On Nov. 25, the region joined the global community in observing International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In a statement, Alison McLean, the United Nations Women Multi-Country Office (MCO) Caribbean representative, said research conducted in the Caribbean in the past two years reinforced that violence against women and girls (VAWG), including rape, is so entrenched and normalized that both men and women have a high tolerance for its manifestations.
McLean said notwithstanding women’s well known and often touted gains in public life and the introduction of laws, policies and initiatives to promote women’s equality, prevailing socio-cultural attitudes that perpetuate unequal and hierarchical power relations reinforcing notions of female subordination and male domination, mitigate against these gains and in turn fuel VAWG.
The U.N. secretary general’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women Campaign is focusing on rape as a specific form of harm committed against women and girls, in times of peace or war. The U.N. System’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls activities is taking place under the global theme “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape”.
McLean said that the U.N. Women-supported research, which is available for four Caribbean countries to date, shows non-partner sexual violence (NPSV), which includes rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching and sexual harassment, is reported at significantly higher rates than intimate partner sexual violence and a significant risk factor is being young.
In Guyana, most women reporting sexual IPV reported being forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to and nearly as many women reported having sexual intercourse with their partner because they were afraid to refuse.
On the other hand, one in every five women in Guyana reported non-partner sexual abuse in their lifetime, with a significant number experiencing this abuse before age18.
One-fifth of Jamaican women reported being sexually abused before reaching 18.
Furthermore, one in seven women reported that their first sexual experience was before age. Under Jamaican law, the age of consent is 16. Any sexual intercourse under that age is statutory rape.
The Suriname GBV prevalence survey revealed that the prevalence of NPSV among all women is almost double that of sexual IPV/intimate partner violence.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the prevalence of NPSV is almost four times higher than that of sexual IPV.
McLean said that without reliable and relevant data, it is not possible to adequately treat, reduce and prevent violence against women and girls.
“U.N. Women has invested significantly in supporting member states in strengthening capacities to fill the data gaps on violence against women and girls,” she said. “Working with regional partners, the Caribbean Development Bank and CARICOM, we developed the CARICOM Prevalence Survey Model.
“The CARICOM Model is based on the long-tested global World Health Organization (WHO) model which is considered internationally to be the best practice for national, population-based studies on prevalence data on GBV.”
She said this CARICOM model also “allows us to capture information on the consequences of GBV for women, their children and families, women’s help-seeking behaviors and risk and protective factors for violence. It allows in a real way for the voices of women and girls to be heard.”
McLean said national-level efforts should seek to de-stigmatize the experience of intimate partner violence and to shift gender norms and roles in order to create a society in which violence against women is openly rejected and firmly addressed.
“Information on where women seek help and where they do not, should inform how services to support victims should be designed and located. Data on women and girls’ vulnerabilities, partner characteristics and other socio-demographic factors should guide how to prevent and respond to this violence,” she said.
The MCO Caribbean Representative said U.N. Women, along with other U.N. agencies will be using the data gathered from these surveys to support national efforts to prevent intimate partner violence through school-based and community-based initiatives; including working with men and boys through Batterer Intervention and Prevention programs and private sector initiatives that prevent work-related spill overs of family violence to create safe spaces at work.