Made fearful by reports of others being abducted and dragged into bushes, walking the streets as a woman in Saint Lucia feels like being trapped in a dark room knowing there are creatures lurking in the shadows, ready to snatch and violate you at their own will. Even in broad daylight it is nightmarish, triple times so when there are other women in your life subjected to Saint Lucia’s gross reality.
In an interview with the STAR last week, Canada’s High Commissioner to Barbados and the Caribbean, Her Excellency Marie Legault, highlighted a statistic brought forward during her discussion with a Saint Lucian activist: in Saint Lucia alone, “incidents of rape are four times higher than incidents of rape on a global scale”. For a country that has ranked third in the world as a nation “where your boss is more likely to be a woman”, violence against these very women is disturbingly high, even without taking into account issues of domestic violence. Every new case brought forward prompts us to ask, ‘Will there ever be real solutions?’
Canada, which prides itself on its strides in feminism and feministic movements, has offered to provide financial aid to projects aimed at bringing gender-based violence to the forefront.
On October 25, the High Commissioner was on-island for the launch of Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia’s 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in Saint Lucia – a programme intended to tackle gender-related issues from all angles and to ignite dialogue on the subject between both women and men.
Starting on November 25, activities will commence with International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Wear Orange Day and the launch of a lights project for which buildings in Castries, Vieux Fort, Soufriere and Gros Islet will light up in orange and purple to bring awareness to domestic violence. From then till December 10 a series of community meetings addressing gender-based violence, child support, common law relationships, social services, welfare and human rights will be held in Vieux Fort, Canaries, Castries and Dennery. Panel discussions with local men and women are also scheduled to take place along with a public march against violence, an LGBTQI focus group and workshops. It is hoped that this project, which has received a grant of EC $75,000 from the Canada fund for local Initiatives, will result in a domino effect, extending beyond its 16 day span, subsequently leading to lasting change.
On the question of why Canada has set itself on such an impassioned charge to curb worldwide gender inequality, High Commissioner Legault said, “We‘ve all seen the scandals of Harvey Weinstein recently, so it just highlights the fact that women need to talk. There is still a lot of inequality everywhere, in every sector; a lot of women have started talking; it just highlights that there’s still a lot of gender-based violence . . . around the board tables there are very few women and even there they don’t have the same voice as men. So we all have to work on that [because] when women can reach their full potential we all benefit: we as individuals, we as a community and we as a country.”
The High Commission of Canada in the Caribbean also recently launched The Sexual Offences Guidelines in Belize and Barbados, which serves as a guideline for central defences in the court. On this initiative, High Commissioner Legault stated, “Basically the judges, the police, the whole chain in the justice system has a proper way of addressing sexual crimes and especially victims.” The High Commissioner will be enacting the initiative next in Guyana and Trinidad and has intentions of launching it in every country in the Caribbean.
During her interview with the STAR, Legault referred to Canada’s administration as a feminist government. She went on to say, “Gender equality is really important to us. It is very important for the prime minister, for the Cabinet [of Canada] . . . which has as many women as men around the table, something that was unheard of before.”
Canada’s focus on gender equality serves as a primary motivator for the High Commissioner’s interest in addressing gender-based violence in Saint Lucia.
Through initiatives like the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in Saint Lucia, a measure of hope for dialogue and resolution has arisen. At some point we would like to see justice served for the rights of local girls and women, whose names remain concealed for privacy purposes, and foreigners like Margaret Pratt, Georgina Mortimer and Anne Pearson who have publicly come forward as victims. The safety and psyche of women have taken enough of a beating in this country.