DoGA, public remembers those lost to GBV at candlelight vigil

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By Robert A Emmanuel

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The Directorate of Gender Affairs (DoGA) and members of the public came together at the UWI Global Campus (formerly Open Campus) to remember those who have gone missing or have died in the country as a result of gender-based violence.

Saturday night’s candlelight vigil was part of a series of event by the Directorate to recognise 16 Days of Activism, with this year’s theme according to UN Women being “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls.”

DoGA’s Programme Officer Raisa Charles gave opening remarks where she spoke about the historical abuses suffered by women during slavery, including rape which she highlighted through an excerpt of the book ‘To Shoot Hard Labour.’

She added that fighting against gender-based violence should not be left only to women and girls to address.

“[Gender-based violence] has been happening in Antigua and Barbuda for centuries…and…I don’t think it could ever go understated how deeply rooted issues like this are in our country and culture, and I don’t think we could do too much work to root out the underlying cultural beliefs and stigmas that allow [gender-based violence] to live and thrive today,” Charles stated.

Head of the UWI Global Campus in Antigua, Coleen Letlow added to the sentiments, stating that addressing gender-based violence required collective action from all genders.

“It is a pervasive problem that transcends borders, cultures and socioeconomic statuses. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that countless individuals, particularly women and girls, endure physical, emotional, and psychological harm, simply because of their gender.

“Gender-based violence is not just a woman’s issue… it is a human rights issue that demands our collective attention and action,” Letlow remarked.

Meanwhile, Minister with responsibility for Social Transformation, Senator Samantha Marshall who was in attendance spoke about the work that programmes like the Antigua Barbuda Support and Referral Centre (SARC) has been doing to support vulnerable women and girls.

“Between January and September 2023, our Support and Referral Centre, processed 75 cases of gender-based violence.

“72 [of these cases] were female and three of the cases were girls between the ages of 12 and 18; these figures only represent a small fraction of the true picture of gender-based violence in our country.

“They do not account for those who have reported to other agencies or those who have chosen not to report at all,” the Senator said.

She highlighted some of the work that the country has done to address sexual violence, both administratively and judicially.

“We completed this work through the herculean efforts of the government of Antigua and Barbuda, international donor agencies like UN Women and the Juris Project and our small but mighty civil society partners like Women Against Rape,” she added.

Senator Marshall also noted the role of the community in addressing the issue, stating laws and policies could only go so far if society does not engage in changing the culture in homes, schools and churches.

Today at 8am, the Directorate will launch the ‘FeteSafe Project’ which will aim to reduce instances of gender-based violence occurring during the peak Carnival season through engaging promoters and entertainers of these fetes.

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