From 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day), the international campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence mobilized organizations and women around the world. It is estimated that nearly one in three women around the world will experience violence in her lifetime, typically at the hands of an intimate partner. We know relatively little about the size and dimensions of this problem in the Caribbean – intimate partner and sexual violence are underreported to the police, sometimes they are not even considered a crime and too often they are relegated to the realm of “private” or “family” matters. The IDB, UN Women and other international and local actors have recently teamed up with Caribbean governments to generate more knowledge and awareness about the issue.
Understanding the social norms that justify violence against women is an important start. There is strong evidence that these norms are highly correlated with actual levels of perpetration. The recently published policy brief, How Safe Are Caribbean Homes for Women and Children? Attitudes toward Intimate Partner Violence and Corporal Punishment , examines such attitudes in six Caribbean countries. It finds that one in four Caribbean adults would approve or understand a man hitting his wife if she neglects the household chores. One in three would approve or understand if she were unfaithful. Caribbean adults were significantly more tolerant than their peers in Latin America and the United States.
What can be done to change these social norms in the Caribbean? The IDB brief also examines the characteristics of those who were more tolerant of intimate partner violence: being lower income, younger, resident of a rural area, and not completing secondary education. Experiencing frequent physical punishment as a child was also found to be a statistically significant predictor of male tolerance of intimate partner violence. Programs aimed at changing social norms should therefore target this demographic.
The good news is that there is a wealth of international research suggesting that some interventions can be successful at both changing norms and reducing actual physical and sexual violence against women. It is time that Caribbean governments take serious and sustained actions to protect the life and integrity of women.