International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 2019 was recently observed. The following is a release from the New Democratic Party (NDP) Women’s Arm to commemorate the day.
“Fellow citizens, once again as a responsible working group, the New Democratic Party Women’s Arm invites you to reflect on how as a sovereign nation we can ensure accountability and sustainable transformation regarding violence and sexual molestation of our women and girls.
The theme ‘Generation Equality Stands Against Rape’ is very significant in helping us to recognize the importance of breaking the silence and fear that stalk our blessed land and ensuring that gender-based violence whether it affects women and girls, men and boys is totally unacceptable. In spite of the material and technological strides that humans have made over the years, the curse of sexual violence continues. Perhaps, what is worse is that this reprehensible act in the form of rape, disrespect and exploitation is rampant in many of our work places.
Indeed, worldwide, sexual violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. According to the United Nations, 35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries. Women and girls in St Vincent and the Grenadines have not been exempted in terms of the frequency at which these acts are committed and the tender age of some victims. For our nation, this does not only create a loss at individual and personal levels but also at national levels with serious implications for sustainable economic and social development in the society.
Given the pace of violations against women and girls in our society, we encourage our main socialization agencies – our homes, schools, churches, wider communities, print and electronic media to play meaningful roles by ensuring that we obtain desired changes and strive to end the culture that normalizes the abuse of women and girls.
The government too has a role to play in terms of bringing justice services closer to communities, activating and re-enforcing the structures and dynamics of justice to help strengthen the capacities of the police, judicial investigators and prosecutors to work with offenders and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. The education of citizens, empathy, prevention, support, a Sex Offender’s Registry and no-nonsense enforcement of the relevant laws have long become critical and imperative. The world in general and St Vincent and the Grenadines in particular cannot continue to allow victims to be disrespected and abused by standing idly on the side. Perpetrators must be punished for their criminal acts. We must intensify our determination to come together to unite in the elimination of sexual molestation and violence against women.”
Sexual violence against women is a major concern in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In her 2017 budget presentation, Senator Marcia Barnwell addressed the issue of rape. She called it a rape culture. She declared, “There is something very nasty and ugly beneath the surface of our people. It is tearing away at the very fabric of society; and added to that there seems to be an atmosphere of dejection, hopelessness and helplessness. Statistical records from the Royal Police Force of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the offences reported for period 2015-2016 indicate that there has been 28% increase in sex offences, and of the total number of sex offences reported in 2016, there was a 27.2 % increase for sex with girls under 15 years. Further, there has been a 16% increase in sex with girls under 13 years. This is horrendous!”
Further, a psychologist attached at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital while speaking at a workshop in August remarked, “St Vincent and the Grenadines has a rape culture and to combat it, we must talk about it. We cannot pretend it does not exist,”
She said that between January 2018 and January 2019, 47 new cases of rape were reported to her department. Of the 47, 40 were girls under the age of 18 and in one case, the victim was a male under the age of 12. The victims came from 35 different communities.
In order to support and empower our women and strengthen our families, the NDP will: review the functioning of the Family Court and all legislation connected with domestic violence and violence against women, increase the power of the Family Court to include the imposition of criminal sanctions for domestic abuse and expand the scope of the Family Court to encourage mediation and alternative dispute resolution and conflict resolution in family situations; revise and broaden the police training manual to include training for all police recruits in domestic violence; implement the mandatory use of rape kits in medical examinations of rape victims at all district clinics and hospitals; and make mandatory the reporting by all medical personnel of births to minors at hospitals and clinics or wheresoever that birth may take place.
We will also begin to collect data relative to domestic violence, and violence against women nationally including its dissemination to the public; institute and enforce a code of conduct within the public service at all levels that provides for protocol on reporting sexual offences including sexual harassment in the workplace; respect for the women and girls in our society must be a part of how this government conducts itself.
The NDP will support the welfare service so that it can better address the needs of vulnerable women and children; restructure and improve the Foster Care System; support community projects that include continuing education and skills training, especially those targeting young parents; engage with single mothers, and address issues that are specific to them as a group and provide incentives for employers whose working hours create challenges to the safety of women traveling to and from work.
The NDP is committed to working with all stakeholders to assist in solving the problem of sexual violence.