EDITORIAL: End violence against women; end impunity

Violence against women is a pandemic; it’s perhaps the world’s most pervasive atrocity, yet it was receiving little attention, at least until recently, following the highly publicised #MetToo Movement and the shocking allegations against some of the biggest names in Hollywood, media, politics and business. Of course, the lack of attention was caused by survivors’ silence due to cultural taboos, fear, stigmatisation, silence without reason or a lack of information.  

There is no single reason for why people are violent, and more specifically violent towards women and girls. 

What we do know is that violence against women is a choice by those who do it, and we, like many others, want them to choose to stop. 

This issue gets united global attention tomorrow, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, under the theme “Orange the World: #HearMeToo,” and activist efforts to bring awareness to the extent of the problem continue until December 10, Human Rights Day.

During the 16-day activism period (of course, the overall activism doesn’t end December 10), we encourage everyone to join the effort to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world. 

Here’s a look at some of the data on violence against women, and why it is such an important global matter.

An estimated 35 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence; 7 percent of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner; as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner; at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation; and around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced sexual acts. These statistics were presented by María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UN General Assembly ahead of the UN-declared day on Sunday.

Violence against women and girls has been identified as a serious violation of human rights and we all have a moral obligation to end it. It also has serious economic and social costs, impeding development progress and is estimated to cost some countries up to 3.7 percent of GDP.

The international campaign to bring an end to this troubling issue of violence against women originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991.

In 2014, the Executive Director for UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka summed up what the aim has been all along – “Ending all forms of discrimination and violence against women by 2030 is the mission of our time.”

Can we achieve this goal to end ALL forms of discrimination and violence against women? We certainly hope so. Realistically though, it may not be achievable, because it would take conforming every single mind of every single individual who engages in and perpetuates this evil. Moreover, an important goal ought to be preventing those who haven’t yet done it, from so doing. 

But, regardless of how impossible that sounds, nothing should stop us from striving for 100 percent success, and it is a worthy target.

Speaking on the issue in the Caribbean, the UN Women Caribbean said that one in three women will experience gender based violence; over one-third of the region’s women report incidents of intimate or sexual violence and; according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, every one of the Caribbean islands has a sexual violence rate that is higher than the world – Antigua and Barbuda falls within that grouping.

The situation could actually be even bleaker than the statistics show given that many incidents go unreported, and oftentimes the acts are not recorded as cases of violence against women or domestic violence – but instead recorded as the crime described in the law – assault, murder, battery and  serious indecency among others.

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at what Antigua and Barbuda has done and is doing to end the scourge.

We start with the most recent set of activities. The Directorate of Gender Affairs, in collaboration with the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project, recently concluded a 3-day conference geared towards sensitising the youth population about issues of consent, healthy relationships, the justice system, and the Sexual Offences Model Court (SOMC), that is to be established here in early 2019. 

Not surprisingly, youth involvement and education are of paramount importance if we are to meet that 2030 goal. Setting up judicial systems to protect the survivors and prosecute the offenders is also very critical. 

Let us now turn our attention to the Quarterly Newsletter of The Jurist Project, financed by Canada, and implemented by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), for more facts on the SOMC.

A great deal of emphasis is being placed on training the individuals who process matters involving survivors and offenders, and we commend the move – considering that this is where we can end the impunity with which gender-based violence is perpetrated.

In the Issue 10, June – September 2018 newsletter, Gloria Richards-Johnson, Director, JURIST Project said that training will ensure a coordinated, multi-sectoral approach to the provision of justice to sexual assault complainants and defendants. It’s the first time that this is being done in Antigua and Barbuda on such a scale. This Court will also be the very first of its kind in the region.

Richards-Johnson explains, “Even though the Model Court will primarily be about the court process, we recognise that the court cannot deliver timely and gender-responsive justice without sufficient coordination with the police, prosecutors, probation department, medical doctors, Family and Social Services, Gender Affairs, and NGOs such as Women Against Rape.” 

Clearly, the effort targets first responders right down to the very last group dealing with the complaint of the varying types of violence against women and girls (and men too) – well, except for sexual harassment, but we will come to that.

We also shared the news that on August 3, 2018, the Directorate of Gender Affairs’ (DoGA) Support and Referral Centre (SARC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Antigua and Barbuda High Court as part of the JURIST Project’s establishment of the SOMC in Antigua and Barbuda. The MoU outlines the goal and objectives of the SOMC, the principles guiding the work of practitioners in the SARC as well as the roles and responsibilities of the SARC and the Antigua and Barbuda High Court in providing support to complainants in sexual offence cases. The SARC is a one-stop location for adult (age 18+) victims, directly affected by gender based sexual violence (GBSV), to access necessary intervention and response services. 

This year, cases of gender-based violence tugged at our emotions as we read of an underage girl being raped, kidnapped and denied justice because of a lack of systems to ensure that the accused was prosecuted, despite the girl no longer wanting to testify; we broke the news about transgender woman, Angel Joseph, allegedly being killed at the hands of her enraged partner, Timothy Jackman, who has since been charged; we know of the suspected murder suicide of Latoya Craig and her ex-partner Bharat Kumar, who were  both found hanging  a month ago; in October we reported on a complaint by an alleged survivor of rape now facing sexual advances from a prosecutor; and of girls being sexually assaulted by adult men who are well known in society or well known to the victims’ families.

The national outrage suggests that we are moving away from a culture highlighted by Janice Joseph of Stockton University and member of the International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme (ISPAC). In her UN Congress presentation, during a workshop on Violence Against Women in the Caribbean: A Critical Analysis, she noted that, “Caribbean societies are organised around hierarchical gender power relations with male domination reducing women to economic and emotional dependency.”

Once we look into these stories, then we ought to update, constantly, our prevention strategies given that the situations are usually never the same.

Our prevention strategies should be holistic, with multiple interventions undertaken in parallel in order to have long-lasting and permanent results. Many sectors, actors and stakeholders need to be engaged. More evidence is emerging on what interventions work to prevent violence—from community mobilisation, a change in social norms and comprehensive school interventions targeting staff and students, to economic empowerment and income supplements coupled with gender equality training. 

Our hope is that Antigua and Barbuda does not get left behind.

We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions. 

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