Addressing high rates of Gender-based Violence against women in the OECS
Yasmin Solitahe Odlum, Specialist for the CARICOM sub-region at the Inter-American Commission of Women to the Organization of American States presented on: Gender, Violence and Security in the Anglophone Caribbean at the Regional Colloquium on Women Leaders as Agents of Change held in Trinidad and Tobago on June 28-30, 2011. The situation in the Caribbean and the OECS, in particular, sadly reflects the perspective of Roberta Clarke, Regional Programme Director of UN Women’s Caribbean’s Office: “We know that the Caribbean is an unsafe space for women. Several Caribbean countries have amongst the highest homicide rates and all have higher than global averages of sexual violence, with three countries having amongst the top ten highest rates.”
From 1994-2006, CARICOM member states of the Organization of American States became signatories to and all ratified the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para). This convention recognizes that the elimination of violence against women is essential for their individual and social development and their full and equal participation in all walks of life. It defines violence against women as “any act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women whether in the public or the private sphere” (Article 1, Convention of 1994 Belem do Para). It also itemizes aspects of violence against women as: rape, battery and sexual abuse, torture, trafficking in persons, forced prostitution, kidnapping and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in educational institutions, health facilities or any other place.
Total Murders for OECS
In data from 2010 Inter-American Observatory on Citizen Security in the Americas, for the period 2000-2009, there have been 926 male and female homicides in the OECS with a total population of about 609,000. For 2000-2009, Saint Lucia has been in the lead in the OECS territories for homicides, with Vincent and the Grenadines coming in second, separated by 140 homicides. The figures are as follows: Saint Lucia: 347, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: 207, Saint Kitts and Nevis: 126, Grenada: 110; Antigua and Barbuda: 84 and Dominica: 68.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines however dominates in female homicides as a result of gender-based violence. Based on figures supplied by the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to ECLAC’s database for its 2010 Gender Equality Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean, 43 female homicides have occurred in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines from 2000-2011. These homicides were typified as: ‘total femicides or total women deaths due to gender violence’; and were in response to the indicator: Women’s Deaths at the Hands of their Intimate Partner or Former Partner and the absolute number and rate was per 100,000 inhabitants of 15 years old or older women mortal victims.
The other OECS figures for intimate partner violence/ female domestic homicides are as follows: Antigua and Barbuda–8, Dominica–4 (female minors), Grenada–7, Saint Kitts and Nevis–5 and Saint Lucia–8. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ female homicide figure for intimate partner violence and female domestic homicides is in the lead for the OECS and represent 34 percent of the total of 49 female homicides in this category.
The first edition of the 2011 Report on Citizen Security in the Americas prepared by the Multidimensional Secretariat of the Organization of American States records the intentional homicide female of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (per 100,000 women) from 2004-2009.
Overall, Jamaica clearly is the most murderous country for women—although Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had higher figures than Jamaica in 2004 and 2007. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ female homicide rate (even with variable figures) has consistently outstripped Trinidad and Tobago’s for every year represented. Comparatively, as with the case with Belize, with the exception of 2008 where Belize had a higher rate of female deaths due to homicide, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has higher female mortality for the other years.
Searchlight newspaper of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in an article by Peter Marshall on Friday, July 15, 2011 entitled: SVG Highest female Homicide rate in OECS, based on data provided by the Royal St. Vincent Police Force corrected the official female homicide figure supplied to 2010 ECLAC Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean from 43 to 45.
The article disaggregated the revised figure as follows: “17 stemmed from intimate partner violence; 8 involved rape or some form of female directed aggression; 6 from vehicular accidents, 4 were drug/gang related, 3 were from other family disputes and the remainder from unconfirmed sources.”
Pointedly, it can be argued that the private space of family and partnerships has been a very unsafe space for women in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and has claimed 20 lives. Additionally, gender-based violence against women has claimed an additional 8 lives. So, we can see that there have been at least 25 female fatalities as a result of intimate partner and gender-based violence whether in the home or in public. Fifty-five percent of female deaths in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have been as a result of intimate partner violence in the private sphere or gender-based violence in the public sphere.
The 2010 Inter-American Observatory for the Americas records a total number of 7973 offences of rape for six (6) CARICOM countries for the years 2004-2009 as provided by their respective police forces. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is the only OECS country for which data was provided and it ranks 5th among these countries with 4.42 percent of total rape cases, having 103 rape cases more than Belize. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago make up 78 percent of the total number.
In comparing the statistics, leaving Antigua and Barbuda out for its non-disaggregated figures for 2000-2003, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines consistently ranks first in rape reports from 2000-2005. In 2006, Saint Lucia emerged to dominate the top until 2010, with the exception 2008 when Antigua and Barbuda recorded a mere one more rape than Saint Lucia. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was second for 2007; and then fell to a consistent third position until 2010.
The highest number of rape reports for any year for this period is 87 (2005) by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, with the lowest being 6 by Saint Kitts and Nevis (2004). The total rape reports from 2000-2010 for the 4 OECS countries under study is 1766. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has the greatest number of rape reports: 589, followed very closely by Saint Lucia: 587, then Grenada: 317 and lastly Saint Kitts and Nevis with 122. Interestingly, Antigua and Barbuda, even with its non-disaggregated figures for 2000-2003 has 369 rape reports, which is less than the totals for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia.
When one assesses the respective rape rates for the OECS by looking at the highest number of rape reports against the population, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines still emerges at the top (71: 100K) with a significant gap between it and the other member states. The other figures are as follows: Grenada: 54 per 100K, Antigua and Barbuda (using only the disaggregated figures from 2004-2010): 46 per 100K, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia: 40 per 100K and lastly Dominica: 34 per 100K. Clearly, these numbers are far above the global average of 10 rapes per 100K. For comparison, the US rape rate for 2009 was 28.6 per 100K.
Rape Charges and Convictions
In terms of charges laid for rape for 2000-2010, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the total charges for rape are: 255 of the 589 rape reports to the police, which is 43 percent. In the same time frame, Saint Lucia’s total rape charges are: 563 of its 587 reports, which is 95 percent of charges laid. Dominica has recorded 70 rape offences which is 46 percent of its 151 rape reports. Grenada, in this time frame has detected 234 of its 317 rape reports, which is 73 percent. Saint Kitts and Nevis has solved 82 of its 122 rape reports which is a commendable 67 percent.
Lastly, while Antigua and Barbuda did not provide any data on offences or charges laid, it was one of two OECS countries to inform on convictions. Therefore, from 2008-2010, a total of 19 convictions for rape have been made, while Saint Lucia’s conviction figure for 2000-2010 is 170, which is 30 percent of its cases.
The Inter-American Commission of Women underscores the importance of the Inter-American Follow-Up Mechanism to the Belem do Para Convention (MESECVI – its Spanish acronym) that was developed in 2004. To date, it has completed a first evaluation round of state parties to the Convention in the hemisphere, where it examined and made follow-up recommendations to state parties in the areas of: Legislation, National Plans, Access to Justice and Information and Statistics. The MESECVI is currently in its second round of evaluation. All CARICOM state parties uphold the Convention and actively participate in its follow-up processes as these pertain to the expert recommendations given for strengthening the national response to violence against women.