I congratulate UNIFEM for assembling this august group of change agents, advocates and professionals, who have undertaken this awesome charge and responsibility. I welcome all of you who are visiting Barbados, and what a pleasure to have with us these truly honourable Judges Patrick Robinson and Sir Dennis Byron. You no doubt have so much to offer us here after your outstanding work in the International Tribunals of Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Do allow me also to acknowledge the work done by Ms. Tracy Robinson of the UWI whose commitment to social change and the development of social justice has enriched the academic and the NGO community with her comprehensive analysis.
The fruit does not fall far from the tree…
For far too many years, the effort to end violence against women has been a rather lonely one led largely by the women of the world and a few men, who understood the effect and impact of domestic violence on our societies. The women’s movement found an issue on which they could be unified, and whether it was the women of the North, the women of the south, the women of faith, of colour, of various ethnic groups, they were one voice that said let us end violence against women. At times like these, when we embark on new initiatives, it is recommended that we reflect on the ground work of others, on whose shoulders we stand. As far back as 1928, women throughout the world have been working assiduously to educate people of the world and to eradicate all forms of gender based violence.
The first international institution that addressed the issues of inclusion of women and paid attention to the concerns of violence and equality was the International Conference of American States, held in Cuba in 1928. The women sought a Declaration on Women’s Equity, but instead settled for the creation of the OAS Commission on Women, referred to as CIM. It was almost fifty years before we formally acknowledged that gender based violence was a social problem, and after much advocacy, in 1975 we had the Year of the Women, we sang loudly “I am Strong, I am invincible, I am woman,” but the reality was, women were still being beaten and killed. Sadly, today they still are The persistence of women across the world (and we all know how persistent women can be) led us to the decade of the woman, and subsequent International Women’s Conferences. There have been four world conferences on women including the Nairobi conference, which was led by our late Governor General, Dame Nita Barrow; and it was the 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, which produced the declaration that women’s rights were human rights. One of those rights was a life free of all forms of violence.
In 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women.
- 1994 the human rights committee set up an office for a special rapporteur on violence
- In 1995 Barbados was a signatory to the (CIM )-Inter-American Commission on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (the Belem Do Para),
- By 1997 UN Convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women commonly referred to as CEDAW was adopted by more than 155 countries. These were all instruments which were developed with the goals of reducing and eliminating violence against women. Of course there are other international instruments and mechanism that have the capability of addressing the issues of violence and discrimination against women to which Barbados is a signatory.
- UN Declaration of Human Rights
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights
Ladies and gentlemen, this reflection down memory lane tells us that we have been on this journey for a long time and with some successes.
As we assemble here to consider strengthening accountability, let us consider this: who do we hold accountable in this fight for our sisters’ lives – this fight for our lives? We need to hold the individual accountable; this is easy when there are laws in place that make prosecution an obvious consequence. But even within the current legal framework, and the principles and morals we espouse, we can declare a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence. We need to hold the community accountable; the neighbours, the church, the school, the employers, the workmates. Continue to remind them that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Teach our society not to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear at “man-and-woman” business. Teach our children to talk of these things, and teach our adults to respond with compassion. We are outraged by child sexual abuse; in the same way we must be outraged by all forms of violence, including domestic violence. Let us not comfort ourselves that it is not happening to us, or, that no-one knows about it. Through public education at all ages, we can strengthen accountability in our community. Then there are the authorities: the police, the doctors, nurses, lawyers, magistrates who don’t see it as serious; who pass judgement on who deserved what; who don’t respond after the second or third call; who see domestic issues as private. Our society, including and especially the media, must hold them accountable.
Please note that as a legislator, I recognise the importance of law and, as a politician, the development of policy is critical to one’s longevity in office. This fight must involve stronger laws which seem to be taking too long to be become reality. Lawmakers must be held accountable. This particular area, and not just the management of the economy, must be an issue which can make or break political campaigns. Governments should be judged by how they treat to these issues. Especially in this economic recession when we are told that much of our economic fortune is out of our control.These laws which make our society safer are definitely within our control.
But we must all also recognise that we must take this fight beyond legislation and policy. In Barbados we have the Domestic Violence Protection Order; we have our women’s groups working to reduce domestic violence for over 44 years. We have a shelter for abused women, a crisis hotline, a domestic violence hotline all working to end violence against women. Yet the recently conducted National Study designed to determine the prevalence and characteristics of Domestic Violence in Barbados Conducted by Caribbean Development Research Services Inc. (CADRES) indicated that 27 per cent of Barbadian women have experienced some form of domestic violence. Between the years 2000 to 2007 on average, at least one quarter of all the homicides can be attributed to domestic violence. This why the second part of the title of the Conference “Changing Culture to End Violence” is critical, and it is in this space that I sincerely hope that you spend a lot of your time and deliberations. The CADRES survey reports that respondents defined the “average perpetrator as an individual who feels out of control of him or herself, and/or feels that he/she can control his/her partner through the use of violent, demonstrative behaviour.” In other spaces, the emphasis is placed on the power and control of the perpetrator, the dependence of the victim survivor and the general inequality between men and women.
Have we sought to address these concerns? I will argue, that over the years the state, the work of the NGOs and the international agencies like UNIFEM and indeed the UN System have developed programmes and interventions that have dealt with these aspects. However, simply put, it has not been enough.
Today, we know more about the issues that will influence changes in behaviour. Knowledge, legislation, and policy are not enough. People must in fact relate the changes to personal benefits first and then other benefits must be perceived. To prove the point, we must make the linkage between domestic violence and the social and economic cost to the individual, the family and the state. It is unfortunate, that we must reduce it to figures, but there is a general acceptance, that money talks. So there is money talking when we utilize our hospital and other health services. Money talks when we pay for the use of police and other judicial services in the quest for protection orders, sittings of the judges and the magistrates. Money talks when there is a reduction or loss of productivity. And we could go on and on and count the economic and social cost of domestic violence. And that does not even include the numbers of children who are failing in schools, who are resident at the Government Industrial School and at Dodds. What really would be the national savings were we to eliminate domestic violence from our society? Could it mean more resources to allocate to the care, protection and education of the children by being able to afford universal access to preschool, or care of the elderly, or the provision of a wider range of drugs and care for the chronically ill?
And there is more. What about masculinity? How do we celebrate and construct masculinity. Our construction of masculinity appears to be all tied up in an enormous validation of that which is violent. We hail the risk takers, there is a celebration of the ones who do not back down, the bad boy who will fight and display the scars as boasting rights. We ridicule the man who claims his loyalty and fidelity to one woman, and sometimes we scourge the man who faithfully supports his child and even his ex spouse in an attempt to ensure that his child is well cared for. Masculinity appears to be tied up with the notion of hyper-heterosexuality, multiple partners, and homophobia. This construction of masculinities causes an increased male vulnerability and provides the opportunity to deliver violence, and to receive violence. This masculinity is sometimes fuelled by a further notion of a guaranteed male dominance, supported by a feminine subordination that belies the state’s investment in educating all of its citizens, boys and girls, men and women from birth until death as they say. In today’s world, we might want to address the faith based groups and seek help in redefining the multiple roles that men and women must adopt and adapt in order to deal with the global and local changes. Truth is, we need to tackle this concept of masculinity as we attempt to deal with many of the problems we face today: Domestic Violence, HIV/AIDS, underachievement of boys, children needing male role models, and child support problems. I’m not blaming all our problems on men, but many are based on the roles our society has ascribed to them. Therein, I daresay, lies the solution.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is no easy task. It is as complex as our understanding of life itself. Yet we must not be afraid to face the issues head on. Because it might have some cultural relevance does not make it right or acceptable, because there has been a tradition of power, and privilege does not mean that we cannot and should not alter the practice.
The same can be said about the roles and expectations of still too many women. To them, my final words: In my medical practice and now in my constituency clinic, I am confronted with many young single mothers. These are young females who had made some decisions that have yielded some rather negative effects of their lives, their future and the future of their children. I caution you, note I did not say I accuse you nor do I say I condemn you, but I caution you about the choices you make. Self- actualization is about making the life you want, not the one your partner provides. You have education, training and entrepreneurship opportunities to create that life. It may not be perfect, but you will control it. Take the time to learn more about domestic violence, your risk and its implications for you. There is now enough information on the characteristics of the perpetrators and the characteristics of the potential victim. Take the time to learn more about your partner before making a commitment to them or sharing the creation of a child or other major decisions. Above all, learn about yourself: what you want and what you don’t want. And remember St. Paul taught us, love is gentle, patient and kind.
The cultural changes that are required will mean that we all, every one of us must seek to find out how our actions and behaviours have supported a culture of violence and abuse.
Over these two days, be kind to each other, remember the respect for each other, and remove the structures of dominance and hierarchy that at times restrict the flow of ideas and the creativity required to resolve these very complex issues. Good Luck to all of you.
My name is Esther, I am a Minister in the Government of Barbados and again today, I say to you let us Unite to end violence against women.