Letters

Ending gender-based violence

Dear Editor,

The 16 Days of Activism Campaign which focuses on ending violence against women and girls began November 25, and the Caribbean Community joins with the global community in observing this event.

The campaign incorporates four important observances: the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, Human Rights Defenders’ Day on November 29, World AIDS Day on December 1, and finally Human Rights Day on December 10. This year’s theme is: Orange the World: End Violence Against Women Now! We wear the colour orange, as a symbol of a brighter future for women and girls, as we work towards ensuring that one day they will live lives free of violence.

Globally, one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in her lifetime, usually from an intimate partner. In the Caribbean region, prevalence surveys conducted between 2017 and 2019 in five CARICOM member states, indicate incidence rates as high as one in two women.

This year’s observance highlights the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had and continues to have on women. The pandemic has resulted in the rapid escalation of all forms of violence against women and girls, to which the world was unprepared to respond. It has also laid bare several inequalities which are being manifested in risk factors for violence against women and girls. These include food insecurity, unemployment, undue burden of both paid and unpaid care work, increased migration flows, disability, abuse of elders, and the threat of social unrest and disasters.

The loss of household income and protracted school closures may also place adolescent girls at an increased risk of sexual exploitation, harassment, early unions and child marriage. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) maintains that globally 1 in 4 women was a child bride. UN Women reminds us that the economic fallout is expected to push 47 million more women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean into extreme poverty in 2021, thereby reversing decades of hard-fought progress in our region.

If we want to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind, we need comprehensive and inclusive policy approaches that can be adapted to rapidly changing contexts. These must be aimed at preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls.

The UN Secretary General’s UNITE Campaign, launched in 2008, is a multi-year initiative designed to galvanise action to prevent and end violence against women and girls around the world. It is also aimed at challenging harmful gender norms; ending impunity, silence and stigma that have allowed such violence to escalate to pandemic proportions and, in far too many communities, is so normalized, that it has become invisible.

The groundbreaking EU-UN Spotlight Initiative is making significant progress in preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls. In 2020, alone, some 700,000 women and girls globally were provided with gender-based violence services despite COVID-19-related constraints and lockdowns. Further, some 900,000 men and boys were educated on positive masculinity, respectful relationships, nonviolent conflict resolution and parenting. Additionally, there was a 22% increase in the number of convictions of perpetrators of violence compared to 2019. This shows that it is possible to deliver high-quality results for women and girls, even under the constraints of a pandemic.

I applaud the women’s rights organizations, as well as civil society groups that have been part of the vanguard in providing early warning throughout the pandemic, and in making efforts to adopt violence against women and girls service provisions and integrating services into COVID-19 response plans. As a region of close to 20 million persons, more than half of whom are women and girls, I encourage the people of the Caribbean community to join in solidarity with the United Nations in playing our part to Orange the World and End Violence Against Women Now!

– Dr. Carla Barnett, 

CARICOM secretary general

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