The CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) Committee of T&T (CCoTT) held a working session on December 6 to examine the five specific recommendations made to the Government following the 2016 CEDAW review in Geneva.
CcoTT convener Terry Ince said the five recommendations were wide-ranging and comprehensive.
The working session brought together state and non-state representatives, women’s human rights defenders, policymakers and influencers and concerned citizens, including representatives from the Ministry of the Attorney General Office and Legal Affairs (MoAGLA), International Human Rights Unit, Office of the Prime Minister Gender Affairs Division (OPMGAD), Ministry of National Security Anti-Trafficking Unit, T&T Police Service Victim and Witness Support (VWS) Unit, Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) with the keynote delivered by the Chair of the Equal Opportunity Commission. During the session, reports were made as to the progress of State agencies towards implementation of the recommendations since they were made in 2016.
The first recommendation was that the State ensure that all cases of gender-based based violence against women and girls be thoroughly and effectively investigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished and that the Central Registry on Domestic Violence has up-to-date statistical data on cases focusing on all forms of gender-based violence against women. Since 2016, a Central Registry has been established, but statistical data is only collected for cases involving domestic violence. Attempts are being made to change the data collection form to include all cases of gender-based violence against women. Victims rights brochures have been created in multiple languages and made available with the support of the Anti-Trafficking Unit.
The second recommendation was that the State undertake a needs assessment to establish the demand for shelters by women who are victims of violence and ensure that shelters are accessible and sufficiently resourced throughout the State party. Director of the Gender Affairs Division Antoinette Jack-Martin indicated that three shelters, one male and two female, are needed. Discussion took place as to what is the capacity of the three shelters to be established, what security measures will be put in place for victims in shelters and what are the health and safety issues with respect to the operations of the shelters. Over 15 recommendations came out of the discussion and the consensus was that not enough work had been done by the State on the issue since 2016.
The third recommendation was that the State prioritize the adoption of regulations for the Sexual Offences Act to introduce a sex offender registry, with a view to combating gender-based violence against women by tracking repeat offenders. Four recommendations were raised including the establishment of a National Sexual offenders Registry and a Sexual Offenses Unit in each police station.
The fourth recommendation was that the State ensure the effective enforcement of protection orders and promptly investigate and punish breaches. The fifth recommendation was that the State ensure that training for law enforcement officers focuses on gender-sensitive investigation of cases of gender-based violence against women, including domestic violence, and adopt programmes, including mandatory courses, aimed at eliminating traditional attitudes concerning the treatment of domestic violence as a private matter. This would involve the amendment of the Domestic Violence Act to include monitoring of protection orders and accountability mechanisms for police officers to respond to breaches. The current status is that the Attorney General had indicated his commitment to amending the Act. Several steps would then need to be put into place once this happens.
Ince said the session was part of a two-part initiative. The second part will take place in 2019 and will provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to use the information shared during the session as a baseline to identify progress made from 2018 to 2019 and identify gaps that still exist, if any. She said the initiative is directly in line with CCoTT’s mission to ensure that the Convention’s mandates are upheld and implemented in a T&T context. “A citizenry that is sensitized, knowledgeable and educated on the convention and its mandates will hold all stakeholders accountable for its comprehensive implementation.”
Ince said CCoTT was heartened by the willingness of all stakeholders to participate. “They were all clearly concerned about the state of GBV in T&T and demonstrating their willingness to not only talk about it in a vacuum, but to openly discuss actions for a way forward. As a nation we did not arrive at this place overnight, and it will require time and a deliberate, consistent multi-sectoral approach to move the needle, one that not only addresses the violence but asks and answers the question of what makes a person resort to violence in the first place.”
“Having said all of that, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the 500,000+ men are not committing acts of violence against women and /or their intimate partners and its those men that we want to encourage to speak up and out against GB and Intimate partner violence so that we can all be encouraged and hopeful. Our next generation of leaders should know, categorically, that Violence in any form should never be an option. That women and children should not be targets to demonstrate one’s position of power. That as a nation, we can and should do better.”