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Who are these killers of our women?

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Last week, an act of extraordinary evil occurred in St Vincent and the Grenadines. A young woman, bathed in the innocence of the peacemakers, accepted the invitation of her former lover to remove her belongings from his house. She went to the house. And he murdered her.

Unsurprisingly, this despicable act has generated public condemnation in many forums, including this newspaper. However, as worthy as these condemnations are, they evade an essential truth: that the Vincentian society has completely failed in its most fundamental obligation to its women, protecting the sanctity of their persons.{{more}}

This staggering failure did not begin yesterday, or last year, or even 10 years ago. Rather, it emerged out of the destructive colonial legacy, which, firstly, denied Black women their humanity by making them prey to white men, who could attack Black women with impunity; and secondly, it articulated a philosophy of women’s inferiority to men, which allowed too many Black men to resort to violence to impose their will on their women. Black women found themselves being uniquely burdened: attacked by both white men and black men.

For Vincentian women, the consequences have been devastating. For even as the murder of the young woman last week is an act of extraordinary evil, violence against women is a normal part of how we live our lives in St Vincent and the Grenadines. What this means is that Vincentians either tolerate violence against women, or turn a blind eye to violence against women, or indeed actually commit violence against women. And the logic here is quite unforgiving: in an environment that permits violence against women, some of these women will be killed.

Our natural instinct then to blame the killers for the killings needs some adjustment. Obviously, in a world where each person assumes moral responsibility for his actions, the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes against women are damned and their place in hell is assured. But for those of us who are the fathers, the brothers, the grandfathers, the uncles, the best men, indeed the friends of these killers, we are not entirely innocent of these crimes. For when we have kept our mouths shut to every act of violence against women, we are complicit in the creation of a culture of gender-based violence, which inexorably leads to the murder of some women.

And nowhere is this culture of violence more evident than in the epidemic of sexual violence that plagues St Vincent and the Grenadines. Sexual violence is the instrument through which too many men have sought to exercise power and control over too many women in SVG. And these offenders are known to all of us. They are our husbands, our lovers, our fathers, our brothers, our uncles, our friends. They are our neighbours. And their victims are our mothers and grandmothers, our sisters and our aunts, their wives and their girlfriends. And sometimes, they are strangers. But as the brutal murder of the young woman so reminds us, Vincentian lovers have more to fear from their lovers and ex-lovers than the dreaded stranger.

All Vincentians must therefore face up to a cold reality: gender-based violence is systemic and widespread across Vincentian society. The murder of the young woman is not an aberration in an otherwise good and wholesome society. Instead, it is a symptom of a social disease that afflicts our body politic. And if we are to root this out from our society, we have to first accept our collective responsibility for these crimes against our women. Until then, violence against women in St Vincent and the Grenadines would remain a neighbourly thing.

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