In an interview with Newsday, Christine Arab — Head of UN Women’s Multi-Country Office, Caribbean — said trends have shown an increase in instances of sexual violence. She said statements — like those recently made by Port-of-Spain Mayor Raymond Tim Kee — are dangerous, and that the case of Japanese national Asami Nagakiya was heartbreaking.
Arab, who was officer- in-charge of the UN agency’s Afghanistan’s office in 2003, and was first posted as its sub-regional office for Arab States in 1998, said while the contexts differed, the root cause of victim shaming in Caribbean and Arab states was the same belief that a woman’s life was less valuable than a man’s.
“It is essential that the response of State parties and also cultural icons, elected officials, and religious leaders in no way convenes the idea of impunity for any acts of violence,” Arab said, speaking from her office at Barbados.
“This is how moral compasses are shaped.” Arab continued, “Every time a person of influence makes statements that diminishes accountability that, de facto, can be read as impunity....That is a dangerous thing.” The UN official said a survey done five years ago by Caricom’s advocate for gender justice Dr Rosina Wiltshire showed a large proportion of teenagers now believe violence against woman is tolerable.
“Teenaged girls and boys have the same perception of when it is acceptable for him to hurt her,” Arab said. “Youth have been taught there is a degree of tolerance to violence. There is the romanticisation of violence. That is deeply concerning.” Arab — whose office has jurisdiction for matters in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean — said whenever there is discussion of violence against women, the discourse differs radically from discussion of violence in relation to men, such as gang violence.
“The regional trend is when there are acts against women the dialogue very quickly shifts to victim-blaming, and not on bringing the perpetrator to account,” she said. “Violence against women is less concerning at a social level than street violence and gang violence against men, and it is very striking and it happens time and again. It is very striking that when actions of violence — rape, intimate violence, homicides — against women occur the dialogue so quickly goes to the idea that there must be a justifiable reason for it.” She continued, “The law says the person who commits the crime is wholly accountable. Are lives valued differently? Are different acts acceptable as opposed to other acts? All persons have equal rights. A person’s back story has zero to do with what violence they face.” She said the problem of victim-shaming is also prevalent in regional neighbours like Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. She also noted similar problems exist in North America, where rapes in American universities have attracted scorn for the victims.