Message from Hon. Minister Rivers: 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence

As the Minister responsible for Gender Affairs, it is fitting to take the opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s and the country’s firm stance against gender violence during the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign (November 25-December 10).  For the past twenty-two years, the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), which is dedicated to advocacy and coordination of work in support of ending violence against women at all levels, has led this global campaign.

The dates November 25 (International Day against Violence against Women) and December 10 (Human Rights Day) are chosen to emphasise the links between ending violence against women and human rights values and highlight that violence against women is an international human rights violation. The 16 Days Campaign is used as an organising strategy to call for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence by individuals and groups throughout the world.

Gender-based violence is a problem of significant proportions that affects not only the Cayman Islands but all societies.  The World Health Organisation estimates that at least one of every three women globally will be beaten, raped, or otherwise abused during her lifetime, and in most cases, the abuser is a member of her own family. Violence against women is viewed by many as the most pervasive yet least recognised human rights abuse in the world; a public health crisis; and an obstacle to gender equality, sustainable social and economic development, security, and peace.  

According to the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, forms of gender-based violence include, but are not limited to: domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, sexual harassment, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and harmful practices. These forms of violence can result in physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health and other health problems. Across the Caribbean, the rates of these crimes are increasing and studies also reveal an alarming escalation of sexual abuse of children and social tolerance of this violence, as many adults fail to take action or deny or minimise the abuse. 

Carrying on from 2012, this year the international theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!”  In the Cayman Islands, we are fortunate enough to not live in a country torn apart by war or violent civil unrest. However, this does not mean that there are not victims of gender-based violence living among us who have experienced the ravages of their own psychological battle scars or feel as though their homes are in fact not a sanctuary but a war zone.  It is therefore appropriate for our local participation in this global campaign to focus on the message of creating peace in our homes so that we can contribute to peace in our country and indeed the world.

Domestic violence is a grave concern to me because attitudes of acceptance toward gender inequalities are considered risk factors for perpetrating and experiencing domestic violence. Successfully addressing gender-based violence requires that we all challenge the way that gender roles and power relations are expressed and accepted in our society. Yet changing people’s attitudes on issues such as gender-based violence, gender equality or domestic violence is neither an easy nor quick task.  To address these root risk factors, the Gender Affairs Unit within the Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs carries out public education and awareness activities to promote gender equality.

While we recognise that females are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence and domestic violence, it is Government’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all women and men, and girls and boys. States are the main duty bearers for addressing violence in all its forms, including gender-based violence in its various manifestations, and it doesn’t matter whether this violence takes place within the privacy of homes or in public spaces.

Just this month, the Government demonstrated that it will not tolerate such violence. The Members of the Legislative Assembly unanimously supported a Private Members Motion brought by Hon. Anthony Eden, OBE, JP, MLA and Mr. Alva Suckoo, MLA to introduce a mandatory minimum sentence for sex offences categorised as indecent assault on women and girls and to increase the maximum sentence available for such offences.  The Government’s responsibility to protect persons from non-violence and sex crimes must be met with standards of non-discrimination; this is why I proposed during the debate on the Motion that the Penal Code should be reviewed and amended to ensure that boys and young men are also protected against such crimes, and the Government wholeheartedly supported this suggestion.

Every one of us has a role to play in eliminating gender violence and domestic violence, yet we often consider it a private matter.  In addition, if we aren’t perpetrators, we don’t see ourselves as part of the problem. Sadly, many perpetrators also do not consciously accept the harm that they cause as they seek to justify their actions and deny the negative effects they have on their victims and on society.  During this 16 Days Campaign, I encourage you to think about how we all can be a part of the solution.  If you know sexual abuse, coerced prostitution of children, or sexual harassment is occurring, speak out and report it.  If you witness or suspect domestic violence, act.  Do not sit back and think that it’s not your place to get involved in reporting gender-based crimes.  If you are a victim, please seek help from the many organisations and individuals that are able to assist you.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the government and non-government organisations - such as the Department of Counseling Services’ Family Resource Centre, Department of Children and Family Services,  Department of Community Rehabilitation, Business and Professional Women’s Club Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, Estella Scott-Roberts Foundation and many others - that work on a daily basis with these issues and help to raise the public’s level of awareness about gender-based violence.  Throughout the next 16 days, I encourage the public to support the efforts of the Business and Professional Women’s Club’s awareness raising campaign and to visit the District Health Clinics in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac where the Family Resource Centre’s Clothesline Project will display the stories of victims, survivors, and those who love them.

We all play a crucial part in developing peaceful understandings and collective safety.  Let us unite and support these efforts in building peaceful and safe homes, schools, communities in our country- today, tomorrow and forever.