Violence Against Women

                                                        The Caribbean Is One Nation.

           A crime that knows no borders

By Margaret Diop

We observed International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women yesterday and as we mark the next accompanying 16 days of activism against gender violence, the United States of America reaffirms its commitment to preventing and responding to violence against women and girls globally. 
The theme of this year’s observance is “Intimate Partner Violence.” 
An estimated one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, and intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence experienced by women globally. Gender-based and intimate partner violence cuts across ethnic, racial, socio-economic, and religious lines. It knows no borders. It occurs in Trinidad and Tobago just as it does in the United States and every other nation. 
Intimate partner violence includes not only acts of physical aggression but also psychological abuse, forced intercourse and controlling behaviours such as isolating a person from family and friends or restricting access to information and assistance.
This type of violence affects 30 per cent of women worldwide; 35 per cent of women around the world have been raped or physically abused, and, if this violence occurs at home, 80 per cent of the time it is by a partner or spouse. 
The 2012/2013 Judiciary Annual Report shows that in the Trinidad and Tobago Magistrates’ Courts 11,382 new domestic violence applications were filed. 
These figures should concern all of us. 
Whether it occurs in our own neighbourhood, or on distant shores, violence against women and girls damages us all—men and women alike. As Secretary of State John Kerry has stated, “Too many women are being silenced, abused, or subjected to violence simply because of their gender… Their courage must inspire us to continue to work toward a world where every woman can live free of violence and pursue her fullest potential.”
We must recognise that violence against girls and women is, at root, a manifestation of the low status of women and girls around the world. Ending the violence requires elevating the status of women and girls and freeing their potential to be agents of change in their community.
We all need to work together—the international community, governments, multilateral organisations, private sector companies, and grassroots-level advocates to address and prevent violence from occurring. 
Together, we need increased advocacy and more interaction between policy makers and those who work in the field. We need to empower girls to speak up for themselves, and educate boys to speak up for their sisters. We must support the inclusion of men, boys, and critical community stakeholders – such as religious leaders – in addressing and preventing violence and changing gender norms and attitudes. We must ultimately overcome the deep-rooted gender inequalities that either tacitly allow or actively promote violent, discriminatory practices.
Addressing violence against women and girls is not just a moral imperative. It is an economic necessity. In addition to the psychological and emotional tolls we pay, we also pay the medical bills and legal costs. 

We lose wages and productivity. Businesses lose employees. Families lose primary wage-earners. In short, we simply cannot afford to let gender-based violence continue.
The United States has made significant progress in its efforts to address gender-based violence around the world, through the development of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has invested more than $215 million globally in programming to combat gender-based violence over the last three years; the work of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; and efforts to incorporate gender-based violence programming into humanitarian response activities.

Last December, the US Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues hosted the first-ever Caribbean Dialogue on Rule of Law and Gender-based Violence in Miami. The Dialogue brought together over 80 technical experts and stakeholders from 12 countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, and facilitated critical conversations about strengthening rule of law and the response to gender-based violence. Several participants from that dialogue also joined the Embassy at an Anti-Domestic Violence workshop earlier this year to continue the discussion. 
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago is considering several measures to protect the most vulnerable members of society. We trust they will move forward with the anticipated gender policy and take the necessary measures to support the Children’s Authority. Going forward, the U.S. will continue to shine a bright light on the issue of gender-based violence. I know we can achieve real progress in the Caribbean and around the world.

• Margaret Diop is the Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy, Port of Spain.

(From the Trinidad Express 11/26/13)
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