2020 began and ended with incidents of gender-based and domestic violence which left women and girls dead or seriously injured. Twenty-one of the 47 women killed in 2020 were victims of domestic and/or gender-based violence.
While government and state agencies, including the TTPS, have put some measures in place to deal with the issue, greater change is needed on a societal and individual level to make a real change. Activists say while the issue of gender-based violence is one that takes the spotlight, the issue of violence on the whole needs to be addressed.
Women, peace, and security advocate and interpersonal violence and development specialist Sherna Alexander Benjamin said she hoped that in 2021 “all citizens can live in a country where we can become better to restore human dignity and we all can feel safe enough to walk our streets and just live. I would like us to see interpersonal violence for what it is, a plague that destabilises lives, communities, the economy, and the country, that is taking lives in plain sight.”
Benjamin said she wanted to see development of initiatives to assist with internal and external healing.
“I want to see us develop moral leadership, innovation, and imagination to develop human and solution-centred actions, services, programs, and laws for the enhancement of life so that women and girls can live fulfilled and abundant lives to realise their full potential. That the women, peace, and security agenda can be domesticated in our context, and that we work together to establish “together-Us” solutions. I want to see us develop a culture of healing, peace, and safety and don’t forget the individuals who are living on the margins of the margins in society. Finally I hope we take time to pause, make out choices count, forgive each other, and work towards building a better nation preparing for what is to come.”
Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee of TT (CCoTT) founder Terry Ince said as part of the recently concluded 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the organisation launched a gender-based violence 101 survey to find out what people knew about the measures being taken by the state to mitigate the effect of gender-based violence. She said the results show that people are not aware of the importance of what government has signed on to with regards to the CEDAW convention.
“They don’t see its relevance to our lived experiences and how the policies government put in place affect us. The convention mandates what government should be doing in the fight against gender-based violence, how women should be treated at work, how we should be raising our children. There needs to be a greater awareness about these UN conventions and how they affect our lives. We need to rethink how we engage with people, starting with young ones, as the way we talk to children will dictate how they become young adults navigating world and relationships.”
Ince called for government to be more inclusive of the non-governmental and civil society organisations that are doing work on the ground.
“They should be considering the contributions we’re making before putting policies in place. There are many knowledgeable people in TT but we see the same 25 faces being regurgitated over and over. We want to see better inclusivity and collaboration between the women’s movement and the state. 2020 has been challenging and there has been a shadow pandemic of gender-based violence, so let’s put sustained effort into eradicating it in 2021.”
Women of Islam representative Aliyah Abdul-Wudud said there needed to be more safehouses in place, as many times women are told to leave abusive relationships but have nowhere to go. She said this was especially so for Muslim women as there was only one safehouse which took their specific needs into account, Madinah House.
She said some other measures which were needed were for the police to take reports more seriously, for the issue of a lack of vehicles to be addressed, and for protection orders to be enforced and made easier to access.
“When it comes to prevention, women need to choose better, because we do see the signs and ignore them. Parents need to advise children in the way they should go, prepare them and have open conversations before it’s too late. We need to talk to boys about how they treat girls at a young age. Some of the parents are in horrible relationships as well and while parenting classes may help, they might not go. Imams and pastors need to do more.”
AG Faris Al-Rawi said the government did a massive amount of work in the fight against gender-based violence during 2020, both in terms of legislation and operationalisation. He said some of these measures included amendments to the domestic violence act, the establishment of specialist courts, the implementation of the gender-based violence unit at the police service, further work with the Children’s Authority, among others.
“We’ve made massively broad and powerful amendments. One of the major reforms in the domestic violence act is that you can now get a protection order at midnight at police stations. We have electronic hearings and filings; we’ve introduced case management and revamped the whole system. We’ve laid the electronic monitoring bill, which allows offenders to be tracked.”
Al-Rawi said a key facet in the fight against gender-based violence and violence is early intervention, which is why he supports taking children out of conflict with the law through the Children’s Authority.
“We want to train people to be better people. We don’t want to grow monsters and catch them too late. Education is a critical component in this fight.”
He said while deterrence was one thing, gender-based violence crimes were often crimes of passion and not premeditated. He said people need to check in on their neighbours if they were not sure about what was happening.
He said teachers should be vigilant in seeing and reporting what is going on with their students. The AG commended the police for the initiatives it had put in place to deal with the issue of gender-based violence.
Police Commissioner Gary Griffith noted in April that there had been an increase in the number of domestic violence cases reported as a result of the stay-at-home measures to limit the spread of covid19. He said this was a worldwide phenomenon not peculiar to TT. He said the rise in the number of reports could be because victims had confidence in the police’s new gender-based violence unit, which was established in January 2020. He warned perpetrators they would receive a stay-at-home order, but not at their home, and urged victims to seek help via various police hotlines.
In July, Griffith said he had realised the importance of dealing with domestic and gender-based violence and addressed this by the formation of the unit and the special victims unit.
“We have formed a special unit to deal with domestic violence. We got the best international training through the New York Police Department. We put in a police app for emergency calls. We linked the Gender-based Violence Unit to 999 and the Emergency Response Patrol for immediate response. We changed how restraining orders are dealt with. There is now a better degree of confidentiality by there now being an elite unit. There is a marked increase in reports which shows victims are now coming out as they feel that their concern would be dealt with.”
Griffith called on communities to come forward with information on domestic violence situations, as he said too often after a tragedy occurs, relatives, neighbours and friends come forward to say they knew something was happening. He said when reports are made, members of the public should insist that they receive a receipt and that the matter is reported to the unit.
In November, minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy said, in addition to the two “custom designed” domestic violence shelters operationalised in May 2020, the Government had three more facilities in the works. She said government was escalating the implementation of policy measures in the national policy on gender and development.
“The government of TT is committed to its goal of gender equality by 2030 and the elimination of all forms of family violence and discrimination, particularly those perpetrated against women and children. Government is moving forward to create opportunities for women to participate in the productive sectors through capacity building and financial support. Gender main-streaming continues in the public and private sector and is now being (increased) in selected communities to remove negative stereotypes surrounding women and children and reduce all forms of family violence, which affect women and girls disproportionately.”
Women killed because of DV/GBV in 2020
1. 05/01/20, Polly-Ann Chunisingh, 31, killed at her Arima home along with her brother and uncle by an ex-lover.
2. 06/01/20, Jezelle Phillip was fatally stabbed by a man she knew at the Baby Pre-School on George Street, Port of Spain.
3. 09/01/20 Gabriella Du Barry gunned down by a man she knew at her Avocat Village, Fyzabad home.
4. 27/01/20 Naiee Singh, 31, a loan officer at Venture Credit Union shot to death by a man she knew.
5. 08/02/20 Mukeisha Maynard, eight, beaten to death by her father.
6. 10/02/20 Jenny Granado, 61, raped and strangled at her home in Sangre Grande.
7. 20/02/20 Rachel Logan, chopped to death at her Siparia home by her husband.
8. 23/02/20 Nicole Hackshaw, murdered at her home.
9. 02/03/20 Ann Marie Susan Seepersad, 34, murdered by a deranged neighbour at her Debe home.
10. 16/06/20 Tricia-Ramsaran Ramdass, 37, allegedly strangled by common-law husband in Barrackpore.
11. 16/06/20 Geeta Newman, 53, found strangled in her Couva home, sister charged with murder,
12. 17/06/20 Ellena Dial, 19, from Carnbee Tobago died after she was doused with a flammable liquid on January 28.
13. 29/06/20 Adanna Dick, 36, stabbed to death by a former lover in Claxton Bay.
14. 30/07/20 Vera Gurabie, 29, throat slit and stabbed at her Matura home by her husband, who was a special reserve police officer.
15. 02/09/20 Sherian Huggins, chopped to death by a male relative.
16. 04/09/20 Joanna Diaz Sanchez, 33, found murdered at the home of her boyfriend. Her body was hidden in a cesspit.
17. 29/09/20 Reshma Kanchan, 25, hacked to death by an abusive ex-husband.
18. 14/10/20 Tenil Cupid, 23, murdered by an ex-lover and her body dumped in a field road in Santa Flora.
19. 23/10/20 Johandry Espinosa alleged strangled by her husband at her Flagstaff, St James, home
20. 20/11/20 Camille Hernandez, of Maracas, St Joseph, found dead in a car in Port of Spain.
21. 4/12/20 Ashanti Riley 18, found dead in Santa Cruz after being missing for five days. She was last seen entering a taxi.