These deeply ingrained norms, along with higher unemployment rates and lower earnings for women compared to men, make women particularly vulnerable to GBV. This includes various forms such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, and other sexual offenses.
Meet Donysia Francis-Domergé, a former calypsonian, a mother, and a passionate advocate striving to “change the narrative” of acceptance that has persisted from her childhood into her adult life.
Donysia shares her experience, “In those days, GBV was considered normal, both within the home and the neighborhood. I would hear my friends being subjected to violence, and I knew it was wrong, but it was normalized. I never knew that the government paid attention to GBV or that help was available”.
Donysia is a well-known calypsonian under the sobriquet “Lady Empress,” composing songs celebrating love, unity, and the enchanting customs of her homeland. While entertaining audiences with infectious rhythms brought her joy, she felt compelled as a witness to GBV to make a more meaningful contribution to society, especially for women.
Donysia reflects on her journey, “Through religion, counseling, and support groups tailored for women, I discovered my strength and empathy, which were essential in assisting others on their journeys toward safety and recovery. I aimed to dismantle the shame carried by survivors”.
She adds, “You know, many women I know have been victims of rape, and no one knew about it when we were growing up. Sometimes, during our women’s group meetings, we sit together and have heart-to-heart conversations, and that’s when we feel safe enough to share our stories. The revelations are disheartening and shocking. People are not speaking out because they are afraid of the stigma”.
In smaller communities, the stigma surrounding GBV can be particularly strong, making it challenging for survivors to seek help. However, Donysia, a dedicated professional, empowers survivors to transform their pain into a catalyst for change.
Donysia’s aspirations extended beyond the confines of the church. She now works at a refuge—a sanctuary for survivors of intimate partner violence seeking healing. In this shelter, Donysia joins forces with a group of dedicated women, to provide essential support to women who have faced the trials of domestic violence.
Donysia’s commitment to ending GBV led her to be actively engaged in learning about initiatives aimed at addressing GBV at a systemic level, including training in the implementation of the National Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
These SOPs, developed by the Gender-Based Violence Unit within the Ministry of Gender Affairs in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), were a response to the pressing need for comprehensive, consistent support for GBV victims. These procedures serve as a detailed guide for various sectors, in particular the police, health, justice, and social services, outlining their individual and collaborative roles in addressing GBV.
Before the introduction of these SOPs, there had been a lack of synergy among these sectors, resulting in delayed interventions and services for GBV survivors. The SOPs aimed to streamline and coordinate efforts across these sectors to ensure a more effective, survivor-centred, and rights-based response to GBV cases.
Donysia reflects on her involvement, “I do not intend to waste my time at workshops. I came to learn so that I can make effective changes wherever I find myself, whether at work, in church, or within my community”.
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