OBA candidate calls for gender affairs office to be set up
The creation of a gender affairs office was called for today as Bermuda prepared to mark the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Victoria Cunningham, selected to fight Devonshire North Central at the next General Election, said there had been “a sharp increase in the number of domestic abuse reports” since the pandemic affected Bermuda.
Ms Cunningham added that the UN day was designed to spark global action “to increase awareness, promote advocacy and create opportunities for discussion on challenges and solutions”.
She said it was “devastating” when victims of domestic abuse were unable to get support.
But Ms Cunningham added: “I cannot emphasise enough – Bermuda has resources available.
“The Centre Against Abuse is a phenomenal organisation providing counselling services, court advocacy, a 24-hour hotline, safe housing and liaison with police and other agencies.”
She highlighted that nearly one in three women had been abused in their lifetime, but fewer than 40 per cent had asked for help.
Ms Cunningham said domestic abuse alerts were the top reason for police call-outs.
She added that the island lagged behind from “a government and community standpoint” on the problem.
Ms Cunningham said: “Bermuda is the only UK Overseas Territory that does not have a gender affairs office focusing on women’s rights and domestic abuse.
“While we have signed on to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the gender affairs office is a key component of ensuring the provisions of the convention are put into practice.”
Ms Cunningham added that a specialist office would also be able to track data and promote gender equality.
She said: “The One Bermuda Alliance supports the goals of the Centre Against Abuse and believes more should be done to support our vulnerable and implement the gender affairs office in Bermuda.
“There should also be a combination and co-ordination of qualified legal services, direct support, community interaction, training, and partnerships with the aim of providing practical and emotional support to advance the wellbeing of our community.”
Ms Cunningham offered the OBA’s “heartfelt sympathies” to abuse victims and appealed to people who suffered in silence to “reach out to all helping agencies or to trusted friends and family”.
She said: “We must stand together as a community to change the narrative and take the stigma and shame away from domestic violence and send the message that violence against women cannot and will not be tolerated.”
This afternoon, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors Tinee Furbert said: “Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. Globally, it is estimated that 736 million, which represents 1 in 3 women, have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner violence in their lifetime.”
“Although violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent, and disturbing human rights violations globally today, it remains largely unreported due to the stigma and shame surrounding gender-based violence. The United Nations reported that fewer than 40 per cent of women who experience violence seek help of any sort and only 1 in 10 victims contact the police for help.”
She added: “The restricted movement, social isolation, and economic insecurity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have increased women’s vulnerability to violence in their homes. As a result, many countries including Bermuda have seen an increase in calls to helplines for violence against women. Some countries have noted the escalation has been five times more than what was documented prior to the pandemic.”
“From March 30, 2020 through May 20, 2020, the Centre Against Abuse reported that they serviced 56 women clients who had experienced violence towards them. However, sadly the majority of women and girls in our community continue to suffer in silence.”
“This type of behaviour, whether it be sexual harassment, abuse, or violence, knows no geographical boundary, age limit, or colour bar, and affects every type of family relationship and social class. It is rooted in inequalities and discrimination against women and to prevent and eradicate it, we must focus on gender equality and empowerment of women.”
“As a community, we must stop casting judgment and be more supportive of victims of gender-based violence as one life lost is too many. There should not be any excuse or immunity for perpetrators of violence against women and girls. Talking about victimisation does not end victimisation, intervention is needed. We must all come together collectively to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence and harassment against women and girls.”
The Premier, David Burt, said: “I am proud to support the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by having the Cabinet Building illuminated orange tonight, in line with this year’s theme of ‘Orange the World: End Violence against women now’. As a community, we all have a role to play in preventing violence against women and girls, and I encourage each and every Bermudian to do their part in creating an environment where both women and girls are continually empowered and encouraged.”