Advocacy Brief - Ending Violence Against Women

Gender-based violence, and in particular violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most common forms of insecurity facing citizens in the Caribbean.

The Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 notes that “citizen insecurity has become an urgent challenge of human development in…. the Caribbean” with gender seen as “the strongest predictor of criminal behaviour and criminal victimization” (UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report 2012).

While traditional gendered roles inform male vulnerability to involvement in violence and organised crime, women and girls are made vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Citizen Security concerns are therefore manifest differently for men and boys and women and girls.

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) defines violence against women and girls as "Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life".

Gender Based Violence (GBV) can also be defined as: Acts of physical, mental or social abuse (including sexual violence) that is attempted or threatened, with some type of force (such as violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, deception, cultural expectations, weapons or economic circumstances) and is directed against a person because of his or her gender roles and expectations in a society or culture. A person facing gender-based violence has no choice to refuse or pursue other options without severe social, physical, or psychological consequences. Forms of GBV include sexual violence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, early marriage or forced marriage, gender discrimination, denial (such as education, food, freedom) and female genital mutilation. While men and boys can also suffer from GBV, women and girls as those overwhelmingly targeted for abuse.

(Extracted from the UN Women Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls)


Fear of Crime

According to the UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report on Citizen Security 2012, overall, women demonstrate higher levels of fear and also report gender differences in fear of crime in the Caribbean.

Women indicated higher levels of fear of sexual assault (30.4% compared to 11.1 % among men), of being killed (35.4 % compared to 32.8% among men), and of being beaten by a spouse or partner (11.5% compared to 8.6 % among men).

Women also self-reported that they had experienced domestic violence at higher rates than men.


Sexual Violence Rates in the Caribbean

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank report that at 30 per 100,000 population annually, the murder rates in the Caribbean are higher than for any other region of the world. In addition to high rates of homicide, assault rates are also significantly above average. In relation to incidence, this report states that according to the latest available data from the UNODC’s Crime Trends Survey (CTS) based on police statistics, three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world occur in the Caribbean[1].  In addition, all countries in the Caribbean for which comparable data are available (Bahamas, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Jamaica, St. Kitts/Nevis, Dominica, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago) experienced a rate of rape above the unweighted average of the 102 countries in the CTS.

Rape Rates in the Caribbean and Comparison Countries
Rape Rates in the Caribbean and Comparison Countries

Source: Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank 2007.

The problem of sexual violence against women and children as a specific form of Gender-based violence represents a fundamental violation of their human rights.  The high incidence of sexual violence in some Caribbean countries is of particular concern as it is important to note that most incidents of rape and child sexual abuse are often not reported to state authorities.  The 2007 World Bank and UNODC report “Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean” suggests that since rape is greatly under-reported globally, when a high incidence of rape is identified from official statistics (most often drawn from police records) this usually represents a serious problem.

In addition to the quantitative increases in rates of violence against women and girls in the region, media reports and discussions with organisations running shelters and hotlines indicate that there has also been a higher incidence of cruelty in violence against women such as strangulation, dismemberment, a larger number of under-aged victims and high rates of kidnapping and rape including gang rape.

Citizen Security

“Citizen Security may be regarded as a dimension of human security. The more overarching construct, human security is based on a fundamental understanding that governments retain the primary role for ensuring the survival, livelihood and dignity of their citizens”. (UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report 2012)

A human development approach to citizen security re-conceptualizes security in a fundamental way by moving away from traditional, state-centric conceptions of security that focus primarily on the safety of states to one that focuses on the security of  individuals, their protection and empowerment. This model emphasizes the importance of the complementarity between a focus on social inclusion and efficient and effective law enforcement and criminal justice processes to prevent crime and violence, and engages a broader range of actors including local communities, international organisations, civil society and the state. (United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security 2009)

Citizen security approaches too often fail to take gender into account and give limited consideration to gender based and sexual violence as “serious” citizen security issues in light of concerns related to drug interdiction and small arms control. Though direct links are not yet clearly understood, high levels of social violence and the proliferation of small arms exacerbate the climate in which women and girls are even more vulnerable to violence and sexual assault. In a number of CARICOM countries, female victims of reprisal killings along with increased familial responsibility due to absence of men are some of the wider impacts of criminal activity on women and girls.

Baseline studies on the Policing and Prosecution of Sexual Offences in the Caribbean

Baseline studies on the policing and prosecution of sexual offences were conducted in seven countries of the Caribbean region by UN Women’s MCO Caribbean in collaboration with the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police. These studies served as an indicator of the response of justice and security sectors to gender-based violence and revealed deficiencies in the administration of justice for victims of sexual violence.

The studies revealed a steady increase in the number of cases of sexual assault in the judicial system. With one country reporting that the number of cases rose three times in ten years.

Sexual assault was noted as the least reported and often least prosecuted of all violent crimes. In spite of this however countries reported that sexual offences represented as much as 30% of all criminal offences over a two year period.

Deficiencies in the prosecution of sexual offences reported, relate to inadequacies in legislative provisions, poor police response and investigation, inadequacies in the collection of medical evidence including the absence of DNA analysis, delays in trial processes and inefficiencies in related administrative procedures.

Persons charged with sexual and domestic violence offences may be granted bail on application to the court.  The baseline studies highlighted that the granting of bail to offenders may place victims at risk of increased violence, particularly in instances where protection orders are not applied or enforced.

The Case for GBV as a Citizen Security Concern

With global estimates that up to six out of ten women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Violence against women remains one of the most widespread human rights violations yet one of the least prosecuted crimes.

Exceptionally low prosecution rates for sexual and gender based violence in the region reinforce cultures of impunity in addressing gender based violence.

Public confidence in state capacity to protect citizens and ensure justice is critical to an effective citizen security approach. Security and justice actors can play a key role in protecting women and girls from VAWG and in ensuring that survivors of VAWG can access justice and obtain redress.


In addition to the impact of GBV on the health and well-being of individuals, families and societies, the direct and indirect economic costs of GBV further highlight the importance of an incorporation of GBV into broader citizen security approaches and strategies.

Estimate of annual direct costs for households related to incidents of intimate partner violence includes:

  • direct costs resulting from harm to physical and mental health (including visits to ER, hospital stays, general medical attention, and psycho-social support and counselling services);
  • Social services costs (including shelters and counselling);
  • The judicial system (including Legal aid services and court fees);
  • The cost of police responding to violence against women (including time consumption of the police resources);
  • Prosecution and costs combined with specific salary and court outlays as well as the related costs for issuing and the enforcement of protection orders.
  • Costs of imprisonment  

Estimates of indirect costs include income lost due to missed work or low productivity, loss of reproductive labour, impact on children’s school performance and other longer term implications for children and victims including loss of property.


Prevention and Response

To ensure a comprehensive response to GBV, and to reduce its overall prevalence, it is therefore essential that countries in the Caribbean:

  • Implement and monitor the existing legal frameworks to combat gender-based violence in all its forms;
  • Ensure a strengthened response by the judicial and policing systems to combat impunity; 
  • Ensure improved, coordinated response services for women and girls who have experienced violence; and

Significantly expand prevention efforts through an emphasis on addressing culturally sanctioned behaviours - including the complex issue of masculinities - which contribute to the perpetuation of violence against women and girls.



UN Women MCO GBV Programme
UN Women MCO Gender-Based Violence Programme




  • UN Women Virtual Knowledge Centre to end violence against women and girls.
  • Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank 2007.
  • UNDP Caribbean Human Development Report 2012. UNDP
  • Human Security in Theory and Practice; Application of Human Security Concept and the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security. United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security 2009
  • Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls through Security and Justice Programming. Chase Guidance Note Series: Guidance Note 4. 2013
  • Latin America and Caribbean Regional Strategy on Women’s Access to Justice 2011-2015.


[1] The Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Jamaica.