Expanding Work Tackling Gender-Based Violence in the Caribbean

Gender-based violence is a phenomenon most often associated with violence perpetrated by men against women. Yet it is also the most common form of violence faced by LGBTIQ people. What leads to gender-based violence are archaic perceptions of gender roles and appearances, toxic masculinity and notions of how things “should be”. As such, anyone who somehow does not fit, or worse still, challenges what is perceived as the norm, can be a target and victim of gender-based violence (GBV).

LGBTIQ people challenge traditional gender roles and norms by our very being. Our gender identities, how we express them, who we love and how we show it - all challenge the assigned norms and expectations. As such, LGBTIQ people are often perceived as a threat, and fall victim to harassment, violent hate crime, beatings, so-called “corrective” rape, and other forms of gender-based violence designed to make us comply, conform, or disappear. 

Across the Caribbean a culture of toxic masculinity is pervasive, and violence against LGBTIQ people is rampant. This violence is exacerbated, and legitimized, by the existence and legacy of colonial-era “buggery” laws, which to this day criminalize same-sex relations across the majority of the region. Such laws not only deem LGBTIQ people as criminals, they also perpetuate negative societal attitudes and give the green light for discrimination, harassment, and violence. 

The existence of these laws and their implications more often than not mean that LGBTIQ people who are victims of gender-based violence do not report it or seek help, for fear of outing, stigmatization, or even imprisonment. 

Over the last two years, since October 2018, OutRight has been implementing the first phase of a project designed to tackle GBV across the Caribbean, and improve access to justice and services for LGBTIQ victims of GBV in spite of the continuing existence of laws criminalizing same-sex relations. Together with partners WAR and MESH in Antigua; SEROvie, KOURAJ and FACSDIS in Haiti; United and Strong and Raise Your Voice in St. Lucia, and WOMANTRA, GROOTS TT and I Am One TT in Trinidad and Tobago, we founded the Frontline Alliance: Caribbean Partnerships Against Gender Based Violence to address gender-based violence against women and LGBTIQ people in the Caribbean. 

As part of the project, the following activities have been completed:

  • A training session was held with all project partners to increase their capacity and ability to collect data on gender-based violence, and identify and analyze relevant local legislation. The data can then be used as an advocacy and awareness building tool to shed light on the pervasive problem, and advocate for change.
  • As a result of the training, a comprehensive research report landscaping the situation across the region was published and can be used by civil society to raise awareness and advocate for legislative and policy changes.
  • Throughout the project, partners worked to identify and form partnership with other civil society organizations, namely women’s organizations who also tackle GBV, to establish connections and find ways of working together.
  • Once civil society partnerships were formed, partners worked in their respective countries to identify and engage key external partners who in some way work on GBV-related issues. In Antigua, we worked with a liberal senator passionate about women’s rights, to increase her understanding of and engagement with LGBTIQ issues. In Haiti, where violence against LGBTIQ people has been on the rise, partners were able to engage with police forces and legal professionals, quite literally setting up a lifeline for LGBTIQ victims of GBV. In Trinidad and Tobago, partners also engaged with the police department. In St Lucia, partners launched a successful media engagement strategy, significantly improving representation of LGBTIQ issues in the media, and raising awareness among the public about LGBTIQ people and the violence we face. 

In numbers, the first phase of the project achieved:

  • 24 gender-based violence policies were reviewed, and recommendations for inclusion of LGBTIQ people were identified. 
  • 25 consultations with various levels of government officials were held to raise awareness and advocate for change to tackle gender-based violence against LGBTIQ people and women, and improve existing legislation and policies.
  • 297 service providers, ranging from police officers to healthcare providers, mental health professionals and lawyers, received LGBTIQ sensitivity training with a view of improving service provision to LGBTIQ victims of gender-based violence.

Caribbean Program Officer Neish McLean reflects on highlights of the project:

“The Caribbean GBV Project was a success in its first phase due to the collective effort of our partners, underscoring the importance of partnership, both driven and centered by the work of organizations in countries most impacted by colonial laws and systems of oppression. OutRight values the synergies created through this project as the fundamental model for targeted advocacy in the region.” 

The project was a tremendous success, exceeding all targets and allowing us to form crucial partnerships. The model employed was so effective because it brought partners from across different countries together to work on an issue that is of great concern at both the regional and national level. This cohesion enabled partners to share best practices and learn from and support each other. At the same time, the model allowed for nuance at the country level and gave space for partners to adapt material to their local context. Overall, we used an evidence-based approach to improve the capacity of local partners, to generate crucial data which was, and will continue to be, used in training frontline workers and advocating for policy-level change.

We are pleased that the project has been renewed for a second phase focusing on dialogue with decision-makers, an anti-GBV campaign, cross-regional engagement and expert meetings with even stronger collaborations and regional synergy.