In last weekend’s STAR two articles relating to the death of Yana Auguste referred to “gender-based violence.” The young woman’s lifeless body was discovered in Soufriere on Sunday July 12. A post-mortem revealed the 32-year-old had died as a result of physical trauma and asphyxia.
One of the pieces was by Felicia Brown. The other was by a group of females called Raise Your Voice whose president is Lucretia Wilkinson. Their group’s statement read in part: “Raise Your Voice, as a group of women, declares its absolute abhorrence of all gender-based violence and it is with a deep sense of outrage that we call upon the general public and the authorities to enter into a new phase of cooperation and mobilization of resources, in a sustainable manner, to eliminate the scourge of gender-based violence and bring to justice those responsible for perpetuating crimes against women and girls.”Over the weekend, I pondered on the two pieces, both emotionally charged, both expressing abhorrence at the murder of yet another female. And rightly so. What grabbed my attention, however, was the assumption that Ms Auguste’s killer was a man. That was the message I received from the references to “gender-based violence.”
I wondered whether I was alone with my thinking. I checked with some office colleagues, as well as on Dr. Stephen King and Rick Wayne. I suggested the police might be looking for a male suspect when the perpetrator could well be another woman. Our thinking proved in harmony. I then went on to so some fact checking. “Gender-based violence (GBV) is the general term used to capture violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society.” (Bloom 2008, p14)
This is not to say there is no such thing as gender-based violence against men. There certainly is. Men can become targets of physical or verbal attacks for transgressing predominant concepts of masculinity; put more bluntly, because they have sex with other men. “Men can also become victims of violence in the family – by partners or children.” (Bloom 2008, p14)
Speaking to Lucretia Wilkinson this week, I suggested her press release at the weekend amounted to a rush to judgment. She paused, then offered this: “It is widely known that the majority of people affected by gender-based violence are women and girls, in our society especially. We see it every day. But I can understand where you are going with this.”
“Besides,” she went on, “when it comes to violence we know women are in the majority as victims and they are also in the minority when it comes to society focusing on issues that affect them.”
As for the automatic perception that the perpetrators are always male, she said: “The thing is, ours is an organization seeking justice for women and pushing for the enacting of many of the international conventions that our governments have signed on to but that are still not being enacted.”
I responded: “Well, then, maybe your statement should have been more general. Perhaps you should’ve targeted the authorities who do little for women while they are still breathing.”
“Well,” said Wilkinson, “while you may have a point, the truth is we wanted to express our concern over the Soufriere incident. But yes, there is the bigger picture which includes our inoperative forensic lab. Even when women have been violated we have no way of testing DNA samples and bringing the perpetrator to justice as swiftly as possible.”
Formed just over a year ago, Raise Your Voice has been relatively low key “because,” said the group’s director, “we want to say the right things at the right time and to be able to back up what we say.” She also stressed that the organization is not affiliated to any political party and that its mandate is to address issues affecting women and girls.
“Ours is a single parent society,” she went on, “and so many of the women have to carry the burden of ‘my daughter just got raped’ or ‘my daughter was raped by my boyfriend’ or someone else. And at the end of the day there is usually no justice because some lawyer will use some technicality and permit the perpetrator to go free. Our government is not equipping the justice department to do what it is supposed to do to protect our women and girls.”
She went on to note that for the women who were murdered, the impact on their families was emotional, psychological and perhaps economical. “But it is not just their families who are impacted,” she added. “Women in our society will be affected psychologically. With things as they are, women are running scared, worried about their safety, especially when the perpetrators are almost never brought to justice.
“Now it also affects our health system, because if you have people that are running scared, that become paranoid, all of a sudden you have mental health issues that affect work, the institutions and so on. We concentrate on tourism but if we have a whole lot of people who are not mentally sound because when they were five-years-old they were raped and at fifteen they were still being violated, now that they are twenty-one with their own children to worry about while at work, what will they have to smile about? It is hard and it affects the whole delivery of service in the tourism industry. We have not been looking at treating the problems and enabling a better society.”
Raise Your Voice is also calling on the Justice Minister to update the nation on the status of the crime laboratory. “We encourage the minister and the minister of finance to do everything in their power to ensure the justice system is funded, functional and adequate to serve our people, both victim and the perpetrator!”