The opportunity should not be wasted, while there is so much attention on the crisis in our midst, to actively develop and implement solutions to the problem that has consumed so much time and energy in recent days.
All the vigils and marches will be of little effect unless there is honest dialogue, untainted by political influence, about the ending gender-based violence across T&T.
To bring about change for a better T&T, violence against women and girls must be seen for what it is—a human rights violation, as well as social justice and public health crisis. It must also be clearly understood to be an expression of the unequal relations between men and women that are deeply rooted in our society.
Transforming T&T into a safe and just country that is free from violence will require a lot of hard work and a level of commitment from our most influential decision-makers and ordinary citizens that have so far not been apparent.
Working to bring about positive change at individual and collective, legislative-political, and social levels needs to take on greater urgency following recent tragic events as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has been contributing to even more gender-based violence.
Recent amendments to the Domestic Violence Act were just the first steps in the long process of building a safer T&T. This is a country with a long history of passing legislation that has been implemented poorly or not at all.
Changes in legislation and policies must go together with effective community mobilisation.
Therefore, building on the momentum of the past few days, there should be a push for advocacy and mass communication campaigns to educate and change the attitudes and behaviours of communities and individuals.
With so many citizens paying attention, it is time to organise sensitisation meetings and develop programmes for peer education, community theatre, “educational entertainment” on TV and radio, and other forms of mass communication.
The Ministry of Education should collaborate with the relevant state agencies and civil society on a national action plan to combat gender-based violence in schools. If necessary, there should be a revision of the ministry’s code of conduct to address gender violence more explicitly in schools.
Violence against women and harassment should be themes covered in the yet to be implemented health and sexual education programmes in primary and secondary schools.
At the community level, there have not been sufficient efforts to engage men and boys so that they contribute to ending violence against women. This is among the many important ways to bring about changes in attitudes and social norms.
Also important is facilitating ongoing research, monitoring, and evaluation to make sure the work to end gender-based violence is relevant and effective.
By changing norms and attitudes which foster violence, employing a multi-sectoral approach and work at different levels—individual, community and institutional—T&T can become a safer country.
What is required is some serious groundwork now, laying solid foundations and building on them rather than a flurry of hasty, poorly developed measures in response to a tragedy.