Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Women Still at Risk
By Peter Richards, IPS, 6 December 1999
PORT OF SPAIN, Dec 6 (IPS) -When in a recent publication, a British newspaper listed Jamaica alongside war-ravished Kosovo and the Islamic state of Pakistan as countries with unusually high levels of violence against women, it once again threw the spotlight on a problem which many groups have been speaking out against for years.
That Guardian newspaper article, indicated that in 1998 some 100 women were murdered in Jamaica and that most of the deaths occurred "as a result of domestic violence." In that same year 109 rapes were reported and almost 4,000 cases of assault against women, the article said.
The situtation in the other Caribbean is similar.
In Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, where the Parliament recently passed amended legislation dealing with domestic violence, incidents against women and children, including murder are also on the rise.
Figures for 1997 indicate that of the 12 persons who were murdered as a result of domestic violence, 83 percent were women while for 1998, of the 23 persons killed, 61 percent were women.
So far this year, 14 women have been killed as a result of domestic violence.
At a recent Caribbean Ministerial Conference on Women, the Trinidad-based Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) noted that throughout the decade of the 90s, violence against women "has galvanised governmental and non-governmental action like no other gender issue in the Caribbean".
With reference to legislative reform, the report noted further that there is not sufficient policy response to violence and that the incidence of violence appeared to be increasing "even while governmental and non-governmental action on this issue is at a higher level than it has ever been".
The Caribbean Community (Caricom) Secretariat as far back as 1980 had prepared model legislation on a range of issues including violence against women.
Caribbean Ministers with Responsibility for Women's Affairs approved the model legislation in 1991, and it has served as a useful guide to member states in the formulation of national legislation.
As of November this year, most of the Caribbean states had enacted or brought before their respective parliaments, legislation dealing with domestic violence and sexual offences.
In Antigua and Barbuda where the Domestic Violence Bill, 1996, is before the Parliament, the Sexual Offences Act has been enacted.
That act makes it an offence of sexual assault if a husband has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent. The act also provides for hearings in camera for cases of rape and sexual assault.
In Dominica, where a similar Sexual Offences Act obtains, the Law Reform Committee is now considering a "Family Protection Against Domestic Violence" Bill.
In Jamaica, bills which are at present under consideration are the Offences Against the Person (amendment) Bill, intended to reform the substantive law and the law of evidence and procedure in relation to rape and carnal abuse and the Incest (Amendment) Bill intended to make changes in the law regarding incest offences.
There is a Law Reform Programme paying specific attention to women and the family in St. Kitts-Nevis. Sexual harassment of women at the work place and adequate maintenance for women and children are expected to be addressed.
There has been less success with Sexual Harassment legislation with only The Bahamas and Belize having such legislation at present.
In addition to legislative reform, Caribbean governments have provided support to shelters for abused women and children, established telephone hotlines and provided some training for police officers.
Non-governmental organisations have also been very active in this area, operating, most of the shelters for abused women and children, conducting radio programmes, hosting public fora and undertaking candle light vigils.
In Guyana, a women's organisation called Red Thread Women's Collective recently produced a clearer version of the Domestic Violence Act there.
But in spite of all these activities, domestic violence against women is on the increase.
Gemma Tang Nain, the deputy programme manager for women affairs at the Guyana-based Caricom Secretariat says in light of the increasing incidence of violence, "the question needs to be asked, therefore, what other intervention strategies are necessary to combat this difficult and seemingly intractable problem".
Speaking at a regional meeting recently, she said most of the actions taken to date have targetted the consequences of violence against women, suggesting that "there is need for a change of focus".
The recent Caribbean Ministerial Conference had agreed that there was "an urgent need to tackle the root cause of violence" and had recommended that policy and programme interventions be based on a better understanding of the issue.
Similarly, Barbados in its national report for the Beijing+5 review, notes that fundamental behavioural research is required to inform programme design and delivery.
Tang Nain says the approach being suggested is consistent with some of the recommendations of the Beijing Platform for Action.
The recommendations call on governments and other actors to promote research, collect data and compile statistics on domestic violence against women as well as support and initiate research on the impact of violence, such as rape, on women and girl-children, making the resulting information and statistics available to the public.
Tang Nain says the Caricom Post Beijing Regional Plan of Action noted the high levels of violence of all types against women and children, and recommended investigation of the possible impact of gender socialisation practices on violence.
"It must be recognised, therefore, that what is being suggested as an alternative approach in the Caribbean was proposed since the Beijing Conference of 1995 and supported by the Caricom Plan proposed in 1996," she says.
In 1997, the regional governments approved the Charter of civil Society for the Caribbean Community, which promotes policies and measures aimed at strengthening gender equality and ensuring that all women have equal rights with men in the political, civic, economic, social and cultural spheres.
"In this regard, the Charter calls for effective measures to combat domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual harassment," says Tang Nain.
"We owe it to the women of the Caribbean to treat this matter with grave urgency," she adds.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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