Put your money where your mouth is!
That’s the call from National Organization of Women’s (NOW) president Marilyn Rice-Bowen, as she urged the Freundel Stuart administration to cut the money it gives to councillors attached to the 30 Constituency Councils and divert it to the Shelter For Abused Women, set up by Government in 1999 and run by the non-governmental organization Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barbados (BPW).
Noting that Barbados was a signatory to a number of treaties and conventions that protect the rights of women, the NOW head told the 51st annual general meeting of Soroptimist International Barbados, at the Accra Beach Resort, it was puzzling that “with its deep social commitment to eliminating violence against women, against a backdrop of an increase in domestic violence-related deaths –– six last year, 2013, and to date two” why the shelter budget was cut.
“Is this the time to cut the budget? How will this cut affect the quality of service extended to survivors? The shelter can’t be closed or its services can’t be withheld. The women of this country are in need of this service.
“Now is not the time to cut the budget to the shelter . . . . We don’t only point out, but we always offer working solutions.
“Whereas we recognize and applaud the work of the Constituency Councils, today I suggest that in the interest of progress, and as a display of civic commitment . . . the Government of Barbados slash the budgets of the [councils], thus allowing the councillors to give back to society.
“[See it as] a demonstration of their civic commitment . . . . We are saying cut the stipends and the funds. I know, Mr Minister, you’re shaking your head, [but] we can get it done,” Rice-Bowen said to the audience, which included Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development Steve Blackett, under whose aegis the councils and the Bureau For Gender Affairs fall.
Rice-Bowen noted that Government, through the signing of various declarations had made a commitment to the women of this country, and this should be honoured, adding that whenever the state’s position “is contradicted or skewed in the area of domestic violence the National Organization will defend the state without an apology.
“Whenever the women of this country are described in derogatory terms, we the National Organization will defend their honour without apology.”
The NOW president also lamented that domestic violence had gone under-reported in the country. She told Barbados TODAY at the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting that a fear of discrimination and the stigma attached to the act were forcing some people not to come forward and report what was happening.
“Persons are very hesitant to report, because, usually, a victim feels ashamed. They are ashamed and they are afraid. Remember that we live in a very small society . . . . But the more you talk about domestic violence the more you educate people that it is not their fault. Very often people figure that it is their fault and they figure that society will scorn them.
“As children growing up in villages, you saw men beating women. It’s only over the last few years that you have been able to put a label on it. So when we have our annual motorcade and you tell people about domestic violence, they are like, ‘Tha’ is wha it is?’
“As we tell people, call it by name. It is not that he beating her or whatever; he is a perpetrator of domestic violence. What he is doing is domestic violence; and you can get help,” Rice-Bowen explained.
She suggested that there also needed to be the understanding that the help process is multifaceted.
“After you have reported, it is not a matter of just report and punish. You report and help.
“Through the BPW and their crisis centre, persons are led towards counselling. So you don’t just gather statistics and drop the people by the wayside. There is help all along the way, even for the children.”