International Women's Day (IWD), celebrated annually on this date, is an occasion to reflect on the status of women, celebrate achievements and gauge progress toward gender parity in the full knowledge that an equal world is an enabled world.
For T&T, today's commemorations are overshadowed, unfortunately, by the worsening problem of gender-based violence. Local groups that have been hosting IWD activities since Friday have been using the occasion to draw national attention to the fact that already for this year 11 women have been murdered, nine of them as a result of domestic violence.
The issue has been, of necessity, very much on the front burner since the commemoration of International Day For the Elimination of Violence Against Woman last November 25 and there have been some developments since then.
The Government will shortly table amendments to the Domestic Violence Act and has already given an undertaking to establish systems for monitoring bracelets to be placed on individuals against whom protection orders have been issued. The T&T Police Unit now has a Gender-Based Violence Unit, significantly ramping up their capacity to respond to incidents of abuse.
But there is still a very long road ahead. The truth is that this country is not safe for women and girls. The recent heart-rending case of little Mukeisha, who was killed in the one place she should have been safe, her home, highlights that reality, as well as the recent cases of women killed by abusive partners who breached protection orders.
This is the grim state of affairs that recently prompted some NGOs, led by the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to deliver a petition to the Office of the Prime Minister calling for action.
Their very valid concerns about the inadequacy of systems and infrastructure to fight gender-based violence demand immediate action. In addition to strengthening and updating legislation, there is an urgent matter of insufficient shelters to house women and children attempting to escape from abusive situations.
There should be at least one family space provided for every 10,000 population which in T&T means 130 such spaces in shelters around the country. This country is nowhere close to that standard. Of the few shelters in operation, three have shut down—one for repairs and the others indefinitely.
These and the other gaps in the system are being exploited by perpetrators who can easily stalk and slaughter their victims, often in broad daylight.
Guardian Media, standing in solidarity with all the groups and courageous individuals on the front lines of this battle, today appeals for IWD 2020 to be the starting point for renewed efforts against gender-based abuse in all its forms. This is a battle that requires the involvement of all law-abiding, right-thinking citizens.
Making this country a safe place where women and girls can thrive will be a major step toward gender parity.