|Women against Violence: Breaking the Silence (UNIFEM, 1997, 116 p.)|
|Combatting Violence Against Women in the Caribbean|
Because law is not a neutral force in society, the transformation of laws related to violence against women has had a powerful effect on consciousness of women's rights and security and protection by the law. Perhaps even more than regulating behaviour it is symbolic of the ethics and norms of society. In forcing governments to enact these laws, women's organisations have brought about a recognition that violence against women is a political issue, not a cultural or private one. They have made the point that where acts by persons which violate women's rights to personal security can be linked to systemic or structural inequality, then the state has a responsibility to endeavour to prevent these violations and in effect to respond to them.
Notwithstanding the legislative gains, all countries require more integrated and comprehensive responses to violence against women. Strategies to combat violence must include provisions of services for the victim as well as action to bring about the elimination of inequality between men and women. For despite all the initiatives, it is evident that violence against women is increasing, not decreasing. Rigourous research is needed to document these trends.
Explaining gender violence in terms of hierarchical gender relations risks oversimplification in terms of responses. The nuances of this violence must be elaborated if effective programmes and services are to be established. For example, in Trinidad and Tobago it is reported that over two-thirds of the domestic-violence offenders who appear in court are alcoholics or drug addicts, many of them also living in poverty. And in the only study of its kind to date, research from Guyana shows that although abuse occurs in all income groups, poor women experience the most frequent and violent forms of abuse. Further research would indicate whether there are predictors of violence in each cultural context which render women more or less vulnerable.
The connection between masculine stereotypes and the culture of violence must also be explored. Male violence is increasing in the Caribbean as it is in other areas. Violence against women, while pervasive, is one aspect of male violence. The centrality of gender to the understanding of violence necessitates an examination of the ways in which societies socialize and also reproduce behaviours and norms which are conducive to violence. Society also reproduces violence through the criminal justice system itself, which must be reviewed accordingly.
Any attempt to resolve the problem of violence against women must also take account of those whose efforts to leave situations of violence are severely impaired by poverty. Women with few resources have few options; thus while violence against women occurs in all classes, in all regions, it is indisputable that the economic crisis in the Caribbean region reduces poor women's power to resist. Thus in developing programmes to combat violence against women recognition of the ways in which cultural, economic and social factors reinforce each other and the need for multi-focused approaches, including ways to ensure women's equal participation in policy formulation, decision-making and development, are critical.
Over the last five years a number of recommendations have focuses on increasing legal response, education and training, research and data, and services for victims. As regards legal reform the CARICOM model legislation on domestic violence, sexual offence and sexual harassment in the workplace should be followed by all countries in the region. This must be accompanied by reform in the administration of justice, particularly through training that draws on the relationship between gender discrimination and violence against women. Fundamental principles upon which training should be based are as follows:
· Women have a fundamental right to be free from all forms of violence and fear of violence against them;
· the responsibility for violence acts against women rests with the perpetrators, and social policy and practice should reflect this;
· intervention by the justice system should be empowering to women rather than acting to perpetuate their oppression.
States should promote the training of key groups, such as judges, magistrates, lawyers, health professionals and teachers, and include knowledge of services available.
Women's organizations have been in the forefront of action to eliminate violence as well as to provide services to victims of violence against women. They therefore must develop minimum standards for state treatment of the issue, which can be used to advocate for legislative and administrative reforms. Yet while women avail themselves of the legislation where it exists, they are also quickly exhausted by the legal process and disillusioned by the lack of state capacity or willingness to protect them once an injunction has been granted. Governments, under pressure from the IMF and World Bank, are cutting back on spending for social services, leaving the NGOs to weave and carry the "safety net"; thus shelters and crisis centres are badly in need of money and other resources at a time when demand for them is increasing daily. In this context, women's organisations must call on governments to take on the provision of such services.
Effective policy development must also be informed by reliable data on the incidence of violence against women, women's responses to violence, and their need for services. Women's organizations and human-rights organizations should collaborate and work with governments in the development of education and consciousness-raising programmes emphasizing that violence against women is a violation of women's human rights and monitoring state action in eliminating such violence.
Violence against women is not a women's problem; it is a social problem - and thus a social responsibility. Only when this fact is recognized by both men and women will we be able to pressure governments successfully to take on their responsibilities to half of their citizens.
Creque, M. (1995). A Study of the Incidence of Domestic Violence in Trinidad and Tobago from 1991 to 1993. Port of Spain: Shelter for Battered Women and Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Danns, G. and B. Shiw Parsad (1989). "Domestic Violence and Marital Relationships in the Caribbean. A Guyanese Case Study." Women's Studies Unit, University of Guyana.
Fletcher-Paul, L. (1994). St. Lucia National Report on the Status of Women. St. Lucia: Ministry of Legal Affairs.
Government of Jamaica (1993). Annual Statistical Reports 1993. Kingston.
Pargass, G. (1991). "The Incidence of Sexual Offences in the Caribbean." Paper presented at the CAFRA/UNECLAC Meeting on Women, Violence and the Law, Trinidad and Tobago.
Reddock, Rhoda (1994). Women, Labour and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago: A History. London: Zed Books, 1994
United Nations 1993. Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Violence Against Women. New York: UN Secretariat.
List of Legislation:
Barbados Sexual Offences Act, 1991
Barbados Domestic Violence Act, 1992
Bahamas Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, 1991
Belize Domestic Violence Act, 1993
Jamaica Domestic Violence Act, 1995
St. Lucia Domestic Violence Act, 1995
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Domestic Violence Act, 1994
Trinidad and Tobago Sexual Offences Act, 1986
Trinidad and Tobago Domestic Violence Act
The Laws of Belize
Grenada Criminal Code
Guyana Criminal Law
St. Lucia Criminal Code
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Criminal Code
Revised Laws of Antigua 1992
Revised Laws of British Virgin Islands 1991
Revised Laws of Montserrat 1965
Revised Laws of Dominica 1990