The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a significant global increase in the already widespread fight against violence against women, including here in Trinidad and Tobago.

According to a United Nations Women Representative, T&T recorded one of the highest percentage increases in domestic violence during the pandemic of 149 per cent. Data from the local domestic violence hotline also showed a rise in distress calls.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Gender and Child Affairs Division, Ayanna Webster-Roy, yesterday said, “Intimate Partner Violence increased significantly between 2020 and 2021 compared to previous years, both globally and in Trinidad and Tobago, with domestic violence-related deaths increasing during the pandemic.”

Delivering opening remarks during a virtual town hall meeting to commemorate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence hosted by her ministry, she urged, “We all share responsibility for putting an end to all forms of gender-based violence, particularly sexual violence against women and girls, as we stand in solidarity with survivors, advocates and defenders of women’s rights.”

Webster-Roy underscored, “Let us be clear that this is not a women’s issue but a human rights issue and the need to create a more gender-based world should be everybody’s business.”

November 25 was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) under the theme “Orange the World: End Violence Against Women Now.”

Supporting the call by the United Nations Women-UNiTE 2 Campaign’s call for advocacy, increased awareness and knowledge-sharing, the minister said gender sensitisation is an important component of T&T’s National Policy on Gender and Development, which takes into account the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) five and ten, which call for gender equality and the reduction of inequalities respectively.

UN Women Representative Tonni Brodber cited increased statistics from the Caribbean region.

She said 46 per cent of women in the region have at one point experienced violence in their relationship, be it emotional, physical, sexual, psychological, or economical.

Indicating there was a year on year increase in the figures coming out of some countries in the region since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Brodber said T&T recorded a 149 per cent increase, while Anguilla recorded a 125 per cent increase and Barbados a 38 per cent increase.

Noting the reporting had now petered out, she said, “We need to understand why. Is it indeed that the prevalence has gone down? Or is it a circumstance in which persons do not want to go to the police?”

Acting Director in the Gender Affairs Division, Antoinette Jack-Martin, said, “Gender-based violence is real. It is a real and pervasive issue globally.”

In 2017, the National Women’s Health Survey conducted in T&T found 30 per cent of every partnered woman experienced physical or sexual partner violence, while a quantitative study done in the same year by UN Women confirmed this. Current data culled from the ministry’s 800-SAVE hotline also indicates that from January to September 2021, a total of 2,236 calls were made to the hotline.

Jack-Martin further revealed, “A total of 4,586 calls were made from January to October 2020, as compared to 2,096 calls for the corresponding period of 2019.”

This, she said, represented an increase of 119 per cent in the volume of calls.

A further analysis showed that 11 per cent of calls were made by males, while 89 per cent of calls were made by females.

A total of 647 reports were received from January to August 2019, compared to 1,001 reports received during the corresponding period in 2020, which represented a 55 per cent increase in reporting.

Saying these figures were far too high, the acting director said it had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had brought about strains and restrictions faced by some men and gave rise to the increased violence against women.

The Central Registry on Domestic Violence is designed to collect and integrate information from all victims of domestic violence and an expansion of this system is expected to engender a more robust tracking system for all forms of violence against women.

Lauding the State’s efforts in the establishment of two safe homes for female survivors and one such facility for men, Jack-Martin said, “Over the last year, 94 women and children received a suite of services including case management, psychotherapy, access to online court protection orders and recreational activities.”

One male also received help via the safe home initiative in the past year.