The United Nations first celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, 1977 to highlight the achievements of women in the cultural, social, economic and political spheres. Calls for greater gender inclusiveness and parity also mark the occasion. International Women’s Day does not belong to a single group but rather any individual or organization that sees the need to mobilize and speak out against gender inequality. This year’s campaign is #ChooseToChallenge from the theme “A challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge”. For it is only through resistance to the status quo that paradigm shifts can occur in terms of the place of women in society. As part of this campaign, the public is called to make commitments that identify and confront gender bias and inequality.
One of the issues that takes the fore during International Women Day is the centuries-old phenomenon of domestic violence. The discourse around gender-based violence typically centers around battered heterosexual women and male perpetrators. In recent times, more awareness has been raised on the different forms the issue takes and the diversity of those affected by it. However, there is still room for more education on this issue with respect to intimate-partner violence against LBT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) women. Domestic violence is a multi-faceted issue in general and when dealing with marginalized women, it becomes even more complex due to bigotry, lack of understanding and lack of sensitivity.
In 2015, the former Director of the Division of Gender Relations in St. Lucia remarked that perpetrators of “economic, emotional and social abuse” typically face no legal consequences but in cases of what is deemed to be severe abuse, where there is sexual or physical abuse, there may be arrests. She identified the “lengthy court processes” and adjournments stemming from perpetrators not being served in time, as some of the biggest challenges in the execution of justice for victims of gender-based violence. The lack of resources is another issue faced in prosecuting such crimes. Some non-profit organizations have emerged to supplement governmental efforts to assist survivors such as HERStoire, Raise Your Voice Slu, PROSAF and The Saint Lucia Crisis Centre. It should be noted that St. Lucia currently awaits the enactment of an ‘inclusive’ domestic violence bill and we call on the necessary policy makers to act on this promise for International women’s day. This bill would signal St. Lucia’s commitment to protecting our women regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. In light of the recent spate of violent attacks against women, the relevant stakeholders should commit its support for comprehensive solutions.
The dominance of Christianity and the inheriting of British laws against same-sex relationships, have led to an unfavourable perception of the LGBTQI community. This is a major hurdle in the reporting of intimate-partner violence against LBT women. Although they are more likely to be abused by their partner, they generally choose not to report it to the police because of fear of being ridiculed or even prosecuted. Those who have reported the abuse generally leave feeling like they have been re-victimized by those who are supposed to help them. Though this is rarely enforced, same-sex attracted persons could be criminalized for “buggery” and “serious indecencies” under the country’s Penal Code. Thus, reporting incidences of domestic violence by their same-sex partner would implicate them. To combat this, new legislation needs to be enacted to ensure protections for LBT women who are survivors/victims of intimate-partner violence.
There must be considerations in our domestic violence laws for the investigation and prosecution of violence against women who identify as LBT. Our empathy for battered women should not be exclusive to cisgender heterosexual women. As members of the human race and St. Lucian citizens, LBT women deserve protections from abuse too. This International Women’s Day, we should choose to challenge the notion that only cisgender heterosexual women are subject to domestic violence and do the necessary work to ensure equal protections for all women.
“Our empathy for battered women should not be exclusive to cisgender heterosexual women, as members of the human race and St. Lucian citizens, LBT women deserve protections from abuse too.”Dania Abraham: United and Strong Inc – Communications Officer (1758-714-7234)