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Youth Activist Nikoli Edwards address members of the media on gender-based violence at Docs Ranch auditorium S.S Erin Main road, Palmiste, San Fernando, yesterday.

The chilling murder of Andrea Bharatt has brought a barrage of demands on the government with citizens calling for tougher laws. However, Progressive Party leader Nikoli Edwards says Parliamentarians have long been neglecting people’s demands.

Edwards, a former Independent Senator, said that the legislative agendas of successive governments have worked against the citizenry with those in power choosing to bring the legislation they want, not what the citizens cry out for.

In a media conference at Black Sails Restaurant and Bar in Philippine Thursday, Edwards said that following a general election, both government and opposition have their agendas, making the Parliament at odds with itself.

“I think that our leaders do not take the time to listen. They come in expecting that because they were voted in at the MP level, constituents will be in full agreement with whatever the MP says while in Parliament. That culture has to change,” Edwards said.

Simply put it, parliamentarians do not act on behalf of the people’s wishes and because of this, he hypothesizes that if T&T held monthly elections, there would be regular changes to the leadership.

Sharing youth’s 10 point plan for the State to adopt, Edwards said the Office of the Prime Minister Gender and Child Affairs Unit must lead a campaign to educate the population of the causes and solutions to gender-based violence.

Sex education in schools is a long-debated topic, but with rape, domestic and verbal abuse becoming endemic, Edwards said it is time for children to properly learn about sex and sexuality. He said this was especially important in a society that objectifies women through soca and dancehall music and advertising.

Edwards said innovation that leads to a safe environment for women, such as digital applications is an avenue the government should consider. He said many young people want to develop these applications but they cannot get adequate funding. He said civil society can assist in this venture and others.

Crime is a social problem and Edwards said the government must provide professional support by engaging communities with social workers, mediators and community psychologists. While victims and their families need this support, he said the offenders and their families should also receive social restoration to prevent further breakdown. For the victims and their families, he wants to State to honour its promise to set up safe spaces.

He also called for training for public servants to be able to identify signs of abuse in people they meet. While some may say that someone’s abuse is not the problem, Edwards said gender-based violence has to be everyone’s business.

While some crimes are a result of psychological illness, he said the State should provide treatment centres for people who have hurt or have the tendency to hurt someone. He said some people who suffer from these ailments feel like there is no safe space to speak about their problems and get help.

And in cases when the court grants a protection order, Edwards said there should be mandatory mediation to ensure parties understand the issues and work towards a resolution.

Ariel Saunders, who recently contested the St Mary/Hindustan district in last month’s local government byelection, chimed in, saying many of the systems responsible for protecting citizens have betrayed their duties. Saunders said that when police prioritise searching for their critics on Facebook over finding missing women, there is a problem. He said when the Opposition is more concerned with opposing a bill instead of understanding how it can save people’s lives, there is a problem. When a law to allow women to carry pepper spray remains stagnant for years, he said there is a problem.

Amesha Bachan, a form six student at the Couva East Secondary School said people are seeing that the politicians they elect truly do not care about them. Bachan said she was tired and angry that in a few weeks, Bharatt would be just another statistic and the outrage against rape culture may soon fade. She was also angry that as life goes on, she, like many other women, can share Bharatt’s grisly fate.