A new UN Women study, raising serious concerns about violence against Caribbean woman, has urged governments to make the issue a high priority.
The study, based on five Caribbean countries, show that as much as 55 per cent of women between ages 15 to 64 experience some form of gender-based violence.
Even more disturbing was the revelation that the majority of these cases go unreported, mainly due to a lack of confidence in the law enforcement and justice system.
While Barbados was not included in the study, which featured Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada and Suriname, UN Women Progamme Specialist Isiuwa Iyahen contended that the statistics were alarming enough for the matter to be treated as a national security issue across the region.
Acknowledging that the study was not intended to be representative regionally, the trends that emerged were enough for all Caribbean leaders to take stock of their preventative measures.
She suggested that one such policy decision could be the empowering of witnesses to domestic violence to bring such a case before the court.
Iyahen said: “We have to position intimate partner violence and gender-based violence as national security issues.
“This is no longer just an issue to be addressed within the home, it is an issue that should be tackled in all spheres.
“We need a response at the personal level, community level and at the national level.
“People who witness violence must understand that they have to go beyond just keeping that information to themselves but they must understand that it is a crime, an actual contravention of human rights and they therefore can take it to the court and have the matter dealt with in the public sphere.”
According to the report, the picture painted across the five countries is disturbingly clear: women ages 15-64 have experienced at least one form of violence ranging from 39 per cent to as high as 55 per cent.
Additionally, 28 per cent to 38 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime while physical violence ranges from 25 per cent to 35 per cent.
It was further revealed that 20 per cent to 38 per cent of women experienced non-partner sexual abuse in their lifetime while 13 per cent to 19 per cent reported experiencing this abuse before the age of 18.
The study also showed that most women who experienced violence never sought help. Victims, community members and stakeholders attributed this to lack of knowledge of available help, perceptions of being blamed or stigmatized by their situation becoming known throughout the community, and inadequate support structures to ensure victim safety after reporting violence to the police.
Iyahen said that while women who are victims of violence would tell someone close to them, there is distrust of law enforcement, which hinders them from taking the matter to the next level.
The UN Women official said: “The data shows that there isn’t sufficient trust in the system.
“The data collected show that women tell someone, usually someone they are close to, but they don’t go to the next step of accessing the services.
“The reasons vary but it coalesces around a fear of a lack of confidentiality within the system.”