Programme Manager, Roadside Baptist,
Other Distinguished Guests,
Members of the Press Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you so much for your kind invitation to be here today.  I am honored to be here among such a distinguished group of leaders.   I have come to this area many times during my tenure in Guyana, and I am always impressed by the warm hospitality extended by you all.  Thank you once again.

Today we are at Roadside Baptist to speak out against gender-based violence and to promote gender equality.   Earlier this week we celebrated International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is  Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.  Promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls is a priority for the United States Government.  Under the leadership of President Obama, the United States is working to combat discrimination, eliminate violence against women and girls at home and abroad, expand access to women’s health care, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, support women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs, and encourage women’s economic and political leadership.   President Obama says that “Communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, they are more peaceful, they are more prosperous, they develop faster, they are more likely to succeed.”  The President is absolutely right and that is why we at the U.S. Embassy embrace the efforts of Roadside Baptist and support them in the very important work they do in the areas of gender equality, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS, and suicide prevention.

In the United States women earn 79 cents to the dollar of their male counterpart.  One of the first bills the President signed more than 7 years ago was  the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act named for a woman who discovered she was being paid less than her male co-workers.  What kind of example does paying women less set for our sons and daughters?

The President has also signed into law the Affordable Care Act which prohibits insurance companies from charging higher insurance premiums based on sex.  The law also required free coverage of well-woman exams, contraception and domestic violence counseling.  The president also signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, a measure which includes improved protections for Native American women and members of the LGBT community.   I highlight this legislation not to show that the U.S. is doing such an excellent job in addressing gender equality, but because in spite of all we have done, there still exists a significant gender equality gap.

I also want to thank many of you here for the work you are doing to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Much has been accomplished in getting closer to zero, but much more needs to be done to build on those accomplishments. We must make progress in promoting the fundamental human rights of all people and in eliminating stigma and discrimination against gender and sexual minorities.  We know from decades of research, it is these communities that bear a disproportionate amount of the HIV/AIDS burden and we must continue this important work.

I would also like to speak to the issue of suicide.  It is an issue that the entire nation is trying to cope with, but none more than the people of  Berbice where suicide rates are the highest in the country.  Just yesterday the U.S. Embassy hosted a Suicide Prevention Workshop in Georgetown and it was attended by more than 70 people representing NGOs from throughout the country, including Berbice.  One of the participants shared with the audience that he had lost his mother, father, wife, and father-in-law to suicide in the last five months.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.  It struck many to their cores.  We ALL have to do more to look out for warning signs and look after our brothers, sisters, and neighbors.  Guyana truly is a country of  “One people, One Nation, One Destiny” and we must help one another, particularly through difficult times.

I conclude by encouraging you all to vote in next week’s local government elections.  There is a generation of people who have never voted before in a local election, and there certainly has to be more and better voter education by the everyone involved in the process: candidates, media, government, NGOs, etc.  It is precisely the challenges we have spoken about today that can be addressed by local government officials.  These officials are often closer to the people than national representatives, and therefore more responsive to the changing needs of the communities.  In the United States, women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Rosa Parks worked tirelessly to help women get the right to vote.  In Guyana, the influence of leaders like former President Janet Jagan, former Public Service Minister Dr. Faith Harding, and former Member of the National Assembly Sheila Holder endures today.  To promote gender equality, greater outreach in the area of HIV/AIDs, eliminating gender-based violence, and saving our fellow citizens from contemplating suicide, vote in next week’s election and have your voice heard.  Government certainly cannot solve all of our communities problems, but equally certain is that all parties have a role to play, including government, the private sector, civil society, and others to create policies and address the challenges facing us today.

Thank you!