As Barbados joins the United Nations in observing 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Cynthia Forde, has emphasised that a collective approach is key in combatting the issue.
Minister Forde was addressing the virtual launch of the local campaign, today, organised by the Bureau of Gender Affairs.
Noting that domestic violence has been affecting households across the world for decades, she pointed out that it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to many issues, including social isolation, mental health pressures, and financial instability.
As it relates to Barbados, Ms. Forde revealed that her Ministry was receiving calls daily from women and men in crisis situations. “My Permanent Secretary and her team are always on top of it …, and we will put measures in place to help to mitigate some of those challenges that are very grave at times,” she said.
To this end, she disclosed that the recently established National Committee of Gender-based Violence would be seeking to develop strategies and programmes in this regard. However, the Minister stressed that addressing the issue was not just a matter for those in authority, but society on a whole.
Reflecting on the international theme for this year: ‘Orange The World, End Violence Against Women Now’, she stated that this reinforced the need for all governments to act “decisively” and “with haste” to address the matter.
“We must be cognisant of the fact that domestic violence is far reaching and can occur between members of particular households, so the impact is also on our boys and young girls, and the aged,” she stated.
She also cautioned against singling out men as the sole offenders in these types of situations. “We cannot continue to view men mainly as perpetrators but as part of the solution. Men must therefore be fully engaged in our efforts and I am proud to speak of the Partnership for Peace, where our men have gone through the various cycle. It has been recommended now that women be also involved because they too can also be perpetrators,” Minister Forde stressed.
The Partnership for Peace, an initiative of UN Women, is a psycho-educational programme designed to encourage offenders to take responsibility for their violent actions and equip them with skills to end that behaviour.
Minister Forde also praised the Family Conflict Unit of the Royal Barbados Police Force, and the various non-governmental organisations which have been working tirelessly to assist persons affected by gender-based violence.
Also speaking at the launch was Programme Specialist – Economic Empowerment and Statistics at the UN Women Multi-Country Office, Isiuwa Iyahen, who expressed concern about the general rise in these types of incidents across the Caribbean.
With regards to Barbados, she pointed out that there was a “38 per cent increase in domestic violence reports during the early stages of the 2020 [COVID-19] lockdown”.
“These alarming figures show an urgent need to tackle deeply-rooted gender discriminatory norms, and address how safety and security affects Barbadian people, and contributes to the culture of physical and sexual violence against women in both public and private spaces,” Ms. Iyahen stated.
Like Minister Forde, the UN Women representative underscored the need for comprehensive and inclusive approaches “that can be adapted to rapidly changing context, which still prioritise the financing and provision of essential support services to victims of domestic violence”.
In addition, she recommended that authorities prioritise updating the referral pathway, which covers the protocol for service providers who respond to domestic violence incidents. It also provides guidance for victims on areas such as reporting of the crime, as well as assistance with psycho-social support.
That said, Ms. Iyahen commended Government on the work done so far to arrest gender-based violence, highlighting the Memorandum of Understanding between UN Women and the Ministry of Social Partnership Relations to heighten awareness of this type of violence in the workplace.