ALICIA WALLACE: Ending gender-based violence against women


Alicia Wallace

THE Global 16 Days Campaign, also know as 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, begins on Saturday. This annual campaign runs from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (IDEVAW)) to December 10 (Human Rights Day). This is an important time of year for women’s rights organizations and other non-governmental organizations and movements working to end gender-based violence against women. It is a period filled with events, statements, and calls to action at the national, regional, and international levels.

It is estimated that 736 million women have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Violence against women takes place in both the public and private spheres. It happens on the street, in parking lots, at work, at home, and in the digital environment.Structural violence is pervasive, taking place in institutions including those related to education, religion, health, and social services. There is nowhere that women and girls are safe from violence when it infiltrates every aspect of our lives, various forms of it normalized.

In 1992, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopted General Recommendation 19 to address the issue of gender-based violence against women. In 2017, it adopted General Recommendation 35, providing more comprehensive guidance for ending gender-based violence against women and girls. In its introduction, General Recommendation 35 says:

Gender-based violence against women, whether committed by States, intergovernmental organizations or non-State actors, including private persons and armed groups, remains pervasive in all countries, with high levels of impunity. It manifests itself on a continuum of multiple, interrelated and recurring forms, in a range of settings, from private to public, including technology - mediated settings and in the contemporary globalized world it transcends national boundaries.

It notes that violence against women and girls includes “acts or omissions intended or likely to cause or result in death or physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, threats of such acts, harassment, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”

This is particularly interesting as we consider structural violence. The Government of The Bahamas participates in gender-based violence in its refusal to take action on the issue and insists on maintaining discrimination laws and practices. It has been called upon to make legislative amendments and to pass new laws, and it has shirked its responsibility, only sometimes offering excuses which generally scapegoat the Bahamian public which is portrayed as uneducated and centres religious fundamentalists and their rhetoric of hate and male dominance.

Beyond defining and condemning gender-based violence against women and girls, General Recommendation 35 acknowledges that it is: rooted in gender-related factors, such as the ideology of men’s entitlement and privilege over women, social norms regarding masculinity, and the need to assert male control or power, enforce gender roles or prevent, discourage or punish what is considered to be unacceptable female behaviour.

This acknowledgement is particularly important as we cannot effectively address this issue and end gender-based violence without identifying and addressing the root causes. Gender-based violence is directly related to and result of gender stereotyping and the ideology that masculinity is superior to femininity and that masculinity is inherently and necessarily violent, and that it is to be asserted over and against women, girls, and the feminine.

Part III of General Recommendation 35 notes the responsibility of the State to eliminate gender-based violence against women. Importantly, it makes clear that “delays cannot be justified on any grounds, including economic, cultural or religious grounds.” We have seen, particularly in recent years and especially over the past year, that the Government of The Bahamas has used stall tactics and has used “the church” as an excuse for its inaction, particularly on marital rape. The marital rape has been completely sidelined, and the government created a distraction with the Gender-Based Violence bill that it, perhaps, never intended to pass. The State has ignored General Recommendation 35 which demands effective legal frameworks and services and the prevention of acts of omission which include abandoning the Gender-Based Violence bill and passing the nonsense “Protection Against Violence” bill that completely ignores gender and fails to address gender-based violence.

The legislative measures recommendation in General Recommendation 35 include:

• Criminalization of all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls

• Access to justice for victims and survivors of gender-based violence

• Repeal of laws that discriminate against women and/or encourage or justify gender-based violence (such as Section 3 of the Sexual Offenses Act which defines rape to exclude rape by a spouse).

• Modification of laws that perpetuate inequalities by ignoring gender.

• Ensure that all rape and sexual assault are characterized as crimes.

General Recommendation 35 also speaks to prevention of gender-based violence. The recommended measures include encouraging media to eliminate discrimination against women and reinforcement of stereotypes in the portrayal of women, the training and capacity-building for the judiciary, lawyers, and law enforcement, engagement of the private sector to include mechanisms address gender-based violence in the workplace. It also has sections on protection, prosecution and punishment, reparations, data collection, and international cooperation. General Recommendation 35 provides useful guidance for addressing gender-based violence against women and girls, and it needs to be implemented.


he Bahamas ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in October 1993. It has been 30 years since ratification, yet The Bahamas has done very little to come into compliance with the Convention.

In October 2018, The Bahamas underwent its sixth periodic review before the CEDAW Committee in Geneva. Following the dialogue, the CEDAW Committee made its recommendations in the Concluding Observations. The recommendations, delivered five years ago, include setting a timeframe for constitutional reform to address gender-unequal nationality law and sex- and gender-based discrimination, ensuring that women and girls are aware of their rights through CEDAW, making the Department of Gender and Family Affairs fit for purpose (inclusive of institutional architecture and staff capacity), establishing a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles (a standard the committee formed in 2023 ahead of the Universal Periodic Review does not meet), developing of a draft gender policy development plan, developing an action plan to eliminate gender stereotypes, passing the gender-based violence bill, criminalizing marital rape, adopting measures for gender parity within political parties, and developing a strategy for inclusive education for girls with disabilities.

The Government of The Bahamas has absolutely failed to address gender-based violence against women and girls. There is no excuse for its failure. Clear recommendations have been made on numerous occasions by various international mechanisms. Earlier this year, Member States made recommendations to The Bahamas at the Universal Periodic Review, and the responses by the government are telling. They reveal that it is not interested in protecting or ensuring access to human rights.

The Government of The Bahamas continues to participate in processes that it actively flouts.

It has no commitment to ending gender-based violence against women and girls.

Its statements on the issue are, in most cases, just statements, with the exception of the rare moments of truth when government officials accidentally tell us what they really think about women and violence against women.

We should not need to have 16 days to sound the alarm on gender-based violence against women and girls every year.

We should not have more and more names, more and more stories, more and more deaths to point as examples of what we need to avoid. We should not have to do this year after year, yet the circumstances require that we do it, and that we carry our 16 days of activism for 365 days.

We have to continue to call for the criminalization of marital rape, and make it clear that we have not forgotten that it is to be done.

We have to continue to strongly state that the Protection Against Violence is a ridiculous piece of work that does not even begin to do what the gender-based violence bill was drafted and was being revised to do.

We have to continue to assert that women’s rights are human rights, and that human rights are not optional.

We have to remind the government of its commitments and obligations. We have to use the strong recommendations made by various bodies to support our calls for action. We have to be attentive to the issues. We have to support the organizations and individuals consistently working, with integrity, toward full access to human rights for women and girls and the end of gender-based violence. Sixteen days of activism is not enough, but it will renew our calls for action.

Follow Equality Bahamas on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on the Global 16 Days Campaigns and the events that will be held in the coming days.


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