by George Alleyne
For too long, abused women in the Caribbean have been carrying the burden of social ridicule, though the target of such derision should be the offender, and this reversal of the blame trend would deliver onto females the assistance they need and force changes in men.
When women are no longer made to believe that they are at fault and their offending partners are singled out, abused ladies would feel empowered to step forward and assist each other while pressure on the males dishing out the maltreatment could bring recognition of the error of their ways in these men.
Such were some of the positions put forward by academics and activists Professor Adele Jones and Tonni Brodber, representatives of the United Nations Women multi-country office – Caribbean.
“Once we begin to decrease the stigma and let women feel that this is not personal shame that they must carry; the shame belongs to the perpetrator not to the victim… If we can get past that, women would talk about their experiences and then we can get peer support developing,” Jones said, adding, “there are different things that can be done especially through women’s organisations, women providing support to other women”.
Following on from Jones’ vision that removal of the humiliation from women would help females find a path towards helping each other, Brodber contended that reversal of blame could be used as a transformational tool for offenders.
“We need perpetrators and everyone else to be accountable for their actions. What we want is for you [perpetrators] to be accountable and to shift action. And that accountability has to come from changed behaviours and beliefs that violence is not an option. It is never an option.”
Their comments came Wednesday during a webinar marking the beginning of 16 Days of Activism, an annual international observance of the campaign challenging violence against women and girls. It runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to 10 December, Human Rights Day.
Themed “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect”, Wednesday’s virtual event was sponsored by the University of the West Indies Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology and chaired by that department’s Senior Lecturer, Kristina Hinds.
Abused women need help from agencies not only for therapeutic purposes but also in getting themselves organised to establish connections among those who have suffered and in exposing abusers.
“Right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic with people’s experiences of lockdowns, being in the homes, not working and remote school and so on, some of the issues relating to gender-based violence have become all the more visible the world over,” Hinds said.
The exchange of views served to expose an unsatisfactory level of service rendered by government organisations set up precisely to help these women. The discussion also revealed that funds are available for competent private non-profit groups that are reportedly more responsive.
Jones, an endowed professor and currently a senior social scientist at Huddersfield University, UK, expressed dismay that victims find public service agencies across the region not helpful in addressing their needs.
“There is an absolute drought of services for all survivors of sexual violence in the Caribbean, although we have government agencies,” she said.
“Accessing services is extremely difficult for women. What they [abused women] did say is that NGOs were much better… to help them than state departments and agencies of government. This was because NGOs understood their circumstances… [and] appreciated the nuance of the difficulties but most of those NGOs did not have the resources to help either.”
In spite of her agreement with Jones on readiness and the outlook of non-governmental organisations, Brodber, a gender specialist who previously led UN programmes in the Pacific and South Africa, said there is money available to these society organisations in the European Union and more so through ‘Spotlight Initiative’, a collaboration between the EU and the UN aimed at eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and girls.
“This is a rare moment where civil society is getting the funds that are required and that they need to do the work that they’ve already been doing,” she said. She made it clear that the money is available across the region and these NGOs simply need to apply.
“We keep saying we need the funding in the region when the funding is available. We must make sure to use it. This funding at the regional level is not only for the countries that have a national ‘Spotlight Initiative’ [organisation], it is especially for those countries in the OECS and other countries that do not have national spotlight initiatives. Sixty per cent of the funds have
to go to civil society organisations.” (GA)