My fellow citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis, today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Like other International days, this day serves to educate the public on an issue that has become a global problem and needs to be addressed for the sake of humanity. The theme for this year is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”. According to the United Nations, violence against women and girls has become one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in the world today. To make matters worse, COVID-19 lockdown measures have resulted in an increase in violence against women and girls especially domestic violence. As result, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis continues to join our global partners in an effort to end the violence and we’re calling on all citizens to join us.
In 1979, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women commonly known as CEDAW to end gender-based violence around the world. Its adoption was partly in response to the brutal murders of the Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic on the 25th of November in 1960. The three sisters were killed by their country’s ruler, Rafael Trujillo, for opposing his dictatorship. This led other female activists to observe this day in 1981 to serve as a reminder to all governments and international organizations to organize activities that will raise public awareness every year. This day also marks the start of the 16 Day Campaign which calls for the elimination of all forms of violence again women, men and children. The campaign will therefore end on the 10th of December which is recognized as the International Day of Human Rights.
Domestic violence in St. Kitts and Nevis continues to be a serious concern that we all must pay attention to. According to the statistics received from the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force Special Victims Unit, there have been fluctuating reports of abuse from 2018 to 2020. In 2018 there were 120 reported cases of domestic violence where 30 of the victims were males and the remaining 90 females. In 2019, the number of reported cases declined to 87 cases where 7 of the victims were males and the remaining 80 victims were females. Unfortunately, however, in the first half of 2020, 106 cases were reported; more cases compared to the whole of 2019 and just 14 cases less than the figure reported for the whole of 2018. While we await the final report for the second half of 2020, we can only hope that the figures have decreased, not because of a decline in the number of reports made, but because of a decline in the number of incidents that have occurred. The increase in violence against women during COVID-19 has been termed the Shadow Pandemic, and some factors that are responsible for the increase include money concerns, cramped living conditions, isolation with abusers and movement restrictions. So, how can we as a Federation help? We can do so by acting on the theme “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”.
Fund. Contrary to the beliefs of some, Governments alone cannot effectively fund all the help that is needed. This issue will require the financial efforts of government and non-governmental institutions including businesses, NGOs and individuals.
Respond. We must ensure that essential services for survivors of domestic violence remain readily available during the pandemic. In the U.S, a woman in danger, pretended to call a pizza place but instead called 911. Her tone of voice caught the despatcher’s attention, who played along and quickly sent help her way. We should all therefore be mindful of any cues that a victim might send to us.
Prevent. Let us be mindful of the signs of domestic violence in our relationships. The abuser often bullies, threatens, is controlling of finances and is physically or sexually abusive. If any of these factors pertain to you or someone you know please seek help as soon as possible. You may contact the Special Victims Unit 24/7 hotline at 665-3091 or the Department of Gender Affairs 24/7 line at 662-5492.
Collect. In order for us to effectively help, relevant agencies must continue to record and share the data between one another. However, it is also important for all victims to come forward because if we do not know the full extent to which our Federation is hurting, we will definitely misdiagnose and under-treat the problem.
Before I close, I would like to encourage you to support the activities for the 16 Day Campaign organized by the Department of Gender Affairs. These include the Church service on the 22nd at Zion Moravian Church, the Mock Parliament on the Sexual Harassment Bill on the 25th at Government Headquarters by the St. Kitts Nevis Youth Parliament, the display of Silent Witnesses on the 27th in the Independence Square, and on the 4th of December in Nevis, the “Wear Orange Day” also on the 4th and a Radio Panel Discussion on the 9th of December. I would also like to thank the Department of Gender Affairs, the Police, SVU, the hospitals and everyone else who have valiantly worked to help our victims. Finally, to those who have abused their power and position, I say STOP. What you are doing or what you have done is a crime that will never be okay. May we all continue to work together to solve this issue of violence against Women.