Linking the Caribbean to the World! Thursday - Jan 18, 2018

Raising the Alarm on Domestic Violence in the Caribbean


In the first two weeks of 2014, four women were murdered by their partners in Guyana.  In Trinidad & Tobago, two women were murdered.  In Barbados, Cheryl Bourne-Reifer was murdered and just a few weeks later another Guyanese woman, Onicka Gulliver was found dead.  On the night of February 14, Lenus La Cruz set fire to his home and killed his wife and four children.

More recently in Trinidad, a father killed his two children then committed suicide leaving a note blaming his wife for his terrible deeds. Over in Jamaica, a policeman killed his wife then himself.  These are just a few of the hundreds of cases of domestic violence in the Caribbean.

Because the word ‘violence’ is heavily racialised it is essential that we first debunk this racist myth and acknowledge that violence against women and children is global, and cuts across class, income levels, religious affiliation, education, race, ethnicity, and nationality. The global figures are astounding. Statistics tell us 1 in 3 women globally experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.  We also know that violence against women is systematically underreported so it is safe to assume that the majority of women face multiple acts of sexual and physical abuse.

A recent UN report described violence against women as “a pandemic” — 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.

In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, intimate partner violence accounts for between 40 and 70 per cent of female murder victims.

Unfortunately, statistics in the Caribbean are limited to a few countries. Nonetheless, the evidence from news reports and gender activists is sufficient to know that violence against women and misogynist attitudes across the Caribbean is as much a pandemic as elsewhere in the world.

Though there are multiple risk factors, patriarchal attitudes underpin gender and social norms such as the subordination of women and superiority of men; where women are expected to ‘shut up and put up’; where rape culture blames women for their own rape.

Rape culture” is a culture in which sexual violence is considered the norm — in which people aren’t taught not to rape, but are taught not to be raped.

A culture where men are taught not to take NO means NO! for an answer;  a culture where music endorses violence against women through misogynist, sexist and homophobic lyrics; a culture where masculinity is measured in sexual terms and where everyday language is sexualized and abusive as heard in the common use of words like ‘bitch,’ ‘hoes,’ ‘blood clot,’ and ‘batty man.

Red for Gender, a Caribbean feminist collective recently listed the “Top Ten Sexist and Heterosexist moments in the Caribbean” where they named and shamed Caribbean ministers and politicians who through their comments and actions are directly complicit in underpinning violence against women.

For example, in the Bahamas, MP Leslie Miller was reported as using the following analogy in parliament:

“That’s like beating your wife or your girlfriend every time you go home. You just beating her for looking at her.  I love ya. Boom, boom, boom. I had a girlfriend like that. When I didn’t beat her she used to tell me I don’t love her no more cause I don’t hit her.”

His colleagues laughed as he went on to tell them how he beat his own girlfriend ‘til his hand hurt.  In Belize, a woman MP made a formal complaint against the mace-bearer for which she was shouted down and berated by another house member who asked her to prove her accusation by giving the size of the man’s penis.  Other members jeered and laughed making sexist and sexualized comments in response.  In the Bahamas, a woman MP slapped a colleague after he embraced her, refused her request to stop and proceeded to whisper sexualised comments to her.

The above are all examples of the pervasiveness of intimate and public acts of violence against women that show not just a culture of sexism, but one of real disdain and even hatred of women. One of the problems in addressing violence against women is that we imagine the perpetrators as somehow different to the men we know.  By externalizing the violence and abuse in this way, we ignore the reality which is that men who rape, beat and harass women on a daily basis are the men we know: friends, relatives, fathers, sons, brothers. Men in power, educated men engaging in sexually abusive behavior towards their female colleagues, poor men, working men.

One of the most underreported and widespread forms of sexualized abuse is the everyday sexual aggression and general misogynist culture which women face at work, in institutions of learning and more recently in online spaces such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. These range from being inappropriately touched, ogled, as well as sexualized through sexist and misogynist comments.

Violence against women in public and intimate spaces continues even where there is legislation and punitive measures due to the entrenchment of discrimination against women and girls and the lack of support for victims and social sanctions.  The silence of colleagues, friends, family means they too are complicit in the continuing discrimination when they either fail to believe victims or indirectly or directly blame the victim.    The judicial system — including the police — is also complicit in the non-belief and in many cases are part of the problem.  One cannot expect the police to act on intimate violence if they are perpetrators themselves or if the perpetrator is a person in a powerful position.

ELDIS has published an 8-point strategy for ending violence against women in Jamaica, however these can be applied to any country in the Caribbean and include training police to investigate sexual offenses; initiate a national campaign addressing sexual violence and discrimination against women; provide support for women and children who are victims of abuse such as refugees; and legislate against sexual harassment in the workplace, institutions of learning and public spaces.  Nonetheless, it’s difficult to see how violence against women can be addressed when those in political power and leadership positions are themselves committing rape and other forms of violence against women.

For more on physical and sexual violence see Amnesty International’s report here.

You can follow Sokari Ekine on Twitter at @blacklooks