International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW)
On 17th December 1999, by Resolution 54/134, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25th November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This date was chosen in recognition of the brutal assassination if the three Mirabal sisters, Patria, Minerva and Maria from the Dominican Republic (D.R) who took a stand against the Dominican Dictator, Rafael Trujillo.
Trujillo was President of D.R from 1930 to 1938 and again from 1942 to 1952, at which point he became its dictator. The sisters came from a prosperous Dominican family and they were all well educated, at a time when this was not always the case. Initially only Minerva was involved in the political movement against Trujillo, but later her two sisters and most of her family also became active.
The anti-Trujillo movement was growing and by the late 1950s all three sisters were involved in the underground movement to overthrow Trujillo. They were repeatedly arrested and so were their husbands and for a long period they were in and out of prison. They became almost like folk heroes. In early November 1960, Trujillo declared that his two problems were the Church and the Mirabal sisters.
On 25 November 1960, the sisters were assassinated (ambushed and clubbed to death) in an “accident” as they were being driven to visit their husbands who were in prison. The accident caused much public outcry, and shocked and enraged the nation. The brutal assassination of the Mirabal sisters was one of the events that helped propel the anti-Trujillo movement, and within a year, the Trujillo dictatorship came to an end. and Trujillo arranged for them to be assassinated.
In 1981 women’s activists began to recognize the day as being pivotal in the fight against violence to women and as the women’s movement grew, November 25 came to be regarded as a special day, ultimately leading to the adoption of the UN Resolution in 1999. The sisters are known as the “Unforgettable Butterflies” and have become a symbol against the victimization of women.
To mark the event, men and boys are urged to wear white ribbons as a visible pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon pointed out that violence against women and girls is widespread throughout the globe. This violence, he said, includes rape, domestic violence, harassment at work, abuse in school, female genital mutilation and sexual violence in armed conflicts. He went on to say that men are predominantly responsible for this violence against women and our challenge is to ensure that the message of zero tolerance is heard far and wide.
Many young men, he said, still grow up surrounded by outmoded stereotypes. It is up to these young people to generate the lead that can help to end the pandemic of violence.
Note: IDEVAW is being celebrated today – Monday, November 26 – since November 25 was on a Sunday.
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Marissa Thomas is Programme Coordinator for Trinidad at the The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) and El Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN) Caribbean Vulnerabilised Groups Project: a five-year regional project which responds to HIV and AIDS among Caribbean sex workers, men who have sex with men, socially excluded youth, drug users and prisoners. A Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Studies at UWI, St. Augustine, Marissa also volunteers with organizations such as the YMCA, Cyril Ross Nursery and CARe. She speaks to WomenSpeak about the situation of Trafficking in Persons in the Caribbean.
What is the extent of Trafficking in the Caribbean? What categories of Trafficked persons most often occur in the Caribbean?
Trafficking is a very real phenomenon in the Caribbean. It is fueled by the feminization of poverty, gender based violence, and aspirations and hope for a better life. Also, it is often facilitated by corrupt immigration and police officers and other intermediaries across the region.
The counter-trafficking unit at COIN provides support, training, legal aid, medical, psychological and social services to trafficked women in the Dominican Republic. In 2010, COIN recorded that of 21 cases of women trafficked from the Dominican Republic, 16 of those women were trafficked to Trinidad.
There are many forms of human trafficking. The UN definition includes (but is not limited to) coercion and force in the sex trade. Although the prevalent form includes trafficking in women for sexual exploitation, there are other categories such as trafficking for forced labour, including domestic labour, for the caring market, begging, forced marriage, and commercial exploitation of children for industries such as tourism, trafficking in organs, and for illicit activities such as smuggling of drugs.
Are some Caribbean islands more prone to Trafficking than others?
It is important to point out that some Caribbean countries, like the Dominican Republic, are not just receivers of trafficked women, but countries of origin, transit and reception of trafficking in persons. In the Dominican Republic, persons who reported cases of trafficking have reported their involvement through travel mechanisms such as having their visas arranged, invitations to secure work contracts, or through arranged marriages. Often they work as dancers, in restaurants and bars, in domestic work, or care for the elderly. There are cases of trafficking, however, up and down the Caribbean. COIN has worked on cases from the Dominican Republic to Antigua to Trinidad.
How can you identify someone who might be a victim of trafficking?
There are signs that indicate a person may be a victim of trafficking. Victims are usually afraid to disclose information about their status because they may be fearful of their trafficker, or imminent harm toward their families abroad. Another indicator is that victims involved in trafficking may not have possession of their own identity or travel documents, such as a valid ID card or passport, are never alone, and have no agency or power over any personal and daily decision-making.
Victims of trafficking are said to experience a range of physical, verbal or psychological abuse. They are also at risk for health issues such as HIV and STIs, and may display physical signs of rape or sexual abuse. Other physical problems may be evident in victims such as malnutrition, psychological disorders, poor personal hygiene, or other untreated medical problems.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Trafficking or about persons who are Trafficked?
It is important to understand the difference between sex work and trafficking, and
their linkages. Sex work is a valid choice of employment, by men and women who chose to sell sexual services as an economic activity. Many women in the region exercise their right to self-determination and enter into this work freely. But sex work must not be confused or conflated with trafficking or smuggling in persons, which are crimes committed against people and not employment choices. Trafficking in persons is the illegal trade of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, or reproductive slavery and is a modern-day form of slavery. It is about control and power and exploitation.
COIN is an NGO with 25 years experience of working with marginalized populations. COIN works with and for sex workers and networks of sex workers to increase their access to sexual reproductive healthcare, but COIN in the Dominican Republic also has a trafficking centre which supports people who have been victims of trafficking. COIN focuses on the promotion and protection of the human rights of trafficked women through prevention and direct assistance to victims. COIN opened a care centre in the Dominican Republic for returned trafficked women in 2003. Trafficked women receive medical, psychological and legal assistance as well as training for socioeconomic reintegration. COIN also conducts advocacy for trafficking victims at the national, regional and global level, as well as before the UN, and has conducted research on the trafficking and smuggling of people across the Caribbean.
How has your work with COIN impacted you personally?
Working with COIN/ CVC has given me a greater capacity to impact the lives of vulnerabilized communities. We use the term vulnerabilized because it recognizes that sex workers, men who have sex with men, youth, prisoners and drug-users are not inherently ‘vulnerable’ but instead put at increased risk for HIV and STIs due to structural conditions such as gender-inequality and homophobia, and systematic and institutionalized stigma and discrimination and other human rights abuses. The term ‘vulnerabilized’ also recognizes the agency of communities traditionally labeled as ‘most-at-risk’ and ‘vulnerable’ and THEIR power to change the course of the HIV epidemic.
My experience at COIN/CVC has been overwhelmingly positive. It has encouraged me to be a stronger advocate, especially toward women and girls who may be in difficult situations. I look forward to a long-term and wonderful future with this type of work.
And she cries into the sea
that will someday bring her
And she sings a song of feedom
that her people brought here
a long long time ago
And she washes her blood from the
tile — like the river, it has also
traveled for miles
And in the fresh day
she mends — their socks, a button
And she draws back the curtains to let in
the light that still stings her
near swollen eye
And she smiles with a calm
because God is her rainbow at the
end of each storm
You may break a woman’s bones
but never her spirit…
At least not for long
Copyright 2012 © Mika Maharaj
Deputy PM and Education Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines makes incredibly outrageous and dangerous statements which essentially blame women and the way they dress for the violence perpetrated against them by men. This is the reason why violence against women is so rampant throughout the Caribbean: because we have a culture which tacitly excuses and tries to explain away the murders, rapes and beatings as something that women contribute to by the things they do, the clothes they wear, the places they go. As long as people feel they are justified and have ‘cause’ to ‘put women in their place’ this violence will continue.
“I want to ask our young women, in particular to dress themselves properly. I know that sometimes, their mode of dress is not good at all and it is important that they dress themselves and do not give temptation to our men.”
SVG: Deputy PM tells women to dress properly and not tempt men. She says that women’s breasts are intended to feed children and comfort their husbands. This hetero/sexist drivel was offered in response to the high level of violence against women and girls and femicides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. What do you think of the Deputy PM’s remarks?
Souyenne Dathorne is a 28 year old St. Lucian, and survivor of sibling sexual abuse. She is the founder of Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean – an online forum for women to speak out about their abuse, and co-founder of Prosaf – it’s sister website which is dedicated to dealing with sexual abuse and its effects on survivors as well as their families. Here she talks to Velika Lawrence, her co-founder at Prosaf about her desire to help other Caribbean women who are suffering in silence.
What is the main motivation behind Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean
Surviving Sexual Abuse in the Caribbean was created primarily to urge women to speak out about their experiences with Sexual Abuse. One of the main goals was to draw attention to the silent epidemic plaguing our Caribbean women; so many are taken advantage of sexually and nothing is done. I wanted women to feel freer to speak out, I wanted them to feel less alone in what had been done to them, and to know we are with them on their journey to recovery. So many victims/survivors don’t believe they have a voice. So many believe they are the only ones who have been through some form of sexual assault. I wanted them to know via our pages that this wasn’t the case.
What led you to pursue this project?
I think my desire to stop feeling like a victim was what pushed me to pursue this project. For many years I had told myself that I was past my experience of sexual abuse. I forced myself into believing that the sexual abuse suffered at the hands of my older brother was no longer a factor in my life. When I returned home (after studying in the US) and he did (as well), everything came back. It was at that point that I knew I had to deal with what had happened. It was at that point that I decided to start the facebook page to share my story and encourage others to do the same.
My greatest challenge was getting past people’s responses, or lack thereof. It was coming to terms with the fact that some would embrace him as the victim, and me as the villain. It was getting past the fact that not everyone would support my decision to speak out, or my encouragement of others to do the same. I have always been a persistent woman; knowing that once I’d decided to do something that I would do it, one way or the other. I knew that speaking out was one step on the road to recovery. It was telling him, and all the others like him, that I would no longer keep his secret, that what had been done to me was wrong.
As a survivor, how has this project changed your life thus far?
The major change (I have experienced) in undertaking this project has been having to face and address what had happened to me, how it has affected me, and the issues that have arisen as a result. It was accepting the shattering of all the illusions that I had created to get me through the past. I am still learning to accept that things were not what I thought, that people were not who I thought, and that the opinions, actions and reactions that I expected from those closest to me, did not play out.
The dawning of this project also meant that there were other women who shared their stories with me. It was hard to hear them suffer knowing that their options for help were so severely limited. That, more than anything has hurt. There is a desire to want to help, and knowing that the help is so limited was frustrating; knowing their support system didn’t provide support was angering. I have learnt how few resources we have available, how little people view this as a serious problem, how many are willing to turn a blind eye based on who the abuser is. Delving into the topic of sexual assault in St.Lucia and the wider Caribbean has been an eye-opener. I think this project has made me more passionate than I already was about ensuring things change, not only in St.Lucia, but in the wider Caribbean.
Who encourages you to maintain the mindset of a survivor & what does that mean to you?
There are primarily two individuals who have been a source of constant support and comfort through my decision to speak up and out and advocate for other survivors. My boy-friend Christopher Hackshaw, and in many ways someone I consider a second mother, Laura Lau.
I am glad that at the times when I feel crazy, overwhelmed and saddened that they are there to hold and comfort me. As a survivor of sexual abuse I struggle daily with trust, self-esteem, self-worth, sadness and the list continues. It has meant more than they will ever know to have them in my life; knowing they understand what I go through on a daily basis, understanding the pain and hurt that I deal with.
What are your short-term goals for addressing Sexual Abuse through Surviving Sexual Assault in the Caribbean site?
I would like to create a support center for women in St.Lucia where they can feel comfortable speaking out about their experiences with sexual assault. I would like to provide a place for them to learn about the resources they have available to them and educate women on the signs of sexual abuse so they can protect & help those younger than them.
I want to empower women so they know they have a right to say no. So they know that if they are assaulted that they have a right to seek help. I want to create a network within the Caribbean that provides support for survivors of sexual abuse.
The Feminisation of HIV refers to the increasing prevalence of HIV among women worldwide and the ways in which gender discrimination – both social and institutional- contribute to women’s increased vulnerability to HIV infection. In the Caribbean, women make up 53% of the population living with HIV. And young women between the ages of 15-24 have three to six times higher incidence of HIV than young men the same age range. High rates of violence against women; poverty and economic dependence on men; and cultural attitudes regarding relationships and sexual behaviour; all contribute to the increasing incidence of HIV among Caribbean women.
More women are testing. Some are initiating condom use at the start of the relationship. Many women are not reliant on men so this gives them the freedom to end the relationship if the man is unfaithful or if they believe that he is putting them at risk. I met a young woman last week, who ended the relationship because at the end of the sexual act she discovered that he had removed the condom during the act without her knowledge. Still, there are some women who would test ever year but go back to the same situation.
What “same situation”?
They are in a relationship where they know that the man is unfaithful, he does not or will not use condoms. He also does not believe that he needs to be tested or that his infidelity puts him at risk for HIV. The client will knowingly go back to this situation. A lot of the time the woman is ‘biding time’ either for the children to grow up, for her to get a job or for him to move on. There are also some who are in the marriage ’till death do us part’ and test every six months. They say “He is my husband what can I do?” They hope and pray for a negative result and also for divine intervention.
In your counselling of HIV infected women, what are some of the most common stories you hear about how women become infected?
The most common story with HIV infection is that they trusted the other partner. Even though they started using condoms (at the beginning of the relationship), they stopped once they thought that they were comfortable with each other. So I tell clients that trust in HIV starts after both persons have tested maybe twice (baseline and confirmatory) depending on their situation, and stay faithful after. Another story is that the man does not like how the condom feels, and he looked ‘clean’.
What does ‘baseline and confirmatory’ mean?
The “baseline” test may be the 1st time the client is testing, or the first test after their unprotected sexual encounter. If this test is done today, it will tell us the client’s HIV status 3 months ago. Any unprotected sex they had in the last three months would not show up in this test, therefore the client would need to be tested again (confirmatory test) 3 months after the last time that they had unprotected sex.
How does relationship violence – (coerced sex, battering, rape. financial abuse) – contribute to women contracting HIV?
I have observed that in such instances (of relationship violence) that these women and girls do not tell anyone about the incident or ordeal. It is only in trying to understand their ‘story’ that I find out. These clients I usually refer to Rape Crisis and/or for further counseling. Those who have been physically abused, by the time they decide to get tested, they have already addressed their spouse’s “behaviour” and are in better place mentally, if not physically, and I would refer them for further counselling or to the Domestic Violence Hotline.
What do you mean by “in a better place” – have they left the relationship?
Some may have made compromises and decisions that are tolerable, livable. Others have accepted their situation, found solace in the church, found some way not to have sex, or found somewhere where they can escape in their minds, and some have left the relationship.
What do you feel needs to be done to lower the rate of HIV infection in women and girls in the Caribbean?
I feel that proper counselling needs to be done across the board (for men and women). Counselling that includes exploring with the client how they can reduce their risk. These days our HIV Testing is focused on getting as many persons tested as possible. I feel that more education needs to be done as the general population doe not understand the basics of HIV.
A part of what the counsellor should also do is explore ways that women and girls can ‘better’ themselves. We usually have information on the level of education and job details from the clients so we can encourage and give referrals to some of the programmes available for continuing education, skill training or further counselling they may need.
Violence in the community often has devastating effects on men and women. Proliferation of guns, turf conflicts, gang activity and violent crime often lead to death of loved ones, particularly fathers, brothers and sons. Apart from the grief experienced by family members, women are often left with the additional burden of providing for the emotional, financial and physical needs of their families.
The Hope Support Group (HSG) was formed in November 2006 in response to all the grief and pain being experienced by the women whose husbands, sons and brothers were being murdered within the urban communities of Trinidad and Tobago. The group is involved in planning and implementing programs and activities for the resolving of grief and the transforming of grief into positive action through facilitating mutual support, spiritual, educational, recreational and social activities and events.
Through networking with other Community groups and NGO’s many of the women have received training and are actively taking the message of healing into schools and communities.
As Hope Support Group prepares to celebrate it’s sixth anniversary, it now has a total of seven groups located in Port of Spain, San Fernando, Point Fortin, La Horquetta, Maloney, Couva, and Tobago. The groups have grown to include support for persons suffering tragic loss of health and support to persons whose relatives have committed suicide. HSG has also facilitated the start of groups for children who have suffered tragic loss; they meet in Morvant and Maloney twice monthly.
Nalita Gajadhar works as a Programme Officer at the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Barbados. She is President of the Business and Professional Women’s Club which has been running a crisis hotline and shelter for women and children affected by domestic violence since 1986. It is the only shelter in Barbados.
CODE RED finally caught up with the Barbadian feminist activist, and with just five minutes to spare before returning to facilitate a Gender Sensitivity Training workshop, she shared her passion for saving and changing lives.
How long have you been working against domestic violence?
About 30 years.
What keeps you going over 30 years? Where does the energy come from?
Because it really does save lives. It’s about saving lives. It’s about helping people to understand a little more about the issues relating to violence. It’s about clearing up the myths and the misconceptions. I had seen from a child the impact of domestic violence on family and society. Before there was a shelter or a notion of what a shelter was I grew up in a house where my mother made our home a shelter. Many a night you shared a bed with people in the community who ran from violence. My mother always opened the door to let the woman and the children in and she would stand at the door and face down the man who was racing after the woman. So it was just something that I have lived. I guess I just continued to do it. But I don’t do it the same way my mother did. I do it through the [women’s] groups I have joined and the kind of advocacy that I do.
What are the challenges you face? How have they changed over the last 30 years?
I think at the beginning people were a little bit more compassionate even though they accepted violence as part of the norm. Once you got them engaged they realised that they needed to do something about it. It was a task to engage them because violence was seen as the norm. Today it is recognised more as a human right but in terms of getting people to commit the resources it is difficult. To try to change things we need resources. We have the shelter, we have the advocacy programme but what we need is transitional housing. We need opportunities for people to be able to move away from that place of abuse and not have to deal so much with the economic challenge that sometimes keeps them in that place where they sometimes die. I don’t want people to believe that violence is only limited to people in a certain socio-economic bracket. It is not. But having the ability to move away from it, sometimes when you don’t have that you stay, and sometimes you die.
Looking towards the future, what is your dream for Caribbean women?
What is it that makes you happy? We should not always be fighting to do what our grandparents said to do, what our mothers said to do, what society says we should do. We need to find relationships where there is really love, where there is caring and where you find happiness. Not sometimes, but all the time. Even when the person is not with you, you are happy because you have the freedom to just be and to be happy. If we could just believe that we have a right to be happy. I think that that would be exciting if I could just get Caribbean women to understand that.
Thanks for chatting with us, Nalita. May a new generation of Caribbean feminists inherit your commitment, passion and energy!
To reach the Business and Professional Women’s Crisis Hotline, to get information on counselling , the shelter and other resources in Barbados for women experiencing intimate partner violence and domestic violence, please call 246-435-8222
Women Of Antigua is a group of women who use the performing arts and theatre to raise awareness about issues of violence against women. Created in 2008 as a response to the increasing reports of rape in Antigua, the group which comprises 4 women – Linisa George, Thomasine Greenaway, Zahra Airall and Greschen Edwards – donate all the proceeds from their productions to women’s groups in Antigua.
The video is directed and edited by Floree Williams, information compiling was done by Joanne Hillhouse and video production by Jon Whyte.