Women raise their voices for jus­tice!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

IToni Ni­cholas n 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 gen­der­based 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 gen­der­based 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 gen­der­based 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 fiveyears-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!”

Lu­cre­tia Wilkin­son of the group Raise your Voice.

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