President: Men must do part to end gender-based violence

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President Paula-Mae Weekes raised concerns about a 2021 legal notice on her role in the acting police commissioner appointment process. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

On the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25), President Paula-Mae Weekes is calling on men to acknowledge their role in perpetuating gender-based violence (GBV). She said there can be no solution to the problem without the active participation of men.

In her message, Weekes said age-appropriate conversations should start as early as primary school where boys can be taught how to deal with rejection and their emotions, understand the concept of consent, and learn that GBV refers not only to physical abuse, but also sexual, emotional and financial exploitation. She said even where men do not physically harm women, they may be perpetrators of more subtle forms.

“Today is an opportunity for men to reflect and ask themselves some pertinent questions. Do I try to control my partner’s finances? Do I constantly belittle, degrade or humiliate them? Do I isolate my partner from her family? Do I make sexually suggestive remarks or unwanted advances to my friends or colleagues? If yes, then what am I prepared to do about it? Self-awareness and seeking the necessary help are key to dealing with and ultimately ending violence against women.”

Weekes said although there have been conversations about violence against women in Trinidad and Tobago for decades, it continues unabated, as shown by recent headlines.

“These women – daughters, sisters, mothers, friends, beloved relatives and most significantly, human beings – had their lives cruelly snuffed out at the hands of people who, according to one grieving family member, could not walk away. There are also those who fall victim to strangers or casual acquaintances.

“When will enough prove to be enough? How many more families must be deprived of their loved ones? How many more women must lose their lives, health, happiness and dignity to insecure, dysfunctional and predatory individuals before we, at all levels of society, adopt a zero-tolerance policy where we acknowledge that it’s not ‘cute’ when boys harass girls at school, and there are mechanisms put in place to report and deal with the offenders; where neighbours take their suspicions to the police; where workplaces take sexual harassment seriously and co-workers rally around their colleagues who may exhibit signs of abuse; where prompt and empathetic police investigation is the norm and the Courts provide justice for victims?”

She said TT witnessed an inspiring wave of activism and advocacy against violence against women in the wake of two particularly chilling femicides, with all quarters of society joining hands to demand better for women and the country.

“That tide should not ebb now, especially given the uptick of domestic violence cases which, according to international and local reports, has been driven by the stresses and strains brought on by the covid19 pandemic.

“Many experts, clerics, politicians and social media commentators have put forward their views and suggestions. Conferences have convened and marches and rallies have been held. Yet one in three women continues to experience intimate partner violence in TT, a statistic that is also reflected at the global level.”

Weekes said ending violence against women requires a multi-pronged approach and depends upon the cooperation of every sector of society. She said this violence is not an inevitable or incontrovertible part of life.

“Support groups for victims should be well-resourced and funded and the police, who have made laudable strides in their approaches to dealing with GBV must continue to be trained and evaluated. Survivors have to be supported and protected, the eyes and ears of the public alert, and citizens unafraid to report suspected cases of abuse. No longer can we hide behind the old colloquial saying “stay out of man and woman business”.

She said GBV has affected and traumatised more than enough women, families and communities in TT and worldwide.

“As the global community today observes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I encourage all citizens to do their part in ending all forms of violence against women once and for all.”

Perpetrators and victims of GBV can seek and receive counselling from the National Family Services Division of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, accessible at 623-2608 Ext 6701-7.