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Talk but little action to protect women

By Malcolm Strachan

WHEN I was young, there was a simple rule: You don’t raise your hand to a woman.

If a new report is to be believed – and there is no reason to doubt it – too few of our people were raised the same way.

The report comes from the Inter-American Development Bank, and it focuses on gender-based violence.

Now, that phrase seems to have become loaded in recent times. Online, you will find people stirring up dissent against such language, calling it woke in a perjorative way and trying to minimise such violence.

But in its essence, it is very simple. It is women suffering from violence. Physical violence. Sexual violence. Beaten. Raped.

According to the report, about a quarter of women say they have received physical violence or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

For physical violence, around two-thirds who experienced it said it was severe. It includes being slapped, choked, burned, kicked or threatened with a weapon.

For sexual violence, the figure was about 6.6 percent.

The saddest thing is that there is absolutely nothing new about this. Are we even surprised?

Back in 2016, another IDB report said much the same. Researcher Heather Sutton said that police and public health records then “confirm high levels of crime and violence (specifically murder, armed robbery and rape) that have consistently risen during the past decade”.

At the time, no surveys had been done on how common intimate partner violence or sexual violence was, but the average rate of rapes was 27 per 100,000 people, above the regional average, and the number of cases treated at Princess Margaret Hospital was 1.6 times than the figures reported by the police. In the latest figures, only 19 percent of the women who said they were suffering from violence had reported it to police. Remember that today as the Police Commissioner updates the country on crime statistics. Any figures showing violence against women that he quotes you can multiply by about five.

The same researcher in the previous study, Heather Sutton, also noted that according to police figures, “29 percent of rapes in 2013 were committed by acquaintances of the victim, three percent by family members and four percent by current or former intimate partners”.

So we see this is a long-standing problem. And yet, what are we doing about it?

There has been a back and forth recently about when a shelter would be opening for the victims of domestic abuse. This would be progress, of course, but it is long overdue – Obie Wilchcombe was talking about it opening in a few weeks long before his passing, and current Social Services Minister Myles Laroda assures us to “stay tuned”. How many days, weeks, months or years we must stay tuned for, we do not know.

There seemed to be progress for a while towards a bill specifically addressing gender-based violence – yet at the last, that got tossed to the side and a Protection Against Violence Bill passed instead last year. It kicked out any reference to gender. And yes, of course, there is violence against men too - that is equally unacceptable.

We have international commitments in this regard. In 1993, more than 30 years ago, the government agreed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW committee, in 2018, called for the adoption of the gender-based violence bill, and criminalising marital rape. Neither of those calls has been met.

Instead, when it comes to marital rape, we have Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis asking why it is necessary to “describe rape”.

“I don’t like this idea of describing rape,” he said. “Rape is rape, whether you’re married or unmarried and the challenge they are having is describing it.”

The trouble is, the law already describes rape – and the Prime Minister knows it, or should.

The definition of rape in the law says that “rape is the act… [of] having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse… without the consent of that other person”.

The law has been tested too – in 2022, a Supreme Court case held that the 1991 Sexual Offences Act explicitly says that rape cannot occur within a marriage.

The case was a divorce petition on the grounds of cruelty, with Judge Denise Lewis-Johnson saying: “On a strict reading of laws of The Bahamas, there is no rape in marriage. Pursuant to Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act, the law does not allow for one spouse to rape the other. In this place, we interpret existing laws and apply them; we cannot and must not succumb to the temptation to reform laws.”

There seems little impetus from the government to make any move on marital rape laws – the Prime Minister himself had previously said it was not a priority on his agenda, to much uproar.

Should we be surprised, when way back in 2014, there was little effort, if any, to hold then MP Leslie Miller to account when he talked about beating women, comparing the FNM’s relationship with fishermen to a woman being abused. He said: “That’s like beating your wife or your girlfriend every time you go home. You just beat her for looking at you. I love you. Boom, boom, boom. I had a girlfriend like that. When I didn’t beat her she used to tell me I ain’t love her no more cause I don’t hit her.”

At the time in Parliament, he insisted he was not joking and that he didn’t lie, though later, outside of Parliament he said he had spoken in jest.

Where does this leave us in trying to deal with violence against women? Well, as above, so below. If we see at the top tier of government there being little enthusiasm to tackle the issues of domestic violence, marital rape, gender-based violence, jokes about beating people, putting funds in place to pay for shelters at a rate faster than perhaps one in a decade, then who else is going to take it seriously?

I hear women’s groups asking repeatedly for meetings with the social services minister, and those requests seemingly being ignored.

Who is listening? Let alone who is willing to stand up for women and fight for them?

For those of us who find it abominable that a woman would be hit, who were taught when we were kids not to raise our hands, we can teach our own. We can ask our churches to drum home the message that violence is never an answer. We can also write to our MPs, demand that they take it seriously. And if they don’t, we can remember their actions or lack thereof when we vote.

There is much talk about trying to tackle violence in our society. Why is it then there never seems to be action when it comes to protecting women? And what does that tell us?

Comments

birdiestrachan 3 months ago

Mr Strachan the marital law goes back to 1993 the FNM papa in approximately 15 years of power Did not pass this law dr Minnis did not pass this law the Fnm woman senator had no problems with it now it has become so very urgent , is it because they travel too much is not working or No VAT on cooking oil and flour which benefited bakeries or hotels has not worked

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