ROSEAU — Although human rights encompass an array of violations, the ones that are discernible in the day-to-day lives of people in Dominica encompass violence against women and children. Public policy has historically undermined the rights of women and children in Dominica with laws that fail to recognize spousal rape and that permit corporal punishment in schools.
The government has acknowledged the violations of human rights in Dominica. It has aligned with international organizations and NGOs to better the standard of living for the affected demographics.
A red flag that is instantly seen is in regards to the correlating punishment for rape. Traditionally, Dominican law caps off the punishment at 25 years, and on average, only five to seven years are given. A lack of temporary housing and counseling for victims of rape and domestic violence often impedes them from reporting the offender to the police.
Stigmas against rape victims, as well as retribution also cause the problem to be under-reported. For a short period of time, the Bureau of Gender Affairs collaborated with the Dominica National Council of Women to provide temporary shelter for survivors. Nominal funding, however, led to its closure in 2014.
Public policy continues to be a failure of human rights in Dominica, with weak laws on sexual harassment. Women often encounter such provocation in the workplace, or even openly on the roads.
More than 1,300 deaths between 2008 and 2014 were attributed to gender-based violence. In September of 2014, 58 percent of the cases heard by the high court were sexual crimes. Women the age of 16 were found to make up 52 percent of the victims in these cases. Many of these women, 47 percent exactly, were related to their perpetrator.
Children under the age of 16 are often defenseless and become easy targets for older family members. Abortion is not an option for victims of rape who become pregnant. The Dominican government considers abortion a criminal offense, even when the life of the mother is in peril.
Fittingly, to combat such violations of human rights in Dominica, the nation has made gender equality and empowerment of women a sustainable development goal. Training programs and adult education opportunities are being offered to help women gain independence. Doors of opportunity open for them, and they are not reliant on their abusers for survival.
Awareness of gender-based violence is being promoted by workshops and outreach programs. Dominica participates in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence led by the United Nations. Monthly, the country takes part in Orange Day, aimed at eliminating violence against women and providing support to abuse victims.
Dominica’s greatest accomplishment, however, was achieved in 2016 with the Sexual Offenses Amendment Bill of 2016. Perpetrators are held to a higher standard, and can be convicted to imprisonment for the rest of their lives. Changing laws and establishing programs has, and continues to, convey a strong message to the population that the government is willing to provide a safe environment for the women and children of Dominica.
– Tanvi Wattal