Three Caribbean countries are among the top 10 for reported incidences of rape. All Caribbean countries (where comparable data is available) have higher than the global average for rape. One in three women in the Caribbean on average will experience domestic violence. What do these statistics tell us? The levels of violence against women and girls throughout the Caribbean are very high.
However, a true picture of the prevalence of violence against women is hampered by under-reporting, as many women are reluctant to report these crimes because of lack of confidence in the security and justice sectors, but also through fear of acts of vengeance and feelings of shame. In spite of the deficiencies in the data collection we know that:
Violence against women affects a significant percentage of women and girls in the Caribbean.
48% of adolescent girls report sexual initiation to be forced or somewhat forced in 9 Caribbean countries
Country studies for Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, British Virgin Islands and Suriname suggest that between 20-69% of women in intimate relationships have been victims of by domestic violence
What’s being done to end violence against women?
Strategies have been introduced across the Caribbean, with varying degrees of success, to end violence against women. These include: increasing state capacity and accountability through law reform and police training; providing shelters and hotline services; promoting zero tolerance through confronting the widespread cultural acceptance of gender based violence; and enhancing men’s role as advocates for living life without violence.
Approaches and initiatives
Since 1992, there have been developments in the region’s legal system, including the enactment of domestic violence legislations, which offer women greater protection from abuse through the power of Magistrates courts to grant protection orders. Another major stride is the full criminalisation of rape within marriage in several countries in the region.
Police have also been given greater responsibility to prevent domestic violence as well as to protect persons who are suspected to be victims of domestic violence. In some countries, police have the power to arrest without warrant; they are mandated to provide detailed written reports on all allegations received, including the actions taken; and can apply for protection orders on behalf of children or abused spouses or partners.
Through the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, several organisations have launched campaigns for better legal protection against sexual harassment and continue to work with communities and police to ensure zero tolerance for gender-based violence. Shelters and hotlines exist in many countries, though largely run and funded by women’s organisations.
An innovative approach:
All across the region, there is a growing movement of men working for change. For example, UN WOMEN supports an Expert Group of psychologists, human rights lawyers, and social workers in the development and implementation of the ‘Partnership for Peace: A Domestic Violence Prevention Programme’. This programme which is being implemented in Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago is a standardised court-based violence intervention programme for the Caribbean.
The Partnership for Peace (PfP) Programme uses a psycho-educational approach to prevent men who are in the court system as perpetrators of domestic violence from repeating the patterns of violence against women.
The programme is grounded in basic principles that include prioritising the safety and protection of women who are victims of violence and the acknowledgement of accountability and responsibility by the perpetrator.
In the process of the 16-week programme facilitated by a mixed sex team, men confront harmful ideas about women and about masculinity, examine unequal power relationships that fuel violence and accept personal responsibility for ending their violent behaviour.
The Regional response to the International Call To Action:
In 2008, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign was launched as a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.
UNiTE calls on governments, civil society, women’s organisations, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system to join forces in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.
By 2015, UNiTE aims to achieve the following five goals in all countries:
Adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls
Adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans
Strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls
Increase public awareness and social mobilization
Address sexual violence in conflict
UN WOMEN in its response to the Secretary-General’s campaign, is working with men, faith-based leaders and institutions, the media and artists in the popular music traditions to carry one consistent message - zero tolerance to all forms of violence against women.
The Way Forward
In addition to the commitments given and guidelines set out in the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), all countries should develop national plans of action that can have as a starting point the obligations set out in the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. These obligations include:
Due diligence in preventing, investigating and punishing violence against women and children, including consideration of mandatory arrest and/or prosecution of allegations of physical abuse;
Particular attention to investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse;
Adoption of measures to modify legal and cultural practices tolerating or allowing the persistence of domestic violence;
Access to justice for victims including programmes to promote the education and training of those involved in the administration of justice;
Programmes to promote awareness and respect of the right of women to be free from violence;
Programmes to modify social and cultural practices and patterns of behaviour;
Programmes to provide appropriate specialised services for victims of violence against women, including counseling, crisis housing, legal aid and social services;
Programmes to provide services for perpetrators including consideration of appropriate options to incarceration. Batterer intervention programmes should be informed by principles of accountability and victim protection; and
Research and statistical programmes on the causes, consequences and prevalence of domestic violence.
Despite the achievements accomplished in giving visibility to violence against women and in defining State obligations to act with due diligence, there is no getting away from the fact that like all types of violence, violence against women and children appears to be on the rise or at least not abating in any way proportionate to the levels of action expended by women’s organisations.
Ending violence against women requires that everyone speak out against relations of power, domination and control that characterise so much of the dynamics of interpersonal relations between women and men in the Caribbean. We must embrace our collective role of advocates for respect, justice and women’s autonomy. In this, men have a special responsibility to carry the message of justice and respect for women’s autonomy. Violence against women is not only a woman’s issue; it is a men’s issue, and tackling this requires redefining masculinity away from the traditional and harmful practices of aggression and control.
A Life Free of Violence- It’s a Woman’s Right!
UNODC’s Crime Trends Survey (CTS) reference-Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends,
Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean March 2007, A Joint Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Latin America and the Caribbean Region of the World Bank.