Gender Justice

#ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

A society where care and peace have more value than authority and violence

An interview with Dr Gabrielle Hosein, Head of Department and Senior Lecturer at IGDS

By Omega Francis


The recent occurrences of violence against women in Trinidad and Tobago have brought the topic of gender-based violence once again to the forefront. Many of us have been calling for change from those in power, however the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) has been putting in the work to educate and change the landscape when it comes to gender-based violence. This week, UWI Today got a chance to sit down and chat with Dr Gabrielle Hosein, Head of Department and Senior Lecturer at IGDS, about how the institute has been facing this issue.

What is the mandate of the IGDS, and how does it connect with the issue of gender-based violence?

The mandate of the IGDS for the past 28 years, and for the future, is to provide knowledge that transforms gender relations in the Caribbean and support the UWI's impact on regional development. Our multi- and cross-disciplinary research, teaching and outreach, includes attention to advocacy, policymaking, social justice movement-building, and provision of technical expertise to a wide range of international, regional and grassroots partners. Our extensive involvement in activism provides a knowledge base for our research and teaching, and vice versa. Gender-based violence is only one example of gender injustice, which we both theorise and aim to transform through mainstreaming critical attention to gendered power relations throughout both the UWI and the region.

What has been some of the work the Institute has put in within the past few years that focuses on violence against women specifically?

The Institute produced a qualitative national study on gender-based violence in 2018 and chaired the Research Steering Committee for the Women's Health Survey which provided prevalence data on violence against women and girls for the first time. Following this, we called for a private sector strategy to address intimate partner violence, which led to the TT Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence developing the first workplace policy on domestic violence in TT.

We are part of the Alliance for State Action to End Gender-based Violence, a coalition of feminist and other CSOs, which called for and engaged reforms related to the Domestic Violence Act, and will continue to work on other legislative protections. The IGDS project, a Sexual Culture of Justice, has tackled gender-based bullying in schools, trained teachers and guidance counsellors, and created the viral #pullupyuhbredren hashtag following its work with men on GBV. In relation to youth, the Break the Silence Campaign, the nation's longest running campaign to end child sexual abuse and incest, continues with production of a bilingual, migrant-centred toolkit, and we are integrating a focus on GBV into the health and family life (HFLE) curriculum for primary and secondary schools. Our undergraduate mentorship programme, IGDS Ignite, also led to establishment of the student group #catcallsofUWI which documents experiences of sexual harassment on campus, and in the wider society, and organises around GBV prevention in collaboration with the [UWI St Augustine Student] Guild and student groups.

Can you tell us about the type of collaborative efforts that the IGDS has undertaken that have borne fruit when it comes to this pertinent issue?

Gender-based violence is not going to stop tomorrow. It is founded on a highly resilient patriarchal organisation of our society which gives status to violence, devalues the labour and value of care, and normalises gender and other inequalities, ultimately harming both women and men. We consider gang violence to be gender-based violence as much as we consider intimate partner violence, women's unequal power over national decision-making, and homophobia to all be forms of gender-based violence. All change to such systemic inequality will be incremental and must be sustainable. In that context, many of our activities and outputs have 'borne fruit'. Our partnerships have expanded and strengthened, the analysis we bring is becoming better and more widely understood, there's a younger generation that we are mentoring for leadership every step of the way, and we can see shifts in social norms and gender sensitivity because of our coalition involvement and advocacy. We successfully introduce and complete projects that can have long term impact. Given that this is a long struggle, these are ways we think about our collaborative approach bearing fruit.

What are some governmental policies that the IGDS has championed, or has supported that will/may have a positive impact on gender-based violence in Trinidad and Tobago?

Focusing on the future, IGDS is involved in collaborating with many of our partners to amend the Sexual Offences Act and the Children's Act. We have long been calling for approval and resourcing of a national strategic plan to end gender-based violence and continue to call for sexual harassment legislation. We are calling for a gender-sensitive national transportation policy. Finally, the Sexual Culture of Justice project has led three years of advocacy for amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act. For us, however, ending gender-based violence isn't simply about legislation, but is also about effective implementation and administration of justice across social support systems, policing and the Judiciary.

In your professional experience, is there one main reason why those who assault women are motivated to do so? What are the main factors that can predict this?

Based on all global evidence, male violence against women is rooted in ideas that normalise and naturalise men's power and domination over women's bodies, sexuality and choices. We see these ideas reproduced in religion, in media, in politics, in the labour market, in state law, and in the family. They become more dangerous in situations of economic hardship and vulnerability. Sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls takes place in homes, in schools, in taxis, in workplaces and on the streets. It happens to girls under three years old and to women in their 70s, regardless of what women or girls do. It happens when women are in relationships and when they try to leave. It happens to girls by men of all ages. It does not only happen in interpersonal relationships or as partner violence (and indeed women can be violent partners also). It also happens to a greater extent to those women and girls who are most vulnerable – young women, poor women, migrant women, sex workers, disabled women, and girls. Transforming these beliefs, because they are the main factors, should be our goal, keeping in mind that there is also no single, immediate, or simple fix.

What are some research-based, or evidence-based practices a society can undertake to turn the tide of gender-based violence; specifically, violence against women?

We need to end the extreme violence that children grow up witnessing or experiencing; the roots of gender-based violence (including violence among men and boys) become embedded through such early trauma. The work to end male perpetration of violence involves transforming how we socialise boys, ending the impunity with which crimes against women are committed (given low numbers of charges and convictions), and far better integration of gender equality goals across all state policy and practice. Addressing violence overall in our society is also necessary. Transformation of the administration of justice, including rehabilitation programmes for prisoners and perpetrators, and a genuine commitment to the sustained community-level work that equality and justice require is key to an impact. The IGDS aims for a society in which your sex, gender or sexuality isn't more important than whether or not you are a good human being, and where your value, inclusion and rights are not determined by whether or not you meet masculine or feminine ideals. We strive for a society in which care, and peace have more value than authority and violence. However our society pursues this, the evidence suggests that this vision is what is needed.

*For more details on IGDS’ Advocacy and Activism work, visit the IGDS Instagram page.

Omega Francis is a writer, editor and blogger based in Trinidad and Tobago.