On Monday, April 21, 2015 an audio recording captured Guyana’s Minister of Health, Dr. Bheri Ramsarran calling feminist activist Sherlina Nageer “an idiot”, “a little piece of shit”, threatening to “slap her ass…just for the fun of it”, and to have her stripped by “some of my women”.
A statement sent to the press by the Minister of Health subsequently claims that he was provoked to such misogynist violence after Sherlina Nageer interrupted a press interview. Sherlina can be heard demanding state accountability for Guyana’s high maternal mortality rate, which is the highest in the English-speaking Caribbean.
The Minister invoked the language of “provocation” to justify his act of violence. The invocation of “provocation” is frequently used to justify and rationalise men’s fatal violence against women and has crept into state and activist responses to violence. The language of provocation, just like the denigrating language and threats the Minister directed at Sherlina, is the language of misogyny.
Women’s human rights defenders from across the region have attempted for decades to hold Caribbean governments accountable to women. This is not the first time that their efforts, are met with violence, threats and intimidation. Last month, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines a communications official working in the Prime Minister’s Office sought to shame a rape survivor on live radio for sharing her testimony at a women’s conference. In Barbados last year, a long-standing feminist activist and government employee walked out of a meeting in response to sexist comments. She and was condescendingly and threateningly offered “a word to the wise” from the floor of Parliament by the Minister with responsibility for the Bureau of Gender Affairs and accused of publicly displaying “bias for one gender over the other”. These examples are symptomatic of institutionalized and systematic sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny in the region, and they promote marginalization and intimidation of women at all levels.
Women are 51% of the population and our governments must be accountable to us.
We will not be intimidated into silence as silence means death. Literally.
Sherlina Nageer was called a “piece of shit” for insisting that women’s lives and health matter. She was threatened with the misogynist and violent acts of public stripping and beating for insisting that governments have a responsibility to ensure women have access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.
We recognise such abuses of state power as a reflection of hatred of women, an unwillingness to recognise us as fully human and a refusal to treat us as equals. They also reflect the callous disregard elected officials show for the people — boys and girls, women and men — they are meant to serve.
We call on our state managers to denounce acts of violence wherever they occur. We caution our politicians throughout the region that their silence on these offences against its citizens speaks volumes to their commitment to gender justice and the rights of women. If they will not speak out due to a lack of political will, we will speak out in the knowledge of what is right.
Join us in holding regional state managers accountable by submitting accounts of their abuse of power and office to any of the following email addresses:
redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com
catchafyahnetwork redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com
womantratt [at] gmail [dot] com
We invite you to sign below in solidarity with Sherlina Nageer and all women human rights defenders who face violence, threats, intimidation and loss of employment for the work they do on behalf of all of us.
Sign on to the solidarity statement here.
Read Sherlina’s response here.
Press Statement by Dr. Bheri Ramsaran
On Monday, April 21, 2015, at around 09:30 hours, I joined a group of peaceful persons at Whim Magistrate’s Court to give solidarity to former President Bharrat Jagdeo.
As I was about to depart two journalists sought an interview with me on the matter at hand to which I readily agreed. During the interview I was rudely interrupted by a woman who kept shouting and interrupting me throughout.
I shifted away on several occasions in an attempt to avoid her but she persisted in interrupting the interview.
It was unfortunate that I was provoked into anger and uttered harsh words at her for which I now regret.
I therefore wish to apologize for uttering those words.
April 21, 2015
Recordings have surfaced that suggest that one day after the Health Minister Dr. Bheri Ramsarran apologised he told a health forum that “so we have these miscreants who are sometimes supported by the international community because they are rights activists, right to spit in my face but not collect two slap, you understand me, or one of my ladies who love me wreck her up, you understand me?” Full transcript of comments available here and below:
“So we have these miscreants who are sometimes supported by the international community because they are rights activists, right to spit in my face but not collect two slap, you understand me, or one of my ladies who love me wreck her up, you understand me? Well you know I’m Bheri best, all the ladies like me. Suppose one of my big strong women seh “wuh yuh do we doctor, wuh yuh do dis innocent lil man? Wacks! Wacks! (imitates the sounds of blows). Then she’s going to become a hero, some of us will mek sure we give her a medal. Right, spit in my face, I don’t know if she got rabies or what, I know she was rabid. That woman need psychiatric help.”
This Stabroek News editorial provides the best reporting of the events and the best commentary and analysis on the Minister’s behaviour. It ends with a call for him to resign or be fired.