Today the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) joins the international community in the observance of The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).

Declared as an International Day of Observance by the United Nations in 1999, IDEVAW commemorates the November 25, 1960 assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, who bravely challenged systemic violence in the Dominican Republic. November 25 also launches 16 Days of Activism, which culminates on International Human Rights Day (December 10) in so doing emphasising the ways in which violence against women is a violation of human rights.

In fact, according to the United Nations, violence against women is one of the most pervasive yet least recognised human rights abuses in the world.

Despite policy and legislative frameworks designed to reduce its incidence, every year millions of women globally are subjected to various forms of violence. Women and girls are violated in their homes, harassed on the streets and bullied on the Internet. The UN estimates that one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in her life.

Closer to home, in the Caribbean, violence against women has been a negative feature of our societies from indigenous times to the present. Its most historic and barbaric manifestation was on the floating dungeons or “slavers” of the Middle Passage and on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

We recoil in horror at the image of the 54 women and children thrown overboard through the cabin windows of the ship Zong on its voyage from Ghana to Jamaica in a month like this in 1781. We recoil in horror at the violence against women perpetrated by Englishman Thomas Thistlewood in the 18th century and at the tales of violence against women so vividly portrayed by Lucille Mathurin Mair in her Historical Study of Women in Jamaica (2006).

Today, violence against women (and girl children) continues unabated, no doubt enabled by persistent hegemonic masculinity or “machismo” in Latin American culture and stereotypes that devalue women in our popular culture, not to mention the use of social media to demean women, in combination with insufficient training of criminal justice personnel, lack of enforcement measures designed to combat violence against women and the inadequacy of response by the legal system.

But there is hope. Even in the face of the incidence of violence against women locally, regionally and internationally, the global Unite to End Violence against Women campaign reminds us of three things: that violence Against women is not acceptable, that violence against women is not inevitable, and that violence against women can be prevented.

As the IGDS observes IDEVAW with the global community, and we imagine a world without violence for women and girls, we call on policymakers and civil society alike to commit resources to ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment in the home, in the community and in national, regional and international spaces. We especially appeal to the Dominican Republic to recall global solidarity on behalf of its own women who gave inspiration to IDEVAW and to denounce violence against women, including against Haitian women.

Jamaica Observer