It is a distinct pleasure and I deem it an honor to have been asked to contribute some thoughts as your Feature Speaker this evening. Thanks for inviting me and congratulations on putting together this auspicious event.
Ever since its launch in 2008, the 16 Days of Activism has galvanized action in over 190 countries to prevent and end violence against women and girls. The event has brought to sharp focus, deeply entrenched harmful gender norms and has catapulted actions to end impunity, silence, and stigma, that have allowed violence against women and girls (VAWG) to escalate to pandemic proportions. In some instances, violence is so normalized and far too many of the world’s citizens treat acts of violence against women and girls with scant disregard, making the atrocities invisible in far too many communities.
This year, the silent pandemic of violence continues to rage alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, with crippling social and economic effects on women, families, and communities.
Having recently joined the CARICOM Secretariat as its Deputy Secretary General, I am faced with a plethora of regionally relevant matters that require the attention of the Secretariat, least of which is the urgent need for a comprehensive policy outlook on citizens security and in particular policies and strategies to fight the scourge of gender-based violence in our society. The CARICOM community has traditionally partnered with various institutions, particularly UN agencies in commemorating the 16 Days of Activism, and it is therefore a pleasure for me to be participating and sharing some perspectives with you this evening.
I take this opportunity to complement the United Nations not just for tonight’s Lighting Ceremony but for the series of activities that have been put on as part of this year’s observances.
I note that you have already marked two of the four important observances of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. We started off the Campaign on 25 November, which was observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, followed by Human Rights’ Defenders Day on 29 November. I was honored to have participated in the UNLearn Media Townhall Programme held on November 29th and if you permit me, I would say that this year’s activities are quite befitting of the theme, and should lead towards awareness raising within the society.
Today’s lighting ceremony also coincides with World AIDS Day. We must therefore let the lights that will be turned on to shine upon the positive messages that accompany 16 Days of Activism, and when these lights are dimed, they will take with them the many infractions, incidents and egregious acts of violence that befall women and children in our society. Let theseorange lights radiate a color that has been designated by the UN Secretary General’s UNITE Campaign as a symbol of a brighter future for women and girls, and may we strengthen victims and others who may fall victim to violence that they lead a life free of violence. The end of 16 Days of Activism Campaign on 10 December, should not only be a diming of the lights but should symbolize and end to tolerance and perpetuation of violence in all its forms. Afterall, December 10th is Human Rights Day and we should not just commemorate the day, but indeed, we should be celebrating a new day – one free of violence and one full of love for our women and children.
It is not comforting that the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the extent of violence in our societies. Prior to the start of the pandemic in March 2020, gender- based violence was already unacceptably high in our region. Prevalence surveys conducted between 2017-2019 in five Member States, revealed high rates of intimate partner violence among ever partnered women – at 55% in Guyana, 48% in Suriname, 44% in Trinidad and Tobago, and 39% in Grenada and Jamaica.
This year’s observance under the theme: “Orange the World: End Violence Against Women and Girls Now! It’s Everyone’s Business!” highlights the universal nature of violence against women and girls and how the pandemic has caused it to dramatically increase while deepening other risk factors such as the loss of household income, underemployment, food insecurity, undue burden of both paid and unpaid care work, increased migration flows, disability, abuse of the elderly and the threat of social unrest and disaster.
The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered a world that was unprepared to respond to the rapid escalation of all forms of violence against women and girls. If we want to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind, we need comprehensive and inclusive approaches that can be adapted to rapidly changing contexts, preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls, in all their diversity.
Colleagues, the ground-breaking EU-UN Spotlight Initiative represents such a model. Driven by a commitment to leave no one behind, and reaching the furthest behind first, Spotlight is making meaningful strides in preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls. During this 16-days campaign, citizens around the world, organizations, and groups, especially women and girls are mobilizing to ensure that they can enjoy the full complement of their human rights, but women and girls cannot do it alone. Men and boys must become champions of gender equality.
The CARICOM Secretariat reaffirms its continued support in the fight to eliminate family violence, especially violence against women and girls in the Caribbean.
On this note, appeal to all citizens of the Caribbean community, whether you are associated to a group or organization, or whether you are unattached from any formal structure to join the effort to end violence against women and girls, whether these occur within the home or in public spaces. It is incumbent upon all of us to continue advocating for a violence free Caribbean while we also continue to address the many social ills that afflict us.
I pledge the unwavering commitment and support of the Caribbean Community Secretariat and I wish every citizen a safe, peaceful, violence and incident free yuletide season. Beat up on the festive drums, not on our women and girls.