“The environment that you are raised in is one of the reasons for violence in the society.”
– Jerome Bovell, student, St Leonard’s Boys Secondary School.
When fifth form student Jerome Bovell declared that it takes a village to raise violent children as he participated in a discussion on sexual violence and rape culture hosted by the United States Embassy yesterday, in observance of the 16 days of Activism against gender-based violence, he might not have known how much it would hit home.
No doubt it impressed the experts present but it was more a wake-up call for a nation grappling to cope with 43 murders so far this year and yet another shooting as recently as last night.
Violence is a growing scourge in our society, an atrocity that wrecks lives, but none more so than the lives of our women and girls. Over the next two weeks, violence against our women and girls will get much attention as activists mount various initiatives to raise awareness about the problem until December 10 -Human Rights Day.
According to Representative of the United Nations Multi-Country Caribbean Office Allison McLean work on preventing and ending violence against women at the global, regional and national levels shows that there is widespread impunity by perpetrators of sexual violence and rape.
In her statement to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls on Monday, McLean noted: “UNWomen-supported research conducted here in the Caribbean in the past two years reinforced that violence against women and girls (VAWG) including rape is so entrenched and normalised that both men and women have a high tolerance for its manifestations.
“Notwithstanding women’s well-known and often-touted gains in public life and the introduction of laws, policies and initiatives to promote women’s equality, prevailing socio-cultural attitudes that perpetuate unequal and hierarchical power relations reinforcing notions of female subordination and male domination, mitigate against these gains and in turn fuel VAWG.”
It’s a subject we don’t like to discuss in Barbados until occasions such as the 16 Days of Activism come around. Violence against women and rape are still taboo. Many incidents no doubt go unreported and worse, according to advocates, are often merely recorded as assault, murder, battery and acts of serious indecency.
Like the teen student speaker pointed out, our environment has either trained us to condone, belittle, or dismiss violence against women and girls.
Far too often, we ignore the screams coming from the neighbour’s house since it is none of our business, we tell ourselves. We then tell our girls to stop making up stories claiming that a relative forced them to touch his private parts. Or we plaster makeup over the black and blue bruises over an eye. Or we just laugh off unwanted sexual advances and taunts with the old “you-can’t-make-a-joke” query.
In many respects, our popular culture – music, jokes, movies and social media – demeans our women and girls. We prefer instead to blame and shame victims for wearing a short skirt, or for being too tempting, too loose.
Yes, we do these things and more to thwart efforts at bringing this violence to an end and make the culpable accountable
During yesterday’s interactive session with the students, a University of the West Indies researcher at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at Cave Hill, Leigh-Ann Worrell, reminded the boys: “So we make a lot of fun of the kind of girl that deserves a particular treatment.
“The ghetto girl deserves this; what was she doing down there; she shouldn’t have had that on.
“But nobody deserves violence, no matter what they are wearing, or where they are from.”
So young Bovell gave us food for thought. We cannot seriously address this scourge in such a toxic environment.
Social values must change and people of all genders must dismantle any environment that belittles the rights of women and girls. Instead, we must work harder at building a safe environment where men and women, boys and girls reject and speak out against all forms of violence at home, at school, at work, at church, on the playing field.
All of us must see this problem of evil against women and girls as a crime that must end today by ensuring that our homes, schools and villages promote dignity and respect.
The fault, and the solution, then, dear reader, is not in our stars but in ourselves.