November 25, 2018, will mark another time of global activism against gender-based violence. This year’s theme “Orange the World: #hearmetoo” was launched on September 26th by UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. The idea is to amplify the voices of women and girl survivors of violence around the world and to encourage support for women’s movements working towards preventing and ending violence against women and girls. Sadly, the prelude to this important global activity is the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, the highest law-making authority in the United States of America.
Violence against women in its many forms, especially sexual violence, is a resident demon in all nations. The US in the last 5 years has been competing in the top ten rankings for reported sexual violence per capita. It is the only industrialized country that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, even though it has been a signatory since 1979.
UN data indicate that about 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. Worse, some countries’ records show that up to 70% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. In 2011, UN data ranked St. Vincent and the Grenadines number one per capita for reported rape – a report that several in authority still dispute. Regardless of the accuracy of the data, one cannot deny that all forms of sexual offense retard our development.
Recently in June 2018, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey reported that India was the most dangerous place in the world for women. The United States was the only industrialized country that placed in the top ten and was ranked third with Syria for women most at risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex.
Undoubtedly, the era of the #metoo movement has encouraged many women across the globe to stand up and bravely name their offenders. Several powerful men have been exposed. Few have been charged and convicted but many have suffered the consequence of forced resignation from their high profile jobs. The latter is but a slap on the wrist for ripping apart and crippling many lives. And so one can appreciate people’s disgust with Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave very credible evidence of Justice Kavanugh’s sexual assault against her 36 years ago. Hopefully, Justice Kavanugh’s confirmation will not have the same effect on the #metoo and #Timesup movements as when Monsanto’s Roundup is sprayed on actively growing weed -it kills actively growing weed in 2 weeks. But many of us of who understand the deep politics of the US are not surprised by Justice Kavanugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court is not only a body slam of disregard to the women’s movement. It is also a message to women that their pain and suffering at the hands of abusive men is de minimis to men’s political positioning. Clearly, in the scheme of political shenanigans women’s lives do not matter.
How do we end all violence against women and girls when lawmakers who we rely on to create the environment of change are named as sex offenders? How do we encourage girls and women to continue to report violations against their bodies and souls when their brothers and sisters, mothers and leaders are complicit by being silent? Their deafening silence reminds us that not everyone who is expected to protect the vulnerable and violated does so. Sometimes, their mouths utter the best words yet they do nothing to ensure that perpetrators face the justice system or are denied high office. They are deliberately spineless. Their promotion, their political ambitions, their business deals, their employment depends on their complicit silence. Their endeavors must not die because of “some” woman’s allegation against one of their own.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau says that women who speak out about sexual harassment must not only be heard but believed. The US Republican lawmakers and many supporters of SVG’s Unity Labour Party certainly think and act in contradiction of Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s proper advice.
Mlambo-Ngcuka calls for leadership and legislators to make violence against women illegal and to punish offenders. In these parts, there are laws in place, but punishing offenders is terribly wanting. And so, when accused men – especially powerful men – evade prosecution it has real potential to set back any gains the various feminist movements like #metoo, #timesup, #lifeinleggins, and #hearmetoo movements have made thus far.
It is hoped though, that Kavanaugh’s confirmation fuels the flames already ignited rather than puts them out. It is hoped that women and girls continue to find the strength and courage to name their demons and monsters and fight them to the end in court. It is hoped that police investigations are carried out swiftly and effectively to secure convictions. And finally, it is hoped that those complicit in the provision of any form of protection for sexual predators find the conscience to identify with victims and help rid our communities of these soul-zapping vampires, many at a time. There can be no real national development on the backs of broken women. Yet, still we must rise, #hearmetoo, #metoo, #timesup, and #lifeinleggings movements must not cower and die. The future of our nations depends on it.
Zita Shirlan Barnwell
Human Rights Lawyer & Senator