Womantra director Elyesse Marcellin

Women’s groups say Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s recommendation that women arm themselves with pepper spray and firearms is a step in the right direction.

At a press media briefing on Tuesday to address the public outcry over recent violence against women and children, Griffith said he would be approaching the Attorney General to legalise pepper spray use by women. He also advised more women to apply for Firearm Users’ Licences (FUL) to protect themselves. He noted that out of the 30,000 firearm licence applicants, just about 3,000 were women, adding women should not be afraid to be a licensed gun owner as people have a right to bear arms to protect themselves.

Commenting on this yesterday, International Women’s Resource Network’s (IWRN) president Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan said the use of pepper spray and firearms could be another important layer of protection for women.

“What we would like to see added to that is the recommendations we had made to the Attorney General to increase the fines for different layers of domestic violence. It is something that we want to raise again with him,” Isaac-Rattan told Guardian Media.

She said the correspondence was sent to the AG in June 2018 but they have not received any feedback about the implementation of the recommendations.

“So we are saying with the increase in the penalty for perpetrators, coupled with the granting of firearm licences for women and the pepper spray, we think that is a step in the right direction, particularly for women who have their own businesses who might be attacked by the perpetrator in the space.”

Womantra director Élysse Marcellin meanwhile said the decriminalisation and legalisation of the use of non-lethal self defence weapons is one of the interventions women’s rights and gender justice movements have been calling on the state to introduce for years. “While we may not all agree on whether this is the most urgent response to be prioritised, we are certainly grateful to have a representative of a high office of the state, such as the CoP, champion a call that continues to be ignored when coming from representatives of the citizenry and civil society,” Marcellin said.

“We welcome any other representative of the state to be so courageous as to similarly acknowledge and support the repeated requests being made to address the unique threat of violence that women, girls and gender minorities face.”

However, she said the group still wants to see the implementation of programmes and policies that promote non-violent interventions, like conflict resolution, anger management for perpetrators and peer intervention.

While they understand the logic behind calling for women to become legal gun owners, she said, “But more guns will not end violence. Instead, we wish to amplify all calls on the state to introduce and enact an amended and comprehensive National Gender Policy, inclusive of violence intervention strategies. We also emphasise the need for gender-sensitive budgets and the implementation of a social fund to support organisations working in the area of gender-based violence.

“We also call on our leaders to recognise the detrimental and fatal consequences of failing to treat violence against women as a men’s issue that also requires their equal and unequivocal participation, including in addressing the scourge of hyper-masculine displays of violence, from gang violence to sexual assault and domestic violence.”

Marcellin said they look forward to the day when the country’s leadership is less moved by the number of votes they might lose for taking progressive steps and is more motivated by a vision for a safe, equitable and just society.

San Fernando Business Association president Daphne Barlett meanwhile believes that pepper spray and firearms will deter men from attacking women.

“As women we need to protect ourselves. Also, if you look at what’s going on in the country, all the various activities, violence against women one, then you have the normal bandits, you have the home invasions.”

However, she said women must be properly trained in how to use a firearm and pepper spray.

“It will act as a deterrent. Perpetrators, once they know you can defend yourself in whatever way, whether it is with the pepper spray, with a cutlass, with a gun, whatever instrument, they would be fearful, that is human nature. Why you think people are fearful of bandits, it’s because they always have some weapon that they can attack you with.”