Home / View Point / Letters to the Editor / Sex education, gender policy and pepper spray; Womantra’s wish-list to address gender-based violence

Sex education, gender policy and pepper spray; Womantra’s wish-list to address gender-based violence

“[…] Amend, implement, and budget for the National Gender Policy. A formalised  multi-sectoral  approach to awareness raising, prevention and accountability must be applied to all aspects of gender-equality, including gender-based violence. 

“These interventions should include private and state actors, communities, etc…”

The following is a press statement from Womantra, which describes itself as a feminist organisation, engaged in public education, organising, intersectional analysis and policy reform around women’s rights and gender justice:

Photo: A protest for women’s rights.

An Emergency Town Hall on the state of gender-based violence was hosted by Womantra on Saturday 5th December via Zoom, in response to the spate of femicides, child sexual assault cases and kidnappings of women and young girls for the year 2020, exacerbated by the rape and violent murder of eighteen year old Ashanti Riley, which sparked national outrage.

The session yielded an energising and solutions-oriented discussion on the way forward, with participants coming from a range of backgrounds, including concerned citizens, students, academics and activists who spoke to various aspects of violence against women, including their main areas of concern; the need for greater state accountability;  and community led solutions.

In honouring our commitment to our constituents, we have compiled the emerging needs, insights, and solutions expressed by members of our community in fulfilment of their own needs and that of the wider movement to end gender-based violence.

Needs:

  • Men need to be more present in spaces that centre the experiences of women, to increase understanding and empathy. #PullUpYuhBredrens
Photo: A group of men stare at a passing woman.
  • Public officials should be held accountable for statements that reinforce the normalisation of rape culture. Influential politicians and members of government at all levels must be  sensitive in their  language use around  gender-based violence and in particular,  men’s violence against women so that policy and decision makers  take the situation seriously.
  • All police officers should undergo gender sensitivity training, particularly those who interact with survivors and victims.
  • The media must take more responsibility for ethical reporting on gender based violence and sexually motivated  crimes. 
  • There should be increased collaboration and synergies between ALL agencies that provide services to persons affected by  gender- based violence (Faith-based orgs/health facilities/service providers/ women’s rights advocates, etc.)
  • Women need to  show solidarity in this moment, rooted in an understanding that we need to love and protect each other within  an hostile environment. #EverySistren #MySistersKeeper
  • Make pepper spray and other non-lethal items available to women to protect themselves from harm.
Photo: Reshma Kanchan, 25, was hacked to death on 29 September 2020.
Police have arrested her former husband.

Insights:

  • Perpetrators are allowed to murder, rape and disappear women and girls with impunity due to a poorly coordinated police response, the sluggish judicial system and the lack of political will to implement, the National Policy on Gender and Development.
  • The lack of gender analysis in public discourse often results in the conflation of gender-based violence and other crimes like homicides or assault and at the community level, victim-blaming and the shaming of women and girls.
  • There are  multiple and intersecting factors  that increase women and girl’s vulnerability to gender-based violence. Working class women, migrant women, and young women and girls are more at risk because of these subordinated statuses.
  • There is a lack of awareness of how steeped our society is in normalising rape culture. We must become more informed about the dangers of normalising street harassment, and  other types of degrading behaviour, including  sexual coercion  and violent assault. We must build a culture of consent from the ground up.
Photo: Netanya Mohamdally’s de­compos­ing body was found in a ravine at Ex­change Lots, Cou­va on 23 March 2019.
Her hands and feet were tied to­geth­er with rope, her head was bashed in and an au­top­sy re­vealed she died of chop wounds to the neck.
She was 17.

Solutions:

  • Equip women and girls with the tools and resources to support their resilience and healing in the absence of robust legislation and poor or inadequate implementation of other protective measures. #pepperspray #nonlethalweapons
  • Amend, implement, and budget for the National Gender Policy. A formalised multi-sectoral  approach to awareness raising, prevention and accountability must be applied to all aspects of gender-equality, including gender-based violence. These interventions should include private and state actors, communities, etc.
  • Implement mandatory, age appropriate and comprehensive sexuality education from pre-school onwards.
  • Sensitise and train key service providers ie: taxi drivers, health care  providers, fitness trainers, etc, to identify and respond to their clients who may  be victims of Gender Based Violence.
  • Gender-sensitivity training for our national representatives, media personnel and cultural leaders, including an introduction to acceptable gender-based violence terminology, so their language and contributions to solution-building can help to shift the way the population views and talks about gender based violence. 
  • Develop assistive technologies specifically for women and girls to avoid or escape dangerous and/or life-threatening  situations.
Image: Womantra wants to make Trinidad and Tobago safer for women.

Local NGOs have been organising public awareness campaigns, public service announcements, strategising with stakeholders in the private sector to advance the call for women’s rights and gender justice.

Here is a list of some of the resources that are available to you:

International Women’s Resource Network has launched a petition to make child sexual assault a non-bailable offence.

TT Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Institute of Gender and Development Studies launched an Anti-Gender Based Violence Initiative for private sector entities.

Womantra has done comprehensive analysis around the National Gender Policy and the recently amended Domestic Violence Act. For 16 days, we have also published a  resource guidebook Journey to Justice: A Survivor’s Handbook.

Enough is enough, and the time to act is now. The TT government  should not be allowed to drag its feet when women’s lives are at stake. 

We urge every citizen to commit to actively cultivating a society that values the lives of all women and girls.

Photo: Teenager Ashanti Riley was raped and murdered, after leaving her home to visit her grandmother on 29 November 2020.

For further collaboration, stay connected with us and we will be in touch in the New Year with further actions and next steps, co-developed by this virtual working group.

Too many lives have been lost and we can no longer wait to act!

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