Andrea Bharatt  vigil

IN HER NAME: A candlelight vigil for murder victim Andrea Bharatt outside the Red House on Abercromby Street, Port of Spain.

NINETEEN activist groups have invited the nation to stage a “walkout” from workplaces in observation today of International Women’s Day (IWD) and to honour the activism that followed the murders of several young women, including Andrea Bharatt.

In a statement last week, the Alliance for State Action to End Gender Based Violence described crimes against women and girls as a “national emergency” and “supported this call for our Government to take urgent action”.

The Alliance, led by Samantha Juman, will today conduct a walkout starting at City Gate, Port of Spain at 2 p.m. and concluding outside the Red House, the seat of Parliament, “where we will call on our Government and Opposition for immediate action against gender-based violence”.

Act to Change T&T was among those staging petitions, vigils and protests following the discovery of Bharatt’s body off a precipice in the Heights of Aripo on February 4, 2021.

The 23-year-old clerk at the Arima Magistrates’ Court went missing on January 29, after getting into a fake “H” taxi on her way home from work.

Similarly, on December 29, 2020, 18-year-old Ashanti Riley disappeared after boarding a “PH” taxi in San Juan and was found dead on January 4, 2021, in La Canoa, Santa Cruz.

A number of other women and girls have gone missing or been killed and the Government has faced mounting pressure to address crime and gender-based violence.

The Alliance stated: “In honouring the momentum of all the recent protests, rallies, marches, motorcades, and vigils across the country, we ask the nation to join the 19 women’s rights and social justice organisations who will come together on March 8, International Women’s Day, to host an International Women’s Day Walkout.

This symbolic nationwide walkout will see “people of all walks walk out from their offices, homes, or wherever they might be, to gather at the capital city’s major transportation hub, City Gate at 2 p.m. This walk will conclude outside the Parliament/Red House where we will call on Government and Opposition for immediate action against gender-based violence”.

The organisation said the exercise was “in reaction to the violent murders” of Riley and Bharatt, which “has brought Trinidad and Tobago to a tipping-point of social action and demands for justice”.

“Ordinary citizens across the country have led protests, marches, rallies, motorcades, strikes, and candlelight vigils over the past weeks, demonstrating the type of courage that is required by our leaders in this time of crisis,” it stated.

The Alliance listed ongoing crime statistics concerning women and girls, noting that in 2017, “52 women were murdered, 43 of which were related to domestic violence”.

In 2020, 21 of 46 women murdered were killed as a result of domestic violence, it said.

“Just as astonishing as the number of deaths is the rate at which women experience intimate partner violence in this country, which is pegged at one in every three women,” the organisations said.

Have a conscience

The collaboration of activists stated: “In the spirit of IWD’s 2021 theme #ChooseToChallenge, the collective efforts of our Walkout will challenge the conscience of our leaders to implement measures to create a safer T&T for women.”

The groups reiterated demands made during its Day Without Women campaign, where it had called on women to stay away from home and make a statement as to their role in supporting the economy.

The Alliance has listed six demands to end gender-based violence, starting with safer transportation for women and children.

“All registered public transport vehicles must be equipped with digital tracking systems and surveillance cameras to ensure greater safety. We support the initiative by the Attorney General to regulate the public transportation system, ensuring that every number plate will have a radio frequency tag,” the Alliance said.

It is also calling on the Government to “invest in and implement social reformation programmes to facilitate cultural change by teaching non-violent communication approaches, investing in social service provision, and public education campaigns”.

Government must also “approve the National Strategic Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence”, it said.

It noted that Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Gender and Child Affairs, stated in November 2020 that the Government was committed to “the elimination of all forms of family violence and discrimination”.

“This Strategic Action Plan to End GBV, which provides a comprehensive approach to do this, has been in front of the Cabinet since 2016 and is yet to be approved,” the Alliance said.

The organisations said while IWD is a day to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements, “how can we wholeheartedly uplift our women when they are murdered, raped, and kidnapped in our country?

“It would be an injustice not to recognise the women and girls who no longer have the opportunity to celebrate life. In their names, on IWD 2021, we will remind our leaders once again, as we successfully did on the day of Andrea’s funeral, that the protection of women must be a national priority,” the Alliance added.

It went on to note a list of women and girls whose deaths or disappearances have been linked to unsafe public transportation and said: “It is unacceptable that women comprise 43 per cent of this nation’s workforce and yet do not feel safe using public transportation to go to work, the site where they are expected to be valuable contributors to the economy.

“The country has failed to ensure the right to life, liberty and security of the person to all women.”

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