For centuries, women across the globe have agitated for the right to vote, to have jobs outside of the home and to be seen as individuals and not simply assets to their husbands. In short – to have rights equal to that of their male counterparts.??

While many of these goals have been achieved, the gains continue to be overshadowed by the scourge of violence against women, domestic and otherwise.

Efforts to curtail this societal problem have been ongoing for some time, and in February 2008, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon launched a campaign entitled UNiTE to End Violence against Women, which is expected to run for seven years until 2008 to 2015.

Taking a stand against violence against women has always been a priority for Barbados, both at the local and international levels, and this country has taken the fight one step further by signing on to the UNiTE Campaign and facilitating the official launch of the Caribbean branch of the movement on October 11, 2010.

The launch, which was held at the Hilton Barbados, was attended by participants from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as representatives from the Faculty of Law, Cave Hill Campus, and personnel from regional and international organisations.?? It was followed by a workshop on Strengthening Accountability and Changing Culture to End Violence against Women in the Caribbean.

By signing on to the UNiTE campaign, Barbados has given its commitment to strengthening state accountability, with an emphasis on law reform; building political will; engaging men as partners and agents of change; and developing a social communications strategy.

Minister of Labour, Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo, who spoke on behalf of Prime Minister David Thompson, lauded the efforts of the office of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) for assembling the relevant personnel to drive the process forward.

She traced the history of international gatherings to address concerns of violence against women and equality, from the first international conference on these issues held in Cuba in 1928, to The Year of the Woman, which was celebrated in 1975.

??"It was almost 50 years before we formally acknowledged that gender based violence was a social problem, and after much advocacy, in 1975, we had the Year of the Woman, we sang loudly ???I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman’ but the reality was, women were still being beaten and killed.?? Sadly today they still are," Dr. Byer-Suckoo stated.

However, the Minister noted that women were undaunted by the slow pace at which changes were taking place, and that their persistence led to the Decade of the Woman, and a number of International Women’s Conferences, including the Nairobi

Conference chaired by Barbados’ late Governor General, Dame Nita Barrow and the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, which produced the declaration that women’s rights were human rights; one of which was "…a life free from all forms of violence".

The Minster also called for a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence and urged all Caribbean citizens to hold each other culpable.??

"We need to hold the community accountable, the neighbours, the church, the school, the employers, the workmates…teach our society not to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to ???man and woman business’.?? Teach our children to talk of these things, and teach our adults to respond with compassion…we must be outraged by all forms of violence, including domestic violence.?? Let us not comfort ourselves that it is not happening to us, or that no one knows about it," she pleaded.

There was also a need for persons in authority to tackle these issues in a more serious manner.?? The Labour Minister added, "…the police, the doctors, nurses, lawyers, magistrates who don’t see it as serious; who pass judgment on who deserved what; who don’t respond after the second or third call; who don’t see domestic issues as private.?? Our society, including and especially the media, must hold them accountable".

According to a study done by the World Bank in 2007, violence against women seemed to be endemic in Caribbean countries.?? It also reported that while the worldwide averages for rapes was 15 per 100,000, Caribbean countries exceeded this average.??

??The UNiTE campaign has five key outcomes as benchmarks.?? These are: adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls; adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans; strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls; increase public awareness and social mobilisation; and address sexual violence in conflict.??

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