By Gemma Handy
Ending a culture of silence surrounding domestic violence – and an “imbalance of power” between the sexes – is the focus of a new initiative in Barbuda.
Residents on the sister isle will soon be able to access a slew of services at a one-stop shop aimed at protecting survivors and boosting gender equality.
The two-year venture – dubbed ‘Big Love Buda’ – is a partnership between the Directorate of Gender Affairs and community-based group the Be Foundation.
It will mimic services, including a phone hotline, already available in Antigua but whose implementation in Barbuda was delayed by Hurricane Irma.
It fills an important gap on the smaller island where victims of violence currently have to travel to Antigua to get help, explained the Be Foundation’s co-founder Jenita Cuffy.
Barbuda has one sole police officer trained in dealing with gender-based violence but no general support services, she told Observer.
“Having to go to Antigua to report an incident is an extra trauma on the person,” Cuffy said.
“It’s hard to say how widespread domestic violence is because it’s so closed in,” she continued. “We know there are issues but many instances are not reported because of fear of how people in the community will perceive them, or fear of the partner themselves.”
She said feedback had been good since the programme’s launch last month and had even seen previous sufferers coming forward to pledge assistance.
“People realise it’s something that’s needed. We know there are problems but we don’t tend to talk about it, so this is an opportunity to open up and get an understanding of what we are dealing with and how to support each other,” she continued.
“Domestic violence is not unique to us in Barbuda, it’s something that happens all over the world and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
“People should reach out and get the help they need before anything disastrous happens,” Cuffy added.
The one-stop centre will be “unique” in Barbuda, offering services never available there before, said Farmala Jacobs, of the Directorate of Gender Affairs.
“We will be looking at issues from a wellness approach, as well as specific services. There will be a number of prevention activities, such as behavioural change programmes to specific target groups.
“For example, we will provide spaces for men and boys to talk, confront issues they are facing and give them an understanding of what it means to have a healthy relationship.”
Jacobs also spoke of the impacts of the nation’s “patriarchal society”.
“There’s an imbalance of power; it definitely exists,” she said. “There are many factors that contribute to that, for example the way we raise our little boys and the value we place on what’s masculine and what’s feminine.
“Those values get passed down and are reproduced at home, in the workplace and in institutions.”
Jacobs said society still “places less value on women” and that some of the most ostensibly successful females are secret sufferers of violence in the home.
“We are really grateful to have this partnership with the Be Foundation and we’re looking forward to the next two years and beyond, working closely to provide support to Barbuda,” she added.
The Be Foundation’s Tamara Huggins described the project as a chance for Barbudans to come together to define how best to address domestic violence.
“We will use our unity as our strength as we continue to rebuild Barbuda to the island we hope for it to be,” she added.
“That is what Big Love Buda is all about.”