In the face of serious gender-based violence issues in the country, experts in their various professions addressed hundreds of people at a special event designed to put these troubling issues into perspective for The Bahamas, and to provide insight on viable solutions. They were invited by Mrs Ann Marie Davis, Office of the Spouse, who chaired a powerful High-Level Side Event Monday at the 13th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (13WAMM).
Under the theme: Transformative Leadership for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, the High-Level Side Event was held in the Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis Resorts, while world leaders on women’s affairs gathered to discuss the way forward for the Commonwealth. The event was co-chair by Marisa Mason-Smith and Cherise Cox-Nottage, and was hosted by President of the Senate, Lashell Adderley and senior broadcast journalist Jerome Sawyer.
“During this meeting, we are proud to bring together some of the greatest minds of our technical experts within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” said Mrs. Davis.
“Gender equality and the empowerment of women are vital causes we ought to champion, recognizing them as fundamental human rights that remain to be fully realized. Despite substantial advances, gender gaps still exist in many areas of society. This disparity significantly plays a part in holding back the potential of countless individuals. Together, we should aim to harness the power of transformative leadership to propel the pursuit of gender equality in our country.”
Loretta Butler-Turner, first female leader of the Opposition and former Minister responsible for Social Services gave a “Reality Check” to the attendees, pointing out glaring incidents such as the death of four-year old Bella at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend – a perpetrator who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime. She spoke about a mother, arrested for holding a knife to her baby’s neck, and the recent case of the 11 year-old girl, whose parents were charged this week after she underwent an abortion.
“Gender-based violence remains a significant issue in The Bahamas, affecting individuals across all socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said.
“The reality of gender-based violence encompasses various forms, including domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment, and human trafficking. Reports indicate that women and girls are disproportionately affected by these forms of violence, although men and boys can be victims. In The Bahamas, domestic violence often goes unreported due to factors such as fear, cultural norms, and societal pressure. The country has recognized the severity of the problem and has made efforts to address it, including implementing legislation and establishing support services. However, challenges persist, including limited resources for survivors, gaps in legal protection, and the need for increased awareness and education regarding gender-based violence.”
Human rights attorney sitting on the CEDAW Committee (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) Marion Bethel Sears said that gender-based violence against women and girls is the most widespread, persistent, and devastating human rights violation in The Bahamas today.
“Gender-based violence against women and girls is rooted in historical and structural inequality of power relations between men and women,” said Bethel-Sears.
“It is intrinsically linked to gender stereotypes that underlie and perpetuate such gender-based violence, as well as other factors such as lack of access to justice, effective legal remedies and services, and healthcare services, especially sexual and reproductive health services that can increase a woman’s vulnerability to such violence.”
Independent Expert Member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, and Former Director of Gender and Family Affairs Gaynel Curry said that in order to frame gender-based violence as a human rights violation, a conceptual shift must be made in “how we perceive men and women in our society and their stereotypical roles in the family and public life”.
“A human rights focus requires an honest examination of structural, deep-rooted discrimination against women, as well as patriarchy, and how that creates and silently perpetuates environments in which violence thrives and is normalized,” she said.
Marriage and family therapist and counseling psychologist Dr Barrington Brennen called on society to bring an end to patriarchy to create a major shift for the protection and empowerment of women.
“One of the avenues or agencies that is at the heart of why too many of our women are still being wounded both emotionally and physically, is the patriarchal ideology being taught by far too many spiritual leaders,” he said.
“Is it then fair to say that the church is standing in the doorway to freedom and emotional and physical safety of many women and girls?” President of Academic Affairs at the University of The Bahamas Dr. Maria Woodside-Oriakhi told attendees that obtaining a university education or vocational training has a transformative impact on breaking the cycle of poverty, fostering economic empowerment, and addressing gender-based violence.
“Through education, individuals gain awareness of their rights, challenge societal norms, and develop confidence to participate actively in the decision-making process,” she said. Magistrate Cleopatra Christie said the perception that domestic violence is a battle fought by women only must be eradicated. Victims, she added, mist have access to swift justice and consistent and equal treatment by the system.
“Training should be mandated for persons involved in the administration of justice, healthcare professionals, legal professionals, the police, and the church,” she advised. Dr Sean L Knowles spoke on mental health, and suicide, nothing that issues like depression and substance abuse, if untreated, could lead to suicide, which he referred to as “self murder”. “The ability to recognize and effectively intervene with suicidal individuals is one of the most challenging aspects of public health intervention,” he said.
“Because of misconceptions about mental health, people often suffer in silence and their conditions go untreated.”
Dr. Theresa Moxey-Adderley, professor of nursing, University of The Bahamas spoke on Gender- based violence and it’s implications on reproductive health. Dr. Adderley drove home the message after recanting a real-story of a woman – “Elizabeth” who eventually contracted HIV from her abusive boyfriend. She ended her discussion by asking the audience to stand and appealed to the Elizabeths of the world to not feel alone, but to know that advocates are united in the resolve to break the silence and will assist each woman and girl to find the support they need to reclaim their life.
The session was well received by attendees. Minister of State for Social Services and Urban Development Lisa Rahming also attended, as well as Permanent Secretary Joel Lewis. Performances were rendered by Allison Rolle and the Creative Folklore Arts Company. Minister Cleopatra Williams gave the charge. Mrs. Davis made presentations to Baroness Patricia Scotland, Commonwealth Secretary General, and the first ladies of several countries attending 134WAMM. To watch the entire event, visit www.socialupliftingtv.com or the Social Uplifting Network on Facebook. Also, check out www.13wamm.com.
Source: Felicity Darville