16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence Print E-mail
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Friday, 30 November 2018 00:00

Given the recent tragedy of a murder-suicide, which stemmed from domestic violence, the launch of the annual 16 Days of Activism could not have come at a more opportune time. This year’s 16 days was launched under the theme “#HearMeToo – End Violence against Women and Girls.” Josephine “Petto” Hamilton, a 30-year-old woman, will sadly join the list of battered women, who died at the hands of their abusers. In her case, Hamilton died at the hands, or more accurately the bullet, of her common-law husband, and police constable, Steven Anthony Ferguson. Ferguson fatally shot Hamilton thrice on Wednesday, November 21, 2018 before killing himself. The four bullets sent shockwaves through the normally quiet Punta Gorda town and has resounded through the wider nation.

Belize has felt the pain of the victim and this fresh wound has reminded of all the times before when women, and even men, have died at the hands of domestic abuse. While the 16 Days of Activism cannot do all to eliminate this evil, those at the National Women’s Commission, the Women’s Department and the Special Envoy for Women and Children, quite fittingly, have made a stride in the right direction.

At the launch, several people from different walks of life, including victims, relatives of victims, stakeholders, police officers, ministers, and even Special Envoy Kim Simplis Barrow gave their accounts and testimonials. While the incident involving Hamilton is not the first of its kind, it surely has had its effect. In her remarks, the Special Envoy saw it fit to mention Hamilton and expound that no form of violence is to be accepted. “Thursday, I woke up to the horrific report that a Police officer stationed in Punta Gorda allegedly killed his wife and turned the gun on himself, ending his own life.  Please allow me to take this moment to offer condolences to the families. I also take this moment to offer condolences to all those affected by violence. Is this our reality? While scrolling through the comments on Facebook regarding this incident, I took note of someone, who remarked that “Love will get you killed”. Comments such as this is what signals that we still have a lot of work to do.  Let me be clear ….Women and Men please understand that THIS IS NOT LOVE! This is abuse and it is unacceptable. It is time we take stock of what we have done and consider changing our tactics in trying to achieve a violence free country. We should no longer find reasoning or justifications behind these heinous acts; it starts with cultivating a mentality that no form of violence is to be tolerated,” She stated.

She went on to say that based on recent statistics from the UN Women, approximately 15 million adolescent girls worldwide have experienced forced sexual acts at some point in their life and of these, 9 million adolescent girls were victimized within the past year. “These statistics speak for themselves.” First Lady Simplis Barrow ended by encouraging those in attendance to bring gender-based violence to the forefront of our conversations and to speak out for the women and girls who are being violated.

Two persons offered testimonials: one, a victim, and one the father of a victim who shared the effects of domestic and gender-based violence on the family of a victim. Next, Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour, Local Government and Rural Development, Senator Hon. Dr. Carla Barnett, delivered the keynote address.  “Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfillment the human rights of women and girls.” Senator Barnett gave some shocking statistics of domestic and gender-based violence on the global stage but brought it home by saying “While we in Belize do not systematically collect Gender Based Violence data, one recent study reported that “22% of women had experienced physical abuse and/or sexual abuse by their current partner or a previous partner.”  And in 2017 alone, the Women’s Department responded to 700 new cases of domestic violence.  These are really large numbers for such a small population as we have in Belize.”

Besides Hamilton, Dr. Barnett also mentioned Keidi Ramirez, Ermelinda Pinks Emmanuel, Roxanna Pop, and Mariela Alpuche, women who all lost their lives to a partner and Ramirez who lost her life to her family members after battling alcoholism. Of equal importance, Dr. Barnett highlighted the children, friends, peers, and other persons affected by the loss of these women, and of the psycho-social impact of violence. “Gender based violence affects all of us. A little over a month ago in the Senate, I rose on the adjournment to speak on gender-based violence and its impact on our society. On that occasion, I spoke – and I want to repeat it here today-of the fact that children first learn what is normal and acceptable inside the home.”

She then spoke of the socio-economic effects of gender-based violence. “Studies show that the costs associated with violence against women and girls are really quite high. In 2016, the global cost of violence against women was estimated by the UN to be US$1.5 trillion, equivalent to approximately 2% of the global gross domestic product (GDP).” In countries like the US, Australia, Canada, England, and Wales, Bangladesh, Uganda, Zambia, and Peru, productivity losses and healthcare costs are in the billions. But what can we do? Dr. Barnett says that the best we can do is to work together to eradicate gender-based violence. “Let us, each of us, at a personal level adopt a zero tolerance policy with regard to violence against women.  Let us commit not to remain silent when we see violence being perpetrated against women and girls. Enough is enough.”

The very moving event happened at the ITVET on Freetown Road in Belize City. Following the event, those in attendance marched to the flag monument on the same street. There, they changed the flags to full orange flags, in an act to demonstrate that all forms of gender based violence will no longer be tolerated.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2018 11:01