Ensuring access to essential services for survivors of gender-based violence

A quick look at newspaper headlines across the Caribbean paints a grim picture of the impact of gender-based violence (GBV) in the region, particularly violence against women and girls (VAWG) : “A woman killed with an ax at home…”, “A cop convicted of raping a teenager…”, “Man accused of having raped his daughter”… “Pastor of St James accused of raping a teenage girl”… “Mother, stepfather accused of inciting her 13-year-old daughter to have sex”… These are headlines that recently appeared in the newspapers of Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago and there are many other similar media reports throughout the Caribbean. Are we ready to accept this as our heritage?

GBV, especially GBV, is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations. Gender-based violence refers to any harmful act perpetrated against a person’s will, and which is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between men and women. This includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty. These acts can occur in public or in private. Recent studies from Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago also estimate a high prevalence of intimate partner violence and child sexual abuse, as well as a significant risk for women and surviving girls of being killed by their intimate partners.

Although the prevention of these crimes is primarily the responsibility of the perpetrator, a number of these incidents (including fatalities) can be prevented by service providers who, with the proper training and resources, will be able to mitigate risk, protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Essential services, such as health service providers, are also seen as entry points for GBV survivors, particularly those who suffer domestic violence and are isolated from their support networks, or those who do not know they have been victims of GBV or donation. don’t know where to find help. These entry points, when properly trained and resourced, can become safe havens for survivors, and can ensure their protection and contribute to their empowerment and recovery by effectively connecting them to protective services. Additionally, when services such as the police, justice mechanisms, health points and the social welfare system work together to ensure that referral pathways are clear and responsive, victims are better supported to navigate their options, without having to tell their story to multiple actors and be re-traumatized. When essential services are in place and follow a set of standards, service providers become more accountable to survivors.

For example, as part of the EU-funded regional Spotlight Initiative, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) created the Regional Essential Services Package Community of Practice (ESP CoP ), a space that will allow regional institutions and national gender offices across the Caribbean to set standards and priorities to ensure that service delivery to GBV survivors is of the highest quality.

What is the Package of Essential Services (ESP) for survivors of gender-based violence?

The Essential Services Package (ESP) is a guidance tool for the provision of essential services that will be available to all people who have experienced gender-based violence. These services fall under four areas of work, namely: health services, social services, justice and police services. When these services are in place and available to all survivors and those at risk of GBV, the consequences of violence on the health, well-being, safety and resilience of survivors can be mitigated and can basically saving lives. When these services are provided, survivors can be empowered and better supported in their recovery process and, in some cases, can help break the cycle of violence.

How can a regional Community of Practice (CoP) help survivors?

Etienne Wegner, in his founding work, defines a community of practice as a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems or an interest in a subject and who come together to achieve individual and collective objectives. They develop a common repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of tackling recurring problems, in short, a shared practice.

As the United Nations Agency for Sexual and Reproductive Health, UNFPA has a responsibility to work with partners and stakeholders, such as CARICOM, to ensure that services are provided in a safe, ethical and confidential manner, and in a way that is non-judgmental or discriminatory. . Essentially, making sure survivors won’t be put in harm’s way. Unfortunately, the lack of coordinated services, human resource capacity and general distrust of our systems lead to under-reporting, and the burden of care, healing and recovery often falls on the shoulders of the survivor. – And that’s one of the reasons for this collaborative effort to establish the ESP COP.

The ESP CoP is co-chaired by CARICOM and UNFPA. It is a space for representatives from the health, social services, justice and police, coordination and governance, humanitarian and education sectors at the regional level, including United Nations agencies overseeing the implementation of the Regional Spotlight Initiative program. A space where these regional institutions will sit with representatives of national gender desks in all Caribbean countries and territories, to exchange good practices, adapt global standards and facilitate south-south cooperation in GBV prevention and response . In addition, several civil society organizations were also invited to participate in all relevant events and meetings, to ensure a common approach and understanding.

Following a virtual regional kick-off workshop held in late 2021, the first in-person meeting of the ESP CoP will be held in Trinidad and Tobago on May 24-25, 2022. ESP members CoP will embark on a one-day working meeting to agree on the main priorities and action plan for the coming year, based on the findings of a regional study on lessons learned from the PSE, currently being carried out by UNFPA.

UNFPA continues to commit to achieving, by 2030, our three transformative outcomes of zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices. The ESP COP will no doubt contribute significantly to the achievement of third zero here in the Caribbean and we can be assured that the success of this community of practice will benefit the survivors of our region.

Michelle J. Kelley