Challenging violence against women a key task for newly launched Caribbean Coalition on Women, Girls and AIDS
06 March 2009
Violence against women is increasing women and girls’ vulnerability to HIV in the Caribbean region. This is the stark message which emerged from the launch of the Caribbean Coalition on Women, Girls and AIDS (CCWA) hosted on 4 March by the UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team at the National Library, in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Sexual violence against women and girls in the Caribbean is pervasive. According to a regional study, 47% of adolescent girls’ first sexual experience was “forced” or “somewhat forced” (Halcon, L. Beuhring T and Blum, R.: 2000). Violence or the threat of violence increases women’s vulnerability to HIV by making it difficult or impossible to negotiate safer sex and condom use. It also affects women’s expectations in relationships and can also stop women from accessing HIV prevention, care and treatment services.
The CCWA, a broad coalition of women from a diversity of backgrounds pledged to vigorously challenge not just violence against women but all aspects of female vulnerability to HIV. The First Lady of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Her Excellency, Dr. Jean Ramjohn-Richards, who is a member of the CCWA, was in attendance as well as Yolanda Simon, Director of Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (CRN+), founding member and advocate of the CCWA.
"We know that the Caribbean is an unsafe space for women. Several Caribbean countries have amongst the highest homicide rates and all have higher than global averages of sexual violence, with three countries having amongst the top ten highest rates."
Roberta Clarke, Regional Programme Director of UNIFEM
According to Roberta Clarke, Regional Programme Director of UNIFEM, much more needs to be done to transform unequal and harmful gender relations between women, men, boys and girls; as this culture of inequality is a root cause of women’s vulnerability to HIV.
“We know that the Caribbean is an unsafe space for women. Several Caribbean countries have amongst the highest homicide rates and all have higher than global averages of sexual violence, with three countries having amongst the top ten highest rates,” said Ms Clarke.
The CCWA therefore has a role to play in drawing attention to the persistence of inequality and violence and in advocating societal transformations which are consistent with the full respect for human rights.
The launch event also saw the unveiling of a new logo for the Coalition. Young Trinidadian, Brent Benjamin, was the winner of the competition to design the logo and he was presented with his prize by her Excellency, Dr. Jean Ramjohn-Richards.
The CCWA has been supported by the UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team, along with UNIFEM and regional civil society organizations including CRN+, Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) and the Centre for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) for 15 months leading up to the official launch. This support will continue in 2009 during which time the Coalition will be hosted by UNIFEM with continued assistance from UNAIDS.