“Ending violence against women and girls is essential for communities, societies and whole economies to be prosperous and peaceful”—Executive Director

Opening Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the UN Women/CAJO Gender Protocol Consultation for Judicial Officers in Bridgetown, St. Michael Barbados on 31 October.

Date: Monday, October 31, 2016

The Honourable Justice Jacqueline Cornelius,
His Lordship, the Honourable Justice Adrian Saunders, of the Caribbean Court of Justice and CAJO,
The Honourable Chief Justice of Barbados, Sir Marston Gibbs,
Dr. Penny Reedie, Director, JURIST Project,
Justices and officers present,
Colleagues from UN Women,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour and a pleasure to be here. Thank you very much for the opportunity for us to connect in this manner.

This is an important aspect of UN Women’s operational work on access to justice. We are not necessarily experts in this area, but with you we are stronger. This area involves working within the international, regional and domestic justice systems on normative standards, and the implementation of laws and policies to eliminate direct and indirect forms of discrimination. It is about making sure that in the interest of application of international human rights standards in domestic judicial processes, we are all fit for purpose.

The Caribbean has made great strides by removing certain legislative barriers that contribute to gender inequality. For example, most countries in the region have laws that give equal value to women’s contribution in the division of matrimonial property, and survivors of domestic violence can now obtain protection orders from the courts.

So what is the problem? It is that we have to work harder on implementation and make sure that those who are supposed to be implementers are supported to be the best they can be in this work.

Domestic and sexual violence in the Caribbean is not unique; it is a global challenge. But there are some statistics that are concerning about the region. The high incidence of domestic and sexual violence in some Caribbean countries remains a strong concern. Femicide accounts for half of the cases of murdered women in the Bahamas, and in Trinidad and Tobago, and in some countries the incidence of violent acts occurring between intimate couples is as high as 80 per cent. Three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world occur in the Caribbean, in The Bahamas, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Jamaica.

Coming from a region myself that has a high rate of violence against women, I can identify with the trauma that this causes in society.

This rate of violence tells us something about impunity. It also suggests difficulties for women to thrive in our society. Those in the field of justice are not alone as responsible actors in this. We have the media, we have governments, we have different institutions, and all of them need to be brought on board.

Ending violence against women and girls is essential for communities, societies and whole economies to be prosperous and peaceful.

I find that in many cases when I deal with Ministers and even Heads of State from around the world—rich, poor, East, West—the conversation almost always includes discussion of the issue of violence against women. Even a country like Iceland, which has the highest indicators on gender equality, is struggling with violence against women. And there just isn’t enough work being done that specializes in how to address this issue.

In your work here, do not underestimate the importance of helping us to begin to identify best practice in dealing with this rather intense area of violation, for which there just is not enough specialization and insufficient attention paid. This work entails tackling the structural barriers to gender equality, including stereotypes and cultural and social norms that foster unequal power relations between women and men. This is one of the root causes of gender-based violence. It requires those in authority to prioritize this issue at the highest level. 

Of course we are also talking about gender violence against men, because they also experience discrimination in a different way. If a man turns up at the police station and says ‘I have been beaten up’, they are most likely to be a source of ridicule by officers who think ‘why didn’t you beat her up?’, in other words suggesting that more violence should have been committed. And when a woman comes with the same problem she can also be ridiculed and victimized. So either way, men and women, we are not winning in a context where we do not have proper training and minimum standards of what has to happen when a victim presents himself or herself to the officers.

Those of you here in this room today are important change makers, because you are leaders in creating the environment and leading the behaviour in court. You have the power to influence judicial decision-making, to end women’s marginalization as well as men’s victimization just because they are men, and to end constraining gender roles for men, even where the judicial officers may not consciously understand their bias.

Earlier today we discussed a newspaper article in which a burglary and assault were described. The news article said, ‘there was a burglary, people were assaulted, there was a rape, but there was no serious crime committed’. Once we put it like this we almost set the tone for how rape is a dismissible form of violence against women, girls or men.

Hesitation to exercise the full range of judicial powers in domestic violence cases becomes a problem when there is unconscious bias. For example, use of occupation orders and mandating counseling for abusers even where it is made available is not used; low rates of prosecution/conviction of sexual offences across the region even though sexual assaults make up 30 per cent all reported crimes; and undervaluing of sexual offence cases, as limited resources are instead reserved for more “serious crimes”, especially if the media also writes about these crimes as not being as significant as we see them to be.

This leads to inordinate delays in the completion of these cases, high rates of attrition, and failure to take into account the realities of child and elder care in families when passing child support orders.

At UN Women we are working to train judiciaries in legal schools so that court officials are well-versed in identifying violence against women and girls and we can also ensure there is no impunity for perpetrators.

I have had conversations with perpetrators who give an answer like, ‘I just do it because I can. I can get away with it, I don’t expect anything to happen’. These are the people who become repeat offenders. We have found that on campuses, especially university campuses, it is not that a lot of young men are involved in sexual violence against women, but often that a few men are repeat offenders who slip through the system. The universities themselves often do not have a robust or a committed system to intervene in the most effective way. In many cases they are concerned about protecting the name of the university and not having too many incidents reported because they think it tarnishes the name of the university. The same happens also when there is a male victim.

The Draft Gender Equality Protocol for Magistrates and Judges will help judges and magistrates adjudicate cases through a gender lens. It builds the capacity of judges and magistrates to identify and address the social, economic and cultural circumstances that perpetuate sex and gender-related human rights violations, and other related violations which are not necessarily a sexual crime.

I would like to commend CCJ, JURIST, CAJO and the Barbadian judiciary for undertaking the production and implementation of a gender equality protocol for the judiciary. You will be on the front lines of ensuring women have access to justice and that there is no impunity for perpetrators of gender-based violence.

UN Women will lean on you, learn from you, and take these examples to share with other colleagues in many other parts of the world who are yearning for something like this. No pressure! But we are really relying on you to succeed.

Thank you.