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

Though we are mainly known for tropical weather and beautiful beaches, the Caribbean is also one of the most violent regions in the world and experiences a deplorable level of violence against women and girls. Here in the Cayman Islands we are not spared the evils of gender-based violence, which by definition includes rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, sexual harassment and harmful cultural practices.

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and also the first day of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign, which runs through 10th December – International Human Rights Day – to reaffirm that women’s rights are human rights. We must respect the dignity of all people and their right to live a life free from violence. Focusing on violence against women is not to ignore the suffering of boys and men, who are also victims of domestic and sexual violence as well as disproportionate victims of homicide and other violent crimes. However, historical inequities and cultural stereotypes do make women and girls more vulnerable to gender-based violence and at this time of the year we focus on their particular circumstances and needs.

Gender based violence encompasses many difficult topics that are often hard to talk about, especially in public. However, that is exactly what we must do in order to decrease such violence. We have laws on the books and many services and resources available, but until we change our mindset we will never eliminate this scourge.

We cannot separate public and private crime; robberies at our local businesses and murders in our streets are not removed from domestic violence in our homes and sexual assault in our bedrooms. Yet we do not condemn these crimes with the same conviction. We often think victims must have motives to lie about their experiences or that what has occurred is not a crime but rather a private matter between two individuals. Or we may ask what she did to anger her partner, or wonder how much she drank that night.

This social tolerance of violence and victim blaming and shaming is unacceptable. Those who would turn a blind eye to violence or who discriminate against victims of gender-based crimes by treating them differently than they would a person who states that he or she has been burgled or assaulted are not a part of the solution.

Government has a responsibility to keep people safe and the anti-violence legal framework in our nation is strong and progressive. We do recognise that there are areas where implementation and capacity building can be improved and are committed to strengthening our laws and policies, putting mechanisms in place to build more inclusive and supportive structures to enforce them, and also addressing the root causes of these crimes to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.

However, these laws and policies will not work without support from stakeholders and from the general public. As citizens and residents of the Cayman Islands, we must work together for a safer community, and national security must include a focus on making homes, schools, workplaces and social settings safe. Violence against women is systemic, and it has been allowed to flourish in our society as a result of gender inequality. We are therefore all accountable for changing this offensive reality.

The 16 Days of Activism campaign is an organising strategy and an opportunity to renew our commitment to addressing these pervasive abuses that are often unacknowledged, under acknowledged or worse, denied. Violence against women is a public health issue; it has severe negative effects on children who witness and/or are victims of violence; it affects national productivity; and it is an obstacle to social development and true and lasting peace. Violence threatens the physical integrity of women and girls, limits their choices and affects their daily lives.

On this occasion, let us all therefore engage meaningfully in action to address gender-based violence however and wherever we can. I urge you all to join me in considering the ways in which we can challenge the structures which perpetuate gender-based violence, enact positive change and eliminate violence in our Islands. We owe it to our women and girls and also to our men and boys.