«Women are not a vulnerable group…»

As a women’s advocate, Rule of Law, Human Rights and Citizen Security Specialist who has worked in the field of gender for many years you can imagine my surprise when I was faced with this statement at a training workshop. I had chosen two options from the multiple-choice activity that asked participants to categorize women into groups, ticking as many as applied. I chose: 1) women were a vulnerable group and 2) women were a part of the solution. The moderator agreed that women were part of the solution, but when faced with the response that women were a vulnerable group he said No! I was ready with the data and statistics and years of experience to go to bat on how he was sorely mistaken, until he explained… if we continue to view women as “vulnerable” we will not truly see them as part of the solution.

This made me pause. There was some truth to this point of view, and it made me reevaluate my current perception. Now, from a social and security policy standpoint, I am not on board with the view that we should disband the classification of women as a vulnerable group. By understanding the unique situations and vulnerabilities that women face, we can develop solutions and programs to provide women with the protection, support and resources needed to become resilient and “less vulnerable”. But I did agree with the position that when we start to think about solving problems – we must see women as part of the solution and forget (in this instance) any other negative stereotypes. They are, after all, 50% of the global population.

The birth of CariSECURE

And I have seen it come to pass with the conception of the CariSECURE – Strengthening Evidence Based Decision Making for Citizen Security in the Caribbean Project. Women lead the charge on this USAID-funded project which began in 2016. In the initial stages, women actually far outnumbered the men on the project team! While some of these pioneering ladies have since left the project, their initial input helped to conceptualize a project that is inclusive, gender responsive and addresses women’s issues, creating a strong foundation on which CariSECURE can continue to build.

The Project was conceived to address the rising crime and violence in the region. The 2012 UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report (CHDR) theorized that this situation was worsened by the implementation of ineffective policies which fail to sufficiently address the root causes of violence and crime, especially among youth. But robust policies and programs could not be developed without timely and reliable data – this is what CariSECURE seeks to address.

Better data can help women

When you consider that women are the victims of a large number of violent crimes in the region it is important to clearly understand those types of crimes. For example, UNDP`s 2020 Needs Assessment Report on the Administration of Justice in 9 Caribbean Countries[1], found that sexual assault and family matters form the bulk of cases in all jurisdictions. If we don’t have disaggregated data especially from a gender perspective, we cannot make women friendly policies. CariSECURE is designed to helps us collect better data, so if a woman visits a police station and reports an assault but the data doesn’t capture where this incident occurs, then we cannot differentiate between an assault in the street and one in the home – likely committed by a partner – which falls under a totally different category than simple assault and needs a different solution. We are creating structures and procedures which ask the right questions, but it goes further still. Because we understand that several crimes are not reported in the traditional channels, we cannot rely solely on police reports; especially when it comes to gender, women do not always report crimes and/or instances of abuse to the police but may turn instead to a clinic or a women’s shelters and data needs to be captured from these institutions as well by trained staff. To promote evidence based decision-making, the project has developed a Citizen Security Toolkit which allows for standardized indicators and formats to capture disaggregated data which can be utilized by relevant institutions. This initiative also provides for perception surveys and has collaborated to conduct the first comprehensive Gender-Based Violence survey of its kind in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. For something as intimate and intrusive as sexual assault, you need trained people, women that the victims can talk to. These are some of the other components of the project that support gathering standardized disaggregated data and analyzing it to determine accurate trends.

Strengthening Citizen Security

But the whole concept of citizen security is important to women from more than just a reporting crime perspective. Citizen’s security means that a single mother can feel safe at work without fear of sexual harassment and that if it does occur, she feels safe enough to report it. That women can collect child support payments easily and without fear and a host of other interactions in daily life outside of the threat of a violent crime.

We have already begun to see the results of accurate data, even if the results are troubling. One of the first surveys we conducted, in collaboration with UN Women, was a National Survey on Gender-Based Violence con­ducted in Guyana in 2018. The findings revealed that, in Guyana, 38 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, above the global average. One (1) in every two (2) women in Guyana has or will experience Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in their lifetime. More than half (55%) of all women experienced at least one form of violence. More than one in ten expe­rienced physical and/or sexual violence from a male partner in the previous 12 months.

While this may not be the type of “win” we consider good, it is important because by accurately capturing this data we can truly understand the problems women are facing and develop mitigation policies and strategies to reduce and prevent incidences of these types of crimes.

Gender is a “leading lady”

Gender is being brought to the table more and more, but we must do more than simply “sprinkle” gender into our projects. Like CariSECURE we must aim to incorporate gender into the entire system, from conceptualization to implementation. What is promising is that as we go forward, tangible changes are taking place and more women are being included in solving the problems. There are more women in crime prevention than you may at first assume and it is important that their voices are heard. There are more women in the technical roles within citizen security and governments and policy makers, and while there is still a glass ceiling that has not fully been broken, there are a lot more well qualified women at the table now.

As we continue to build forward in the region and develop gender-responsive policies, programs and initiatives, we must change the belief that gender is “just about women” because this simply is not true. To have a true picture of how we move forward we need to examine fundamental notions of gender. What does it mean to be a man, or a woman? What forms of interpersonal relations exist, and how are these shaped by gender? Focusing on men and boys (alongside interventions focused on women and girls) is a necessary part of fixing both of the issues: by working with men and boys, women and girls in turn can become safer.

This is particularly true in the context of the Caribbean’s unique historical context and the role it has played on masculinity and gender norms. It is futile to teach women how to protect themselves without also teaching perpetrators, who are generally men, not to commit violence against women.

I agree that it is a long journey to achieve a secure space for all citizens, but reliable, accurate comparable data is the first step – and with women as part of the solution, CariSECURE seeks to create that.






[1] https://www.bb.undp.org/content/barbados/en/home/library/undp_publications/caribbean-justice–a-needs-assessment-of-the-judicial-system-in-.html