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SVG women speaking out against sexual assaults, incest

SVG women speaking out against sexual assaults, incest

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St Vincent and the Grenadines stands out in the Caribbean as a nation where women willingly report sexual assault and incest, a US official told SEARCHLIGHT Wednesday.{{more}}

Vincentian women are willing to report sex offences, even as gender-based violence (GBV) is very often “the worst kept secret” in the hemisphere, said Anita Botti, chief of staff and principal deputy in the Secretary’s Office of Women’s Issues.

Botti is in the region to review firsthand, the best practices on rule of law and GBV issues in the Caribbean region.

This is in preparation for a Caribbean Dialogue on Rule of Law and GBV, December 11-13, sponsored by the US Department of State and Florida International University in Miami.

The dialogue aims to strengthen rule of law in the Caribbean, and strengthen the prevention and response to GBV.

The talks will focus on domestic violence, rape and incest in the Caribbean. There will be a similar focus in Latin America, where there is the additional issue of femicide, Botti said.

The meeting will focus on multi-sectoral approaches, and will bring together experts and stakeholders to effectively identify and share best practices, both from across the Caribbean and from other regional perspectives.

The talks will aim to bring together “some of the best people that can move the agenda along,” Botti said. It targets national, regional, and international players, including the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and UN Women.

The dialogue will build on, rather than replace, what states are doing.

“We are hoping that they will come and we can talk about the action plans. In addition to doing best practices, we will have a day of the disciplines cohorts…”

The discussions will hear about experiences outside the region, including from Brazil and its work on its social services and legal system.

“The civil society piece is going to be critical, because it is how you work collectively, holistically with the judicial system,” Botti told SEARCHLIGHT.

This forum will seek to identify issues critical to civil society and its involvement, and making GBV, rape and incest “a societal issue”.

“Because it cannot be solved unless it is focused this way. This is clearly an issue that has to have everybody at the table, including government.”

Botti said that while some OECS nations have national action plans, the dialogue, through regional and state reviews, would examine ways of improving them.

Caribbean nations are grappling with three areas as regards domestic violence, rape and incest, she said.

They are: whether the existing systems allow them to deal with impunity; whether social services structures are sufficient; and how to involve the rest of civil society.

But while Botti said domestic violence is “the worst kept secret, very often” across the hemisphere, she said that in SVG, over the past 30 years, the issue has either increased substantially, or people are now more willing to deal with it.

“The point being, when I was here almost 45 years ago, I am sure it existed, but there was the rare case, but you did not hear about cases of domestic violence or rape or incest. You did not hear about it,” said Botti who was a Peace Corps volunteer attached to the Mental Health Centre.

“Today, it appears to be more prevalent, the instances seems to be increasing or the knowledge of them increasing,” she said of GBV.

She said “the pieces are here in the Caribbean to deal with this (GBV).

“But it takes everyone working together and not saying it’s not my problem. We went through this in the States,” she further said, adding that the United States took 20 years to pass requisite legislation.

“Political will, has to be there. … If it’s not, then it is for naught,” she said of the things necessary to curb the problem.

“You have the system, the government and all of its structure supporting it…” she further said, adding that there is a role for non-governmental organisations and the private sector.

In SVG, Botti met with representatives of the police, the judiciary, the Government, and civil society. (kentonchance@searchlight.vc)

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