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A dangerous place for women and girls

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The murder of Shannon Banfield, whose body was found in a storage area upstairs IAM and company on Charlotte Street Thursday afternoon, stands as a tragic footnote to local commemorations of 16 days of activism—a period of special activities and observances that started on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends today, World Human Rights Day.

The brutal murder of the young Republic Bank employee has shone an uncomfortable spotlight, not only on T&T’s out of control crime situation but the specific problem of violence against women and girls.

The 16 days of activism was intended to galvanise action to make the world a safer place but figures highlighted yesterday by the Powerful Ladies of T&T (PLOTT), which show that ten per cent of the murders this year were of women, is a frightening indicator of how unsafe this country is for women and girls.

The PLOTT figures were compiled before the murders of Shannon and Joan Cheryl Cooper, who was shot and killed on Thursday in Marabella but they paint a grim picture of the extent of the violence sweeping across this nation. As of yesterday, 45 women had been murdered.

Many of the cases, which are highlighted in today’s T&T Guardian, remain unsolved, as are the majority of murders recorded for the year so far.

Sadly, most of the women and the violent circumstances of their deaths, are no longer at the forefront of our collective memories and all but a few of them elicited any kinds of major reactions from the population.

In fact, the only other woman whose killing attracted any reactions near the levels of the rage and concern now being expressed over Shannon’s death, was for Japanese musician Asami Nagakiya, whose body was found in the Queen’s Park Savannah on Ash Wednesday morning.

Women’s rights activist Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, commenting on the situation yesterday, said: “It is extremely dangerous to be a women in Trinidad and Tobago. You have to be very brave as a woman to walk the streets by yourself.”

The truth of that declaration is borne out every day in news headlines about kidnappings to shootings, sexual and domestic violence.

Too many of T&T’s women and girls regularly endure discrimination and intimidation, are threatened, harassed, attacked and killed.

This is taking a toll.

Studies show that when women are not healthy and safe, they cannot care for themselves, support their families, or contribute to their communities.

The challenge now is for law enforcement, policy makers and civil society to ramp up efforts to wipe out gender based violence.

Not enough is being done to deal eradiciate harmful masculine norms and the widespread acceptance of violence only adds to the challenge.

On December 10 in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This year, the call is for everyone to stand up for someone’s rights.

That is where all the outrage and violence currently being expressed about Shannon’s violent death should be channelled, standing against the horrific violence that has claimed so many lives this year.

T&T can be a better place if more citizens were prepared to do more than talk.

Instead of the usual pointing of fingers and venting on social media, it is time to find more tangible ways to defend anyone who suffers discrimination or violence—persons with disabilities, members of the LGBT community, women and children.

Restoring peace and stability to this nation requires not only sound laws and policies from Government and more efficient operating of the law enforcement and justice systems, it also requires that more citizens make a personal commitment to respect and defend the rights of others.


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