Protecting, respecting, supporting our women

Barbados and countries around the globe will observe the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women tomorrow to raise awareness about this horrific crime that still pervades too many societies.

Regrettably, United Nations Women reports that in many countries, laws remain inadequate; the police force is uninterested; shelters, health care and support are unavailable; and the criminal justice system is removed, expensive and biased against women and works in favour of male perpetrators.

In her message to mark the occasion, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka again called for urgent action, stressing that the benefits of ending violence against women and girls would far outweigh the investment necessary.

“The price of no change is unacceptable,” she warned.

The strong caution came as Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett told this media house on Monday that this island was making some headway in combatting the scourge of violence against women.

He disclosed that one domestic violence-related homicide had been recorded for 2016 compared to 62 deaths resulting from domestic violence between 2003 and 2015, with the highest incidence occurring in 2003, when ten women died at the hands of male partners,

Minister Blackett attributed the achievement to the passage of the Domestic Violence Protection Order Act enacted nine months ago and changing attitudes among men.

“I think that our men generally, who are normally the perpetrators of domestic violence, are becoming mindful in 2016 that we should be a better kind of man in today’s world,” he said, adding that, “the legislation in itself, if not principally and primarily responsible for the numbers, would have contributed in some way to how we see our women.”

However domestic violence is only one part of the problem, rape and sexual assault remain major concerns.

On Tuesday, a victim of attempted rape shared her harrowing story of being attacked by a man she did not know, who broke into her home and attempted to rape her with a knife to her throat.

“He didn’t only try to invade my body, he invaded my mind and that is the worse part of it, because every time I close my eyes, I keep seeing this man.

“His smell, everything about it, I can’t get rid of it.”

Her pain is a graphic reminder of the urgent need to break the silence about this crime where the victim is often subjected to blame – her dress was too short, her cleavage was exposed or she knew she wanted it.

Despite her anguish, she offered sound advice on how this country can arrest this problem going forward and we urge authorities and every citizen to pay attention.

She called for tougher laws to deter perpetrators and the establishment of a sex offenders registry here.

Our judicial system must severely punish perpetrators and yes a sexual offenders registry, which should be reserved for true predators and repeat offenders, can help to protect the vulnerable in our society – women and children in particular.

But more importantly, she called for the society to stop brushing aside the problem and blaming victims.

Why is sexual assault virtually the only crime where the victim and not the assailant is made to feel guilty and ashamed.

As a society and as individuals, we need to acknowledge that sex crimes are acts of violence, and victims should not be blamed but emboldened to seek justice.

It is not enough to be outraged. It must be made crystal clear to everyone that rape is always unacceptable, no matter what the circumstances might be or who is involved.

We must take action to engender deep, structural change across society and the justice system, bringing an end to this shameful horror.

As a society, we also have to ensure that our women and men learn how to better interact with one another and that they can demonstrate what it means to be a community in which members not only look out for each other, but hold persons accountable for their actions. Indeed, we must be able to treat other people with dignity and respect no matter who they are.

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