UN Secretary-General sees reason to be outraged
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed outrage at the level of gender-based violence and abuse in Barbados and the rest of the region.
Acknowledging that no amount of “strict regulation or laws and punishment” will eradicate the problem, he joined local officials today in calling for a change in mindset, especially in men, to help address the issue.
Delivering remarks at the Justice and Response – Ending Gender-Based Violence in Barbados event at the UN House this morning, Ban described the Caribbean as “a place where we have a lot of problems”.
“I understand that the Caribbean has among the highest rates of sexual assault in the world. Three Caribbean countries are in the top ten in reported crimes and violence. …. at least one in every five children is affected (by abuse). Most are girls,” he said, adding that they “desperately need our help”.
He said too many women were afraid to report the crime and seek help, noting studies have showed that up to two-thirds of victims suffered without ever reporting crimes of violence.
“I am outraged by this unacceptable crime. Shame belongs to the perpetrators, not the victims. So we have to encourage the victims to report and speak out,” said Ban.
Pointing to a special system that was put in place in Liberia to encourage female victims of abuse to come forward, Ban said they were seeing success. A part of that mechanism, he said, was to have specially trained women police officers in place to deal specifically with issues of violence against women.
“They [victims] find it easier and they are more comfortable to make their report to women rather than to men,” he said.
He said in many instances family members felt ashamed and they in turn discriminated against the victims, often leaving them with “no place to go”.
“I think the fundamental thing starts from men. Men should change their mindset. Unless we change the men’s mentality, it will just continue,” he added.
Ban said he believed Barbados was well positioned to lead the region in ending violence against women, given steps that have already been taken, coupled with legislative support.
During the meeting this morning, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite signed a Memorandum of Understanding between his office and UN Women, designed to, among other things, improve the administration of justice in ending gender-based violence, with a focus on justice and protection.
Through the partnership, it is hoped that the resources of the Royal Barbados Police Force will be strengthened to effectively respond to violence against women and children, as well as to raise public awareness about protection for victims of gender-based violence.
UN Women Representative and Head of the Multi-Country Office for the Caribbean, Christine Arab, told Barbados TODAY that while it was difficult to say which Caribbean island was most affected by violence against women, each country faced similar problems.
“Within the Caribbean itself, there is just simply a very high level of violence against women,” she said.
She agreed that too often victims felt responsible for violence perpetrated against them, adding that a lot of people were too quick to judge them.
Arab said the MOU signed today was significant as it was an additional step in the fight against gender-based violence. And she contended that the “attitude change needs to move quicker”, agreeing that was critical to bringing about positive change.
UNICEF children’s champion Faith Marshall-Harris said while she welcomed the signing of the MOU as “a sort of endorsement” needed for the work that was being done, she was concerned that domestic violence continued to affect children.
“Children who live with domestic violence have tortured lives and, of course, it is then manifested in their own behaviour outside the home,” she said.
“I had proposed since last year, to UN Women, a project which involves general public education because I think that until the mindset changes, ….. that it is not acceptable, then our laws will not address it. We are going to have new laws but we don’t want it to go necessarily to the point of the court. We want to prevent it before it happens,” Marshall-Harris said.