by Stan Bishop
Around the world, at least one in every three women has been physically, sexually or emotionally abused in her lifetime. Their abusers are, more often than not, individuals known to them. Those crucial statistics formed part of the opening remarks from Minister of Health, Wellness, Human Services, and Gender Relations, Hon. Alvina Reynolds, as she addressed last Tuesday afternoon’s audience at The Clothesline Project.
The event, held on the Derek Walcott Square, was hosted by the Division of Gender Relations, in collaboration with They Often Cry Outreach (TOCO), the Saint Lucia Crisis Centre, Options Designs and media partners HTS/Radio 100 Helen FM.
“Violence against women and girls is a universal problem of epidemic proportions,” Hon. Reynolds told the modest gathering that turned up for the opening of the four-day anti-violence exhibition now on at Derek Walcott Square. “It has been described as the most pervasive violation of human rights, occurring every day, in every country, regardless of income or level of development. Women of all nations, cultures, religious backgrounds and economic status are subjected to physical harm, mental anguish and crippled self-esteem, sometimes with fatal consequences.”
Rape and other sexual offences committed on women and wife battering, the minister added, often redound to depriving women and girls of their basic needs and human rights. According to Hon. Reynolds, statistics reveal that domestic violence is one of the main forms of gender-based violence in Saint Lucia. The home setting, from which many women seek love, comfort and protection, often turns out to be the source where many women experience unspeakable acts of terror.
Physical injuries, mental illness, the erosion of the family structure, a loss of confidence that limits the full potential of the victims, as well as the inherent economic costs associated with such an equation, are just some of the negative spin-offs of domestic and other violent abuses, the minister explained.
“Research indicates that children who grow up in homes where they witness abuse may have the tendency to perpetuate or experience domestic violence as adults, thereby transferring the cycle of abuse from one generation to the next,” the Human Services and Gender Relations minister said on Tuesday.
Violence against women, Hon. Reynolds acknowledged, has been known to be “an issue requiring priority action in Saint Lucia for several years now and huge amounts of money have been invested in attempts to address the problem.” She identified agencies such as the Crisis Centre, Family Court, Women’s Support Centre, and the Department of Human Services as agencies that have been established to provide support for victims of abuse. Nevertheless, the minister lamented the fact that despite the best efforts of those agencies, “the problem appears to continue unabatedly, with at least one brutal attack resulting in the death or permanent disability of a victim occurring each year.”
She also referenced the incident at Bois Patat, Castries, in which a pregnant teenage mother and her one-year-old daughter were reportedly stabbed to death earlier this week. While police officials are still investigating the matter, there are reports that the now-deceased mother and her twenty-four-year-old live-in boyfriend were having domestic problems that often involved bouts of verbal abuse. The minister also expressed her sympathies to the relatives and residents of Bois Patat who, she said, would have been deeply impacted by this week’s unfortunate tragedy. She also stressed the need for more concerted efforts to be made to prevent the occurrences of such heinous incidents.
“It is clear that we must continue to work together to develop innovative strategies that will enable us to provide improved prevention and intervention services and we must continue to reach out in all communities, challenging attitudes, beliefs and behaviours in order to realize a lasting, positive social change. We must continue to engage men and boys in campaigns to end violence against women and children, so that they can be part of the solution and not regarded as part of the problem,” Hon. Reynolds said.
Her ministry, she assured, will work in closer partnership with national, regional and international institutions with a thrust towards the effective delivery of programmes, such as the Life Skills Health and Family Programmes, targeting out-of-school youths in order to empower them to appreciate themselves and respect others. Proper parenting programmes to teach good values and attitudes are also endeavours worth encouraging, she said.
The Clothesline Project originated in Hyannis, Massachusetts from as early as 1990, through the Cape Cod Women’s Agenda. A group of women – many of whom had been subjected to acts of violence – designed the visual monument to help transform staggering statistics about violence against women and children into a powerful educational and healing tool. Recognizing that many women in close-knit neighborhoods have traditionally exchanged information over backyard fences while hanging their laundry out to dry, they decided to use the clothesline as an extension, as well as a symbol, of their stance against violence. Its purpose also serves to give a voice to survivors and victims of violence by breaking the silence about violence against women and children.
There are many Clothesline Projects worldwide, resulting in tens of thousands of shirt designs. Taj Weekes, a Saint Lucian reggae artiste based in the United States of America, has been instrumental in bringing the initiative to the fore, especially in Saint Lucia, over the past few years.
Other speakers at last Tuesday’s opening included Charms Gaspard, Director of Gender Relations; Taj Weekes; Alisha Ally, Public Relations Officer of the Saint Lucia Crisis Centre; Elizabeth Lewis, Director of Human Services; Mathilda Noel of Helpage Saint Lucia; and Prisca St. Paul, Director of the Upton Gardens Girls Centre.
The exhibition, which forms part of activities to observe International Women’s Day, is open to the public at no charge and ends tomorrow, Friday, March 16.