by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Ministers of Government debated four Bills during the November 4 Sitting of the National Assembly.
The four bills are the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2022, the Evangelistic Faith Church Incorporation Bill 2022, the Small Business Development (Amendment) Bill 2022, and the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2022, all of which were supported by both sides and passed throughout the sitting.
Most notably, Senator and Junior Minister of Youth Empowerment, Social Development, Gender Affairs, Aging and Disabilities, Hon. Isalean Phillip, introduced the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Bill allows victims of domestic violence, or persons on their behalf, to apply to the Magistrate’s Court or the High Court for protection orders, expands the definition of economic abuse to cover situations where perpetrators have full access and control over victim’s financial resources and give the Director of Gender Affairs powers under the Act, rather than the Director of Social/Family Services, as previously legislated.
Senator Phillip gave some startling figures concerning instances of domestic violence in the Federation, saying there was a 400% increase in domestic violence cases in 2020.
“According to the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force, the reported cases of domestic violence have increased steadily, with a noted surge in 2020 following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Madam Speaker, worldwide the pandemic brought about some additional pressure to families who are already suffering from financial hardship, including sudden loss of income, depression and frustrations in lockdown, which really only increased household tensions. And so as a result, during the height of the pandemic in 2020, our local police records indicate a 400% increase in reported cases of domestic violence, with a total of 359 reports in 2020, compared to a total of 87 reports that were recorded in the previous year 2019.”
The Junior Minister continued, “Furthermore, Madam Speaker, just in the first half of this year , that is, from January to June alone, a total of 238 reported cases of domestic violence have been recorded by police and statistics for this domestic violence just in this year reveal that 195 of these cases, that’s 82%, actually represent female complainants.”
The parliamentary representatives during the debate discussed and pointed to a myriad of abusive behaviours that exist in society, including physical, emotional and financial abuse and the need for a multifaceted approach to combatting gender-based violence.
Senator Dr Joyelle Clarke, in support, said the Bill makes it easier for the victims of domestic violence to access justice, reduces the cost associated with the courts and provides needed support to the Department of Gender Affairs.
“I’m glad to support the Minister of Gender Affairs as she moves forward to ensure that we have the appropriate legislation to support victims of domestic violence. This requires an all-of-society approach where civil society organisations, for example, CSOs Garden of Rebirth, as mentioned by the member for No. 10, are fully supported. Thankfully, the minister has again signed that MOU with Garden of Rebirth, an MOU that we knew under the last administration just took a little bit too long to be signed.
Dr Clarke continued, “When CSOs step up and provide supporting services to government, it is our obligation to provide; lend that helping hand to these organisations – churches, civil society organisations, sports groups, community groups – we need to support, financially or otherwise, all these organisations who provide support for women who experience domestic violence.”
Premier of Nevis and Parliamentary representative for Nevis 9, Hon. Mark Brantley said the government should not just speak about combatting gender-based violence, but we must “walk the walk” and condemn it where it happens.
The Premier spoke of his disbelief about how women suffer economic abuses.
“I can’t, for example, fathom when a woman goes off to work every day and must bring home [her] pay paid to give to a man. Why? These are things that are happening in our society, and all of us must talk out against it; we must stand up in one voice and on one accord and condemn it where it happens because a lot of these little things lead to bigger things. You’re going to tell me a woman is working for her own money and can’t go and do her hair how she wants and her nails how she wants? These things are unacceptable, and we must call them for what they are because there’s still a sentiment in our community that women are property that you own. When they say “my woman”, it doesn’t mean that this is necessarily the person that you are in love with and you care and cherish [them], but you mean some form of ownership. And if they watch another man, even a glance, it’s problems… some call it love; it’s not love, you know. It’s obsession, maybe, but I don’t know if it’s love because [in] love [you’re] supposed to respect people.”
The mover of the Bill, Senator Phillip, indicated that there is more work to be done on the Act to include other protections including for people of the LGBTQIA community; public consultations; education and public awareness of gender-based violence; illustrations of healthy relationships and healthy masculinity; building capacity of the Gender Affairs Department and the need for sensitivity training especially for police and first responders to name a few.
The Attorney General, Hon Garth Wilkin, also said there would be consideration for a future amendment that would make marital rape an offence which he says needs public consultation.
If you or someone you know is going through instances of domestic violence, there is support available for you.
For emergency response, call the Special Victim’s Unit (SVU) at 662-7077; for information and social service support Gender Affairs, call 765-5492 and for mental health support, contact the National Counselling Center at 465-5000.