Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Gaps in national COVID response could leave abuse victims vulnerable, says group

Published:Sunday | July 12, 2020 | 12:00 AM
President of the Women Entrepreneurship Network of the Caribbean, Ethnie Miller Simpson (contributed).

A regional women's group is pointing to gaps within national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, which could leave abused women and children even more vulnerable.  

The Women's Entrepreneurship Network of the Caribbean (WENC), which has launched a crisis programme for its 135 membership of business owners, says women and children who are being abused and are displaying COVID-19- like symptoms may find themselves in a conundrum. 

"The current pandemic highlights gaps in the system and underscores the lack of response to key areas of concern within a national plan. These include policies and protocols for dealing with women and children who display signs of COVID-19," WENC underscored in a release. 

“Will women be denied entry to places of safety and left at the mercy of the enraged abusers? Are the agencies adequately staffed with protective equipment?” WENC quoted its president, Ethnie Miller Simpson, a Jamaican businesswoman. 

The group is also concerned about provisions for passage to safe places during curfews, and mechanisms that allow victims to access help while under the watchful gaze of their abusers. It also noted  that when the victim makes a call to a relevant helpline, there is no guarantee there will be a response. 

“Inasmuch as helplines have been established, at times when women call for help the lines remain unanswered,” Miller Simpson said. 

She noted the efforts of the Ministry of Gender to raise awareness about the support available to victims of gender-based violence, but said the existing framework remains inadequate to meet the needs of victims and families, as it does not have the capacity to do so.

However, Miller Simpson and WENC say they are also concerned about the help available to perpetrators, who need mental and emotional support. 

“Although we are focused on female victims, we are equally concerned about the lack of support for the mental and emotional well-being of the perpetrator, who is increasingly tense as a result of current economic and familial constraints,” Miller Simpson said.

'Listening volunteers'

She said the issues affecting both victims and perpetrators have formed the basis for WENC's response programme, the WENC Sisters initiative, which provides intermediary services to its 135 female entrepreneurs. The organisation has created a pool of persons, dubbed 'Listening volunteers', who act as intercessors between victims and institutions that provide help. The volunteers, who are mandated to operate in strict confidence, will alert institutions only if the victim explicitly requests help . 

"WENC is primarily business-focused. However, we cannot separate the entrepreneur and needs of entrepreneurship from primary gender issues, as we are first women before we are businesswomen. Therefore, we have long envisaged the provision of support beyond the realm of entrepreneurship for our community," said Miller Simpson.

She noted that providing such an initiative for its membership is important because "female CEOs and founders are still disproportionately impacted by entrenched gender bias, the lack of a formalised care economy; languishing legislation that denies justice to sexual harassment victims, and a [non]-supportive financial sector that still directs 44 per cent of women entrepreneurs to the microfinancing sector, as a result of unfairly designed collateral requirements. 

"Through our crisis response programme, we can reduce the frustration experienced by a victim’s efforts to contact the authorities; introduce victims to partner organisations that specialise in conflict resolution, and provide familiar support who will make the time to listen and support another woman in business,” she concluded. 

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