The Minister of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development, Dr. Gale. T.C. Rigobert expresses deep sadness over the incident which occurred on Sunday July 12, 2020 on the Pigeon Island beach, which resulted in the death of a young woman. The incident, allegedly linked to intimate partner violence, which is a kind of gender-based violence occurring among couples who are either in an active relationship or had been in an intimate relationship.
Intimate partner abuse stems from deeply rooted harmful gender stereotypes and gender norms of inequality which create expectations and demands that are unreasonable and unfair. Long before the violence occurs, couples are set up for abuse by this dysfunctional system of beliefs. If the partner who is supposed to bear the burden of responsibility accepts that role, the abuse is often unacknowledged, unreported and therefore unseen.
Although a prevalence survey has not been conducted for Saint Lucia, based on anecdotal reports, dysfunctional relationships appear to be highly prevalent on the island, as changing gender norms are challenging the harmful existing stereotypes. The period of confinement and ensuing economic decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to raise the level of dysfunction in intimate relationships and increase the threat of intimate partner abuse on the island.
The Department of Gender Relations has been working closely with other social agencies and international partners to assess, monitor and respond to the harmful gender stereotypes that underpin gender-based violence in Saint Lucia. This process is holistic and involves legislative review, development of a gender-based violence (GBV) referral pathway, capacity development of service providers, public education and increase in availability of resources and services to the general public.
The Minister is calling on the general public to use the services of the Women’s Support Center crisis hotline 202, any time (day or night) if they believe that they are victims of intimate partner abuse; and to use the services of the national helpline 203 from 8:00 to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays or the Saint Lucia Crisis Center hotline at 712-7574 if they may need help in managing a threatening situation or their emotions. The public is also encouraged to access the services of the St. Lucia Crisis Center at 453-1521 or the Family Court at 468-3300 if they need guidance or advice with respect to a troubling relationship. These agencies will provide professional services in a non-judgmental and open manner.
Notwithstanding these existing facilities, the Minister was adamant that the review process of new legislation that deals with Domestic Violence needs to be expedited, and called upon stakeholders to do their part in ensuring that the new draft legislation sees the light of day soon. She lamented that there are too many cases still unresolved, for one reason or another, causing the families of the victims compounded grief. Director of Gender Relations, Ms. Janey Joseph is calling the attention of everyone to the importance of working together in fighting intimate partner abuse, and reinforced Dr. Rigobert’s assertion that “we must learn to strengthen one another and not weaken our citizenry, by causing them to distrust the institutions that have been set up to help them”. The Ministry is making an appeal to all institutions, particularly the media, the church and non-governmental organizations to work closely with the Gender Relations Department and other Governmental agencies to ensure that their intended interventions to address intimate partner violence and gender-based violence, are in keeping with evidence-based, tried and tested principles and strategies that break and not reinforce harmful gender stereotypes.