As part of the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, U.S. Embassy Bridgetown is addressing gender-based violence across a range of diplomatic, policy, and programmatic areas in the Caribbean region. These efforts build upon the priorities outlined last December at the first-ever Caribbean Dialogue on Rule of Law and Gender-based Violence, hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI). Bringing together more than 80 technical experts and stakeholders from 12 countries, the Dialogue facilitated critical conversations to reinforce rule of law in the Caribbean and strengthen the response to gender-based violence.
Now is the time to translate commitments into action. While gender-based violence affects men and boys, and also includes targeted violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, it disproportionately affects women and girls at every point in their lives. One in three women worldwide have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, and 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. Gender-based violence hinders the ability of individuals to contribute to their families and communities economically, politically, and socially. Gender-based violence is also associated with a number of long-lasting and negative consequences, including poor health, limited access to education and income, increased costs related to medical and legal services, and lost productivity.
Confronting these challenges, the U.S. government reaffirms its commitment to preventing and responding to gender-based violence in the Caribbean region, and work is already well underway. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), for instance, invests more than $23 million in the Caribbean region each year to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS and responds to the unique health needs of men, women, boys, and girls, including working with key populations bearing the disproportionate burden of the epidemic. PEPFAR provides a key platform to address gender-based violence as a driver of the HIV epidemic through activities under the S/GWI-PEPFAR Gender-based Violence Small Grants Initiative, which will provide $300,000 to support local grassroots organizations in Barbados, Saint Lucia, and Grenada to address the intersection between gender-based violence and HIV. U.S. Embassy Bridgetown also supports a number of public awareness efforts, such as a national rally in Nevis in April 2013 themed “Break the Silence – End Child Sexual Abuse,” as well as a series of workshops for non-governmental organizations in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados working on gender-based violence related issues. These investments reflect the United States’ priority to protect and advance human rights, and acknowledge that the prevention of violence against women contributes to the achievement of our global health and development goals, as well as the advancement of U.S. foreign policy and assistance priorities.
Recently, the U.S. government participated in discussions across the region to bolster efforts in preventing and responding to gender-based violence. In late July, representatives from Embassy Bridgetown and S/GWI visited Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago to better understand gaps and opportunities in addressing violence against women and girls. The findings were encouraging. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, for example, a multi-sectoral committee of stakeholders is being formally institutionalized to improve and coordinate the country’s response to gender-based violence. The Protection of Witnesses Bill is now awaiting a vote in Parliament, and is expected to come to the floor next month. This bill would allow a survivor or witness to provide evidence via a live link from a secure location, rather than being required to give evidence in court, which is often a traumatic experience, especially in cases involving domestic or sexual violence. Similar legislation has already passed in Dominica. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Family Court has facilitated requests to all relevant Ministries to map current policies and programs related to gender-based violence. The Government of Barbados is currently developing a National Gender Policy.
The United States remains committed to advancing the status of women and girls around the world, recognizing that gender equality and prevention of gender-based violence are key factors in the health, prosperity, and stability of individuals and nations. Going forward, the United States will continue to encourage and facilitate further collaboration across government and non-government partners in the Caribbean region, including civil society and the private sector. Ultimately, this will contribute to an effort to meet the needs of women and girls and ensure that every person can live a life free from violence.