On November 25, 1960, three political activists, the Mirabal sisters, were brutally killed in the Dominican Republic. To mark this day, raise awareness, and encourage action, the world now observes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women every year in their honor.

For years, a lack of data for the Caribbean cast a shadow over a pandemic that we knew existed. Globally, 1 in 3 women have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. This year, newly released data for the Caribbean have confirmed our fears: nearly half of Caribbean women surveyed in 5 Caribbean countries face at least one form of violence: physical, sexual, economic, or emotional. This is unacceptable and should motivate all of us working and living in the Caribbean into action to end this violence.

A new data hub called “Caribbean Women Count: Ending Violence against Women and Girls” is a central repository of knowledge on the prevalence of the different forms of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence from Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. The tool is based on national surveys conducted between 2016 and 2019 that were done in collaboration between governments, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, United Nations Development Programme, United States Agency for International Development, the Caribbean Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Gender Parity Fragility, Violence and Conflict Dominican Republic
46% of women in the five countries studied have experienced at least one form of violence.
Image: Caribbean Women Count: Ending Violence against Women and Girls

The results show that violence against women is endemic: 46% of women in the five countries have experienced at least one form of violence. Among the countries studied, lifetime prevalence rates of intimate partner violence (physical, sexual, economic, and emotional) range from 39% in Grenada and Jamaica, to 44% in Trinidad and Tobago, to 48% in Suriname.

Although Caribbean women and girls are doing better than their peers in many other parts of the world in terms of access to education and formal employment, these data underscore the urgency of continuing efforts to empower women across the Caribbean by enhancing their voice and agency, eliminating gender-based violence, and transforming patriarchal norms.

Why are the numbers so high?

Global research confirms that unequal power relations between women and men are fueling violence against women and girls. The surveys across the five Caribbean countries align with these global findings. Unequal power relations between women and men lead to controlling behaviors within intimate relationships, and the research found higher rates of intimate partner violence from partners who had controlling, aggressive, and strong conservative patriarchal behaviors. Another common factor was the experience of violence during both the perpetrator’s and victim's childhood.

The problem has likely become even worse in the Caribbean since the COVID-19 pandemic started, as the “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls has increased across the world. In many Latin American countries, there has been a significant increase – a doubling in some cases – in reports of domestic violence and murders of women and girls since stay-at-home orders were set up and survivors found themselves locked into the house with their abusers. Also, when women lose their jobs and with it their financial independence, they can find themselves dependent on a violent partner, In some countries, calls to helplines have increased five-fold.

Today we cast light on one of the most widespread and persistent human rights issues in the world, which remains largely underreported due to the impunity, stigma, and shame surrounding it. The UN marks 16 days of activism against Gender-based Violence between November 25 to December 10 to raise awareness of this issue.

Efforts must be significantly enhanced to protect survivors and provide them with adequate high-quality support services. Even more efforts are needed on prevention. Community-based prevention efforts must address everyone – women and girls, and also men and boys, who make up the majority of perpetrators.

Working at the community level has proven particularly effective, and we should explore a range of options based on evidence. Some common factors of effective interventions are that they are participatory, engage multiple stakeholders, support critical discussion about gender relationships and the acceptability of violence, and support greater communication and shared decision making among family members, as well as non-violent behavior. Cash transfer programs with a gender component, school-based programs, as well as gender mainstreaming in institutions have all proven effective.

The Bank supports over US$300 million in development projects aimed at addressing gender-based violence (GBV) in World Bank Group-financed operations, both through standalone projects and through the integration of GBV components in sector-specific projects. For example, the World Bank’s OECS Regional Health Project and the National Education Pact Project in the Dominican Republic support local governments in making teacher training sensitive to proactively combatting gender stereotypes and gender-based violence. The OECS project also supports training for sexual and reproductive health during disasters, implemented at the onset of a new emergency to prevent and manage the consequences of sexual violence.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, interventions to create awareness using digital technology such as apps, edutainment, and social and behavior change communication campaigns have become especially important. Social media and online platforms can be used to reach large population segments. The World Bank Group’s Mind, Behavior and Development unit found that short edutainment clips delivered through social media campaigns have been found effective for challenging gender stereotypes and changing attitudes condoning violence against women.

Now that we have the data, let’s get to work.