Resident Representative Randi Davis delivers opening remarks at 'A Conversation on Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation' to mark the launch of UNiTE's 16 Days of Activism on Gender-Based Violence:
"I am delighted to be here today on behalf of the entire UN Country Team on International Day to End Violence Against Women and also the first day of the UNITE Campaign Activities in Trinidad and Tobago. On behalf of the UN system let me warmly thank InterClub for organizing this breakfast forum and putting together what will be sure to be a stimulating and informative panel discussion. As you are aware, the UNITE Campaign was launched more than a decade ago with the aim of galvanizing global attention and action to address the pandemic of Gender Based Violence and particularly - violence against women and girls.
Most unfortunately, violence against women and girls is a pandemic that does not discriminate. It is a reality in every region, and all communities - irrespective of the cultural context or income status.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 women – worldwide - has experienced some form of physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives – which is consistent with the estimated prevalence rate here in Trinidad and Tobago. One unfortunate reality is the prevalence of intimate partner violence around the world to which Trinidad and Tobago is also not immune. Global Estimates suggest that 58% of the 87,000 women internationally killed in 2017 were killed by an intimate partner or family member. Here in Trinidad the estimate is close to 47%.
The costs of violence to societies is also not inconsequential. The impact on survivors constitutes a basic rights violations, but the impact on children, and communities is linked with intergenerational violence, citizen security and there is a steep economic cost in terms of public services and lost productivity. When taken into account they argue for significantly scaling up investments in initiatives to reduce and prevention Gender Based Violence. This year – the UNITE Campaign and 16 Days of Activism would like to draw particular attention to the issue of Rape . I was therefore pleased to see that Interclub chose to organize today’s panel on the particular issue of Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation – which as you know has specific relevance to the context here in Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago continues to be a transit and destination hub for human trafficking and with that comes sexual exploitation and abuse.
In preparing my remarks for today, I was nonetheless shocked to learn that Globally, an estimated 75% of trafficking victims are women and girls – of which nearly three quarters are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Despite these staggering figures, a lot can be done to both prevent and respond to trafficking and to gender-based violence – much of which will form the basis of the UN System support here in Trinidad and Tobago moving forward.
The first, and to me one of the most challenging, involves a change in mindsets and social norms to ensure that no form of violence - is tolerated or accepted. This means tackling family violence and intimate partner violence – as most incidents of violence take place within intimate relationships. Of the 52 women killed in 2017, 43 were due to Domestic Violence.
Attitude change therefore begins in the home. Change also needs to happen in public spaces, our schools, university campuses and work environments– where policies have to be put in place and implemented to deal with sexual harassment, abuse and rape.
This means placing a burden on these institutions to educate their stakeholders on what constitutes harassment, exploitation and rape, ensuring violators are prosecuted and that policies and programmes are in place to support victims.
It is essential that our Police, Teachers, Religious and Community Leaders take action when they hear about violence in homes and communities - and are able to access and turn to clear referral pathways linking victims of violence, trafficking or exploitation to shelters, psycho-social and legal support. In this regard, let me applaud the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for announcing its intention to provide shelters to homeless women who have been victims of family conflict, domestic violence and crime. This will certainly supplement the support provided by the NGO community. The capacity of security services, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges, needs to be supported so that cases are handled with respect for survivors and in a manner that protects them from perpetrators and results in convictions. In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised myself since arriving here a month ago, to see that survivor centered approaches are being implemented by the police when encountering sex rings and handling cases of trafficking.
Most critically, preventing gender-based violence and human trafficking requires reducing the vulnerabilities that people face – this means: getting children into schools and off of streets; reducing poverty in our communities; and providing basic assistance and employment opportunities.
In fact, I would argue that consulting survivors on the lived experience is the place to start in designing good policies. Ladies and Gentlemen, the UN is actively supporting member states around the world to establish and implement policies for counter-trafficking . This includes supporting the establishment of a robust regulatory framework around labour recruitment; training for border control and other authorities on victim identification and referral mechanisms; and strengthening victim protection. – all of which are relevant to the challenges being faced here. We are also working to end the stigma associated with VAW and to address the stubborn social norms that perpetuate violence in the family. Here in Trinidad and Tobago, we have a lot of work to do together. Gender based violence is one of the most acute deprivations of human dignity destroying individuals, families and the communities in which they live.
We all have a responsibility to stand against gender-based violence, rape and trafficking. The UN Family looks forward to working closely with all stakeholders to make progress."
-Resident Representative Randi Davis