United we stand, divided we fall is an all too common saying which became even more true on Wednesday November 25th, 2015 when Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia organised a march to mark ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’. The theme for this year’s campaign was ‘Prevention’.
According to statistics, one in three women have experienced some form of violence throughout their lifetime. Bearing this in mind, government officials, teachers, activists, students and the general public, though small in number, assembled at Serenity Park in Sans Souci, Castries to protest and march against violence toward women. The ‘marchers’, some bearing placards and T-shirts with messages of solidarity, moved to the Derek Walcott Square where a vigil was held.
Standing firmly in solidarity, scores of eager participants demonstrated their support for the activity and to solicit societal change in attitudes towards women. The need for change within the country’s justice framework, laws and policies was also underscored. The overriding aim was to incite change and to increase awareness of women’s rights, while jolting the current administration into action through the raising of collective voices and declaring zero tolerance for acts of violence against women.
Danielle Dubois, a teacher at the St. Joseph’s Convent sat with The STAR on Wednesday after the march. She said, “I’ve come out today to support the movement and I think it’s important that young people get involved in activities like these and to try to encourage people like myself and younger persons to get involved.”
When asked about the response from teachers and students at her school, she replied, “I find the response towards marches has been very negative; I don’t know why. In Saint Lucia everyone is afraid to have an opinion openly about something. For instance, people say, ‘Why you changing your profile pic for France, or why this or why that’, but why not? It’s as if we are afraid to feel. We’re afraid to stand up for anything. I think that the response should have been a lot better and people should be more excited about this cause.”
She continued: “Also, if we look back into our history a lot of what we were able to overcome and achieve today was because of marches, people coming together to represent for issues affecting everybody. Saint Lucia has had a history of marches, protests and what not. It’s just not here anymore!” She pondered on the lack of participation by schools and youth groups. “I think we should have had a half day today . . . get the younger people involved to show the importance. I think we don’t do that enough, expose our kids to things like this. The younger ones should be allowed to express themselves!”
From a student’s perspective, Ranlaigh Florence from C.A.R.E. Centre in Anse La Raye told The STAR, “I am here to represent and stand for abuse against women and to show that abuse against women is wrong. I am saying that it may not necessarily make a change in everyone, but to those who get it, it will make a positive change in them.” When asked about his personal contribution toward initiating change in regard to combating this plight affecting women he expressed, “Well what I would do is speak to those who did not get the message and convince them that violence against women is wrong.”
UWP leader Allen Chastanet who participated in the march also spoke to The STAR. “I think the justice system is failing all of us and, as a consequence, it’s also failing women. I think one of the saddest things, and I keep articulating this, is the number of young, teenage pregnancies and the number of kids who have grown up where there has been one parent who can’t even support themselves, far less three, four kids. It must take a lot from women’s self-esteem to find themselves in that position,” he said.
Also commenting was opposition leader Gale Rigobert. “There is no denying that in the past, several strides have been made since the various conferences to raise awareness about the abuses that women suffer but, as you can tell, given the news items of late, we have some distance to go still. Whereas the sensationalism surrounding the news reporting heinous crimes such as sexual assault, domestic violence and rape always catch our attention and jolt us to our core, there are many other forms of discrimination that women still suffer. These are to be brought to the attention of the powers that be, to make the adjustments to ensure that whether it be psychological, physical, domestic, emotional, that we can eliminate the impact of violence against women and uphold the rights of women,” she told The STAR.
When asked about his expectations from the march, Senator Dr. Stephen King told The STAR, “Well there are a number of things, because we have some very clear objectives with the march . . . we need to get our legislature in place, especially the family law bills. We also need to get the forensic lab opened and get good management and thirdly, we need investment in our judicial system. We need efficient courts and personnel, we need to raise awareness that our women and children should be respected, protected and loved. There are many ways we degrade our women; in our music, in our media. Our musicians should promote the dignity of our women; like they say, ‘She’s Royal!’”
Musician Ronald “Boo” Hinkson concurred with King adding, “A message needs to be sent to perpetrators that it is unacceptable to abuse women. From everything I have read – I am not an expert – rape is not about sex, it’s about power. When we create an environment in which our women are made into objects of sex, particularly in music that we bombard our young people with, we will end up with a lot of these problems. I am not suggesting that music is the only thing. We have just bombarded our children with this and there is nothing in place to tell them, ‘Hey this is not our right!’ They hear it on the radio, they hear it everyday and this has to be addressed at a national level.”
Following the march She Caribbean publisher Mae Wayne posted this comment to her Facebook page: “Yesterday we marched against rape and violence against women. I was a bit disappointed in the turnout considering how outraged we have been in light of world events. Compassion needs to start at home. Violence is violence.”
According to a statement from Raise Your Voice this is the group’s first major activity. “Our work does not stop with the march. In fact, the march will be used to create public awareness for the work ahead”, the group says.