“Unless we make some in-roads into this problem [gender-based violence] in the region, I fear that Caribbean women and girls in particular will continue to be restricted in their ability to reach their full potential. And if Caribbean women and girls don’t reach their full potential then the Caribbean can’t reach its full potential. Gender-based violence inhibits empowerment. – Jane Armstrong, Maria Holder Trust
Today, on day three of the United Nations worldwide observation of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls, one can’t help but wonder if Jane Armstrong’s caution will fall on deaf ears.
And we fear that observing such important events or days will be nothing more than mere passing notice.
Yet the grim statistics demand more than a collective nod; one in four Caribbean women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. UN Women reported that data from 16 countries showed that in Latin America and the Caribbean a total of 2,554 women died at the hands of spouses and partners last year.
Worldwide, violence against women and girls is a pandemic.
And yet, it boggles the mind that in today’s modern world, this problem is on the rise, when authorities have said virtually all that they can say, survivors have shared their stories, public service announcements blare from our radios and televisions, and we have all adopted the trending hashtags advocating an end to this mindless violence.
We have all followed the highly publicized #MeToo Movement and the shocking allegations against some of the biggest names in Hollywood, media, politics and business.
And yet this scourge stubbornly persists.
There is no single reason, no single agency, no single person and no single measure that can remedy this ill. We must not sit and wait for one to appear out of thin air to deliver us from this evil.
But we certainly can fight back together. The next 13 days offer us the opportunity to reflect on how we can all break the back of this pandemic and the silence that feeds it.
Without strong voices willing to tackle this issue – from the community to the highest political level – we will never have sight of an end to these human rights violations.
And here, as has happened so often before, Barbados must lead.
In a country where women are at the pinnacle of power – Prime Minister, Governor General, Director of Public Prosecutions – this island which has track record of providing top education and other opportunities for its women must demonstrate that it has a zero-tolerance approach to Gender-based violence.
But the fight to end violence against women and girls must be embraced by all Barbadians. Every citizen should see the elimination of the abuse as a personal responsibility. Real men must teach boys how to respect and treat their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and, later on, their partners. Neighbours must not turn a blind eye to the swollen lip or black and blue bruises of women silently walking in pain. Law enforcers must treat each case seriously, whether a man or a woman calls for help. Lawmakers must review legislation to allow for mandatory arrests and charges to prevent the possibility of further violence. Law courts must send stern messages and end slap-on-wrist penalties for offenders, Our Government must provide safe places and experts to assist victims and allocate adequate resources to tackling the problem.
So our work is cut out for us – all of us – towards ensuring that when the world observes the UN 16 days of activism next November, there will be fewer and fewer, and eventually no more unfortunate statistics to report.
Our nation’s development depends on it.