CARIBBEAN LAUNCHING OF THE UN SECRETARY GENERAL`S CAMPAIGN TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
María Suarez Toro, FIRE
CARICOM member countries, UN system agencies, Offices of the Resident Coordinators in the Caribbean and others will meet to strengthen efforts in the region itself, in interaction with the Secretary General’s Campaign.
The regional campaign will be coordinated by an UN Inter-Agency Working Group comprised of representation from Resident Coordinators offices, and UN agencies. The Working Group will also seek representation and participation from CARICOM, OECS Secretariat and OAS//CIM. The Working Group is chaired by UNIFEM. The launch conference will be convened by the Resident Coordinators of the UN system for Barbados/Eastern Caribbean, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago/Suriname.
Gender-based Violence in the Caribbean
Levels of crime and violence are high across the Caribbean but gender-based violence has certain specificity to it given the historical inadequacies in naming and responding to these types of crime, rooted as they are in gender inequality.
The 2007 World Bank Study1 concluded that violence against women seems to be endemic in Caribbean countries. The study indicated that while the worldwide average for rapes was 15 per 100,000, Barbados had an average of 24 per 100,000, St Kitts – Nevis had an average of 45 per 100,000, Jamaica had an average of 51 per 100,000, St. Vincent and the Grenadines had an average of 112 per 100,000 and the Bahamas had an average of 133 per 100, 000. The high levels of reported rapes are even more disturbing due to the assumption that there is significant underreporting of these crimes and that sexual abuse within intimate relationships is largely invisible in law enforcement.
Despite the widespread nature of sexual violence and gender-based violence, despite its deleterious effects on women, children and society in general, the justice response is not effective. Research done by Mindie Lazarus-Black on Trinidad and Tobago on the effectiveness of domestic violence courts show that 56.8% of cases were dismissed because the complainant failed to attend the hearing, and another 20% withdrawn. Less than 4% resulted in protection or interim orders being made. Research on rape prosecution indicates that complainants ‘disappear’ for a number of reasons and generally prosecutions of sexual assault are very low in many countries in the Caribbean.
In the case of domestic violence, organizations that support victims of intimate partner violence report a continued reluctance to use the legal system given victim’s anticipation of police insensitivity, inefficient response and delays in the justice system.
The Legal Context2: There has been a significant body of work analyzing the state of the legal framework to address gender-based violence undertaken by ECLAC, UNIFEM, ILO and UNICEF. These studies focusing on child sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault are available.
Domestic Violence: In broad strokes, what we know already is that most progress has been made in the area of domestic violence as all CARICOM countries have enacted legislation covering that area in the 1990s and most recently in Suriname in 2009. For those countries which have not updated domestic violence legislation (most), it is accepted that the framework is not as responsive as the should be, limiting the class of people who can access protection, with limited police powers, limited provisions to ensure police accountability and limited remedies.
Sexual Violence, including child sexual abuse: This is an area in which only limited progress has been made to support the investigation, detection and prosecution of sexual offences. Evidentiary requirements in some countries related to sexual history of the complainant, anonymity, recent complaint rules, modes of giving evidence (especially for young children), absence of complete criminalization of rape within marriage, limited provisions for the protection of children (mandatory reporting etc) all undermine accountability demands.
Sexual harassment: Very few countries have a sufficient framework for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, though draft laws and policies have been produced in countries such as Barbados and Jamaica.
Whatever the state of the law, it is also the case that there are major implementation challenges. Policing despite some training in the past, continues to be plagued by ideologies that undermine state accountability. Recent UNIFEM studies on policing sexual violence in the Caribbean, for example, reveal significant attrition in the legal system with the number of reported sexual offences far outstripping the numbers of investigations, charges laid, and prosecutions entered into.
This history of lack of adequate response to the impact of gender-based violence is a manifestation of gender inequality. The state has a duty to address gender-based violence which stems from constitutional right of everyone to “life, liberty, security of the person, equality before the law and protection of the law.” These deficits in justice frameworks, including enforcement, have resulted in levels of impunity that must undermine the rule of law.
Background of the initiative in the Caribbean:
In October 2009, UNIFEM in collaboration with CAFRA, and UN agencies convened a consultation with governmental and civil society organisations on the Secretary-General’s Campaign. The participants, from the UN and from NGOs, included a diverse group of civil society organizations– including veterans from the women’s movement of violence against women (VAW) campaigns- as well as men’s organisations that have joined the effort to end VAW and faith-based institutions.
The purposes of the meeting were twofold: to brief civil society representatives about the Secretary-General’s Campaign, and forge a shared understanding of its Framework for Action; and to identify opportunities and recommendations for establishing synergies and partnerships with civil society campaigns and networks in implementing the Secretary-General’s campaign.
Participants recommended that the campaign be launched in the Caribbean with a focus on developing a consensus on the need for both law reform and strengthening capacity for implementation of existing legislation.
They recommended that the Campaign in the Caribbean focus on four areas:
- Strengthening State Accountability with an emphasis on law reform
- Building Political Will
- Engaging men as partners and agents of change
- Development of a social communications strategy
The global Campaign by the Secretary General:
On 25 February of 2008, the UN Secretary-General launched the Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women, 2008-2015, with the overall objective of raising public awareness and increasing political will and resources for preventing and responding to violence against women and girls. Its Framework for Action identifies five key outcomes as benchmarks for the Campaign, to be achieved in all countries by 2015:
- Adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls
- Adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans
- Strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls
- Increase public awareness and social mobilization
- Address sexual violence in conflict
The framework serves as the overall ‘umbrella’ for efforts undertaken by a wide variety of government, civil society, UN and other entities. In essence, the campaign is a call to action at all levels for governments, the UN System, the private sector, the media and civil society to intensify action on ending violence against women and girls.
You will be able to listen to the proceedings by tuning in to www.radiofeminista.net during the event.