On the heels of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), which ran from November 25 through December 10, the United States engaged with regional partners to spur action against GBV within our own hemisphere. Gender-based violence is a global epidemic that has no boundaries. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, every one of the Caribbean islands has a sexual violence rate that is higher than the world average.
From December 11 to 13, I had the privilege of being part of the first Caribbean Dialogue on Rule of Law and Gender-Based Violence, co-hosted by the Department of State and Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. Approximately 80 representatives from 12 countries of the English-speaking Caribbean joined forces at FIU to exchange ideas, best practices, and strategies for strengthening the rule of law and improving the response to gender-based violence. The robust turnout included representation from a spectrum of leaders and professionals -- government officials, attorneys general, judges and magistrates, prosecutors and defense lawyers, police officers, and civil society actors -- all of whom play an essential role in addressing this complex issue.
Held at FIU's College of Law, with the support of FIU's Latin American and Caribbean Center, School of International and Public Affairs, the Dialogue proved to be productive, energizing, and a catalyst for positive change. I was pleased to be a part of the U.S. delegation that included Brian Nichols, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; Liliana Ayalde, Deputy Assistant Secretary Western Hemisphere Affairs; Larry Palmer, Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean; and Pamela E. Bridgewater, Ambassador to Jamaica. We also had the chance to share the first U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, released last August along with a Presidential Executive Order directing its implementation.
The Dialogue gave participants an opportunity to deepen their understanding of how violence against women and girls affects all sectors of society, the cost of GBV in the work place, its linkage to HIV-AIDS, and the importance of the role of men and boys in preventing this type of violence. In addition to the FIU leadership, who made the Dialogue a success, experts -- including keynote speaker Rosina Wiltshire, First Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Advocate for Gender Justice; Tracy Robinson, Senior Lecturer at the University of West Indies and Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Joan French, Acting Director of UN Women Caribbean Office, Barbados; and others at the forefront of this issue in the region -- shared their perspectives and proposals for action.
During the breakout sessions, participants had intensive peer-to-peer discussions: prosecutor to prosecutor, police officer to police officer, enabling them to learn directly from each other. The Dialogue also allowed our Caribbean partners the chance to observe the U.S. court system in action. Participants visited the Miami-Dade County Domestic Violence Courts for a firsthand glimpse of the U.S. judicial and legal process for prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence and gender-based crime, and gained insight into the social sector response.
The Caribbean Dialogue is already bearing its first fruits. The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will include gender-based violence in its upcoming budget speech and is working on charters addressing the rights of victims and witnesses of gender-based violence. Antigua and Barbuda are developing a charter to strengthen the rights of victims of gender-based violence. We look forward to continuing the momentum.
Violence against women affects all of society, and only by working together can we ever hope to put an end to this scourge.
Related Content: View a slideshow from the Caribbean Dialogue on Rule of Law and Gender-Based Violence.