Violence against women a cancer in the region

“Gender justice requires that we pay more than lip service to gender equality,” Dr Wiltshire told a grouping of mostly women gathered at the Caricom Secretariat yesterday, where she informed that her advocacy will begin by focusing on eliminating violence against women. Her new role is aimed at putting the spotlight on the issue of violence against women, and she will be conducting research and working closely with governments throughout the region.

Wiltshire’s official appointment coincided with the observance of Inter-national Women’s Day and during a video conference she emphasised that violence against women is a “cancer” that is destroying the lives of women and children and spreads to the school yards and communities. “Women have always been in the forefront of the struggle for equality, justice and peace. However, because of inequality their contribution is often neither recognised nor remembered,” Wiltshire said yesterday.  In light of this fact, she asked how many knew the work of nationalist, political activist and journalist Claudia Jones, who was recognised for her global contribution to the struggle for equality, justice and peace for all by being buried next to Karl Marx. Jones was born in Trinidad but later moved to the US.

Wiltshire also referred to a 2009 UN report that stated that the “ripple effects of violence” begin with the victim, radiate outward to families and wider society, adding to the burdens of the health care and judicial systems. The loss of productivity incurred ultimately has repercussions on the gross domestic product, she noted.  A World Bank study, which Wiltshire said included nine Caribbean countries, found that 13% of all women experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner. “Gender-based violence stands out as a systemic and systematic violation of human rights and as an obstacle to economic, social and democratic development in all countries.”

She said some progress has been made in addressing the issue and they should be celebrated, while adding that Caricom has done a lot of work in zeroing in on violence against women. However, despite the achievements in bringing greater visibility to the issue, Wiltshire said violence against women “appears to be on the rise, violence in general seems to be on the rise. “There is a widespread perception that violence against women is actually on the increase, significant numbers of women in this region are being killed by their partners.”

In outlining her mandate, Wiltshire, who has had more than 25 years of post-graduate teaching and research experience, said she would focus on bringing greater political visibility and action to address the cancer of violence against women. She plans to do so by conducting specialised studies on gender-based violence in the region and to raise awareness of the need for further actions to develop and strengthen integrated responses, which will address the judiciary, law enforcement and social services. Protection of the victims and the provision of services to both the victim and the perpetrator will also be addressed. “It is recognised that the perpetrators are often victims of violence themselves,” she explained.

During her tenure, Wiltshire will also identify specific recommendations aimed at enhancing member states’ compliance with their international and regional priority obligations. “I would be collaborating closely with governments and civil society in the region as well as the United Nations agencies and other international bodies. I will also coordinate action research in select Caricom member state focussed on youth, masculinity and violence,” she said. The aim is to hear from young men and women what they understand to be the essence of being a man and how this may contribute to the perpetration of violence.

“This cross-cutting theme would address both men and women and it will provide clear policy recommendations,” she said. Based on the research, findings ways and means would be recommended to prevent gender-based violence. Wiltshire would also propose ways of development or enhancement of policies for the promotion and protection of the rights of women and access to justice for victims, as well as the general harmonisation of national legislation. A major focus will be placed on encouraging the participation of women and girls and men and boys as agents of change. “Women cannot do it alone,” she said.

Further, Wiltshire announced that a technical advisory panel comprising of experts in the area of gender and development and masculinity studies will be established and will include both genders.

Meanwhile, Caricom Secretary-General Edwin Carrington, in his address to mark International Women’s Day, noted that although inequalities still exist, the region has “made significant progress over the last decades in achieving equality between women and men.” He said this is mainly due to legislation, gender mainstreaming, the institutionalisation of gender programmes and a proliferation of studies and policy analyses that have fostered a better understanding of the complementary gender roles. “All these have enhanced advocacy by civil society partners, and some extraordinarily committed individuals…,” he observed.

However, he also conceded that there is still work to be done to accelerate progress for equality and gender justice. “These include, but are not limited to the harmonisation of national legislation with international instruments; promotion of secure livelihoods; ensuring access to social protection and strengthening public interventions to address domestic violence.”

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