A CALL has been made for men to join the fight against gender-based violence amid reports that children as young as two years old have been registered as victims.
The call came from Elizabeth Lewis, Director of the Department of Human Services, at a function yesterday to recognize the awarding of a grant from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) to Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia Inc., which will host 16 days of activism against gender-based violence beginning November 25.
Both organizations raised their voices in unison to eradicate gender-based violence in St. Lucia as representatives spoke of the need to eradicate gender-based violence in the country, especially violence against women, girls and children.
Lewis explained that while her department deals mainly with children, gender-based violence across the board can no longer be tolerated.
“It is an absolute major issue that gender-based violence is becoming something that we can no longer tolerate,” she said. “Most of our reports are from females. From as young as two years old, we have females who are victims of gender-based violence. Therefore, we can no longer sit by and allow it to happen.
“When we talk about gender-based violence, we think it is a woman thing, but at this point I call on the men to join in this cause, to join in this fight. It cannot be only the women. Men, you must partner with the women to ensure that our society is one that is a healthy one, that we raise healthy persons and we allow our children to be able to grow up in a healthy society.”
Petra Jeffrey-Nelson of the advocacy group, Raise Your Voice, showed that her group was not a reactive group, but rather one purposefully proactive in seeking ways to remedy the ills in the community that affect women and children.
“The statistics are showing that gender-based violence is on the rise,” she said. “We have been too tolerant to gender-based violence. We feel too much that this is a male-dominated society and based on that we let a lot of things pass. We can no longer do that.”
According to Jeffrey-Nelson, between 2013 and 2015, the Human Services Department reported 812 cases of child abuse categorized as physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment and neglect.
She said that for the period 2013, 2014 and 2016, the Family Court reported a total of 1039 cases of domestic violence. Figures for 2015 were not available. However, the Vulnerable Persons Unit of the police force in 2015 recorded 112 cases of sexual assault and rape cases and 52 cases of domestic violence.
“In 2016, you had 250 cases; of this, 36 were domestic violence, and the rest sexual assault and rape. We have to take a no-tolerance stance. The statistics show a startling and persistence increase in gender-based violence. We believe public education and awareness, increased resource, human training and capacity building to social services agencies are critical to minimizing the high rate of gender-based violence on the island,” Jeffrey-Nelson said.
She called for a change in legislation and for government to enact the child justice bill, the children care and adoption bill, the domestic violence bill, the status of children bill, the status of parenting testing procedures, and regulations bill.
The 16-day campaign of activism against gender-based violence will include a public march through the streets of the city to raise public awareness on gender-based violence, to call on legislators and policy-makers to enact legislation to bring the perpetrators of gender-based violence to swift justice and to highlight the importance of quality and timely investigations of sexual and gender-based violence.
Another highlight will be the illumination of buildings in Castries, Vieux Fort, Soufriere and Gros Islet with orange and purple lights. The orange light will represent an end to gender-based violence and a future free of violence against women and children, and the purple light a call to action to stop gender-based violence.
Presenting the grant to make the activism campaign against gender-based violence possible was Her Excellency, Marie Legault, Canadian High Commissioner to Barbados & the Eastern Caribbean.