Featured Storyteller

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: We All Shed Tears Over Violence Against Women

Elizabeth Francis
Posted July 14, 2021 from Trinidad and Tobago

Elizabeth Francis sees a striking contrast between the Caribbean’s idyllic island life and rising rates of gender-based violence. She dreams of creating a healing space to give survivors a fresh start.

“We have marched, we have stood with candles and cried, we have raised our voices, and we have advocated for change. We have put systems in place, hotlines upon hotlines, but still, it’s not a lifeline in the moment.

I live on a beautiful tiny island in the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago is known for its rich multi-ethnic culture, a world-renowned carnival filled with elaborate costumes and exuberant celebrations, and the only acoustic musical instrument created in the 20th century: the steel drum. We are known for our beautiful, sun-kissed beaches, tasty street food, and natural rainforest.

But lately, we are also known for an ever-increasing rise in domestic violence against women. In fact, 2020 was one of the most violent years on record: 46 women were killed, 21 of them at the hands of men they loved. The total number of reported domestic violence cases was 556

For a country with a population of only 1.4 million, it is a worrying figure. The increase in cases has coincided with the pandemic, with more families at home together for an extended period due to lockdown measures.

We have marched, we have stood with candles and cried, we have raised our voices, and we have advocated for change. We have put systems in place, hotlines upon hotlines, but still, it’s not a lifeline in the moment.

We have questioned why, wondering where we have gone wrong. Women in our country are not alone. The World Health Organization says 1 in every 3 women globally has experienced physical or sexual abuse. That's a startling reality.

Perpetrators’ misbehavior is chalked up to countless excuses and studies. But survivors face staggering health consequences and endure social and economic costs. Violence against women impacts the lives of children, families, and communities as a whole.  

It pains us when a sister’s light is snuffed out, whether at the hands of one she loves or a stranger who has violated her right to life. Any act of violence against women is too much. Survivors need a broad spectrum of care and attention. We need to continue to advocate for survivors, making change in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean, and the rest of the world.  

Our men and boys need help, too. Boys are brought up not to show their weaknesses. They are taught control rather than leadership. A report from the Ministry of Social Development Family Services notes that many abusers already struggled with anger issues. During the pandemic, alcohol and drug consumption exacerbated some of the men’s violent rants. 

Changing behavior begins in early childhood with parenting and education. There is a move in the right direction by faith-based and other organizations to address this. The report suggested plans for men to participate in parenting sessions and sensitization workshops as an opportunity to further reach our men. 

There's a saying in my country: it takes a village. It will take all of us – the individual, the home, the community, the country – to play our part in curbing this scourge that stalks our land. 

My dream is to one day be able to provide an opportunity for a fresh start – an ecosystem where young girls and women can be safe from domestic violence and abuse, an environment conducive to making a fresh start, empowered to empower others. 

I have a vision to purchase a 5-acre country estate to provide temporary resort accommodations in nature. Here, women will be able to find space for healing in the serenity of lush green tropical gardens. Green organic farming will provide jobs and opportunities to dream again – to become sustainable and self-sufficient. It will also serve as a facility to produce natural fibers and dyes for my brand’s collection, and to sell on the retail market for income generation.

Profits from the planned ecological projects will fund scholarships and start-up support so that women and girls can achieve their goals. Our focus will be on self-enhancement, fiber technology, and innovation. We want to create programs to raise awareness, facilitate solutions, and provide holistic intervention aimed at saving lives. 

Mariela Dabbah, the founder of the Red Shoe Project, said it best when she said, “Women who support other women are confident, generous visionaries.” That's who we are, and I believe we can bring our visions to life.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

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Comments 21

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Elizabeth Francis
Jul 14
Jul 14

Awwwh thank you so much world pulse, you have made my week, I feel so honored to awarded the Feature Story. I wrote on behalf women and girls all over the world especially my beautiful island, have and are being affected by Domestic Violence. I believe alone we can strike a match, but together we can create a blaze.. Let's do our part in which ever way we can to make a difference. Thank you for your support my sisters.

megsmueller
Jul 14
Jul 14

Hi there and congratulations Elizabeth! Thank you for amplifying your vision. Very inspiring! All the best, dear Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 14
Jul 14

Thank you so much my sister, my voice is our voice, the realization of my dream is a win for us all.
Blessings in your own endeavour s as well
Together we shall rise

NadiaSimone
Jul 15
Jul 15

This hits home for me since I grew up on the neighboring island of Barbados with similar social issues and also in a home where, unfortunately, I witnessed my mother suffer constant verbal and physical abuse from my father. Thank you for sharing your story and vision with us, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 15
Jul 15

Hii nadiasimone... My bjan sister.. Yes girl, somehow in the Caribbean that was a norm, unfortunately some women even accepted it, there are few homes in which it hasn't been experienced in one way or another. Let us continue to use the space and opportunities afforded to us to make a difference, blessings in your endeavours as well, keep on soaring

ruthieshah
Jul 15
Jul 15

Hi Elizabeth, you write something so painful so beautifully. Though I currently live in Tanzania, East Africa, I too am from the Caribbean. I moved away when I was just in my mid teens and now in my forties I only lived there for a short while again after law school where I practiced in a few jurisdictions. I am still very much quintessentially West Indian and as a human rights lawyer my heart burns to make a difference at home. With respect to domestic violence I have long wondered about how we can eradicate DV and VAW having watch my mother's husband be abusive in so many different ways, unspeakable violence and us kids witnessed and were impacted by. But I have long observed on the islands a certain patriarchy (irrespective of our strong woman banter which has its place) that is so pervasive and insidious that I believe intensive education and awareness raising programmes must happen to change the tide. I cannot speak for all the islands but my exposure and experience concludes that we have similarities and as such I cautiously say our Caribbean culture plays into patriarchal standards and beliefs. It can be found in our music (which too is very degrading of women), our beliefs (gyal you best learn cook for that man/man going beat you..all said so flippantly its not even met with horror), our adapted gender roles and the list goes on. A conditioning that has been with us for time. Both male and female perpetuate these standards that contribute to DV and VAW. We must unlearn this and teach our youth a different way. Thank you so much for your story. It does take a village and together we can.

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 15
Jul 15

Hi ruthieshah, beautiful name, thank you for your kind compliment my fellow trini. I totally agree with all you said there is need for continued awareness and education especially as far as parenting and breaking of cultural norms as far as the normalisation of abuse to women is concerned. Rightly said yes thank God for platforms like these we can find support, raise our voices and share solutions.. All the best in your endeavours my sister.. Continue soar

Jill Langhus
Jul 16
Jul 16

Hi Elizabeth,

Great, sobering article, and great vision, too! Congrats on being featured, too, dear. You rock! I can't wait to see your beautiful, safe haven come into reality.

I agree with the report that you cited, too, that men, and boys, need to learn how to be better parents and become more tolerant, emotive, patient, and kind. This is the future, and addressing the cause and root of the problem is the way forward.

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 16
Jul 16

Hi Jill how are you, thank you for your kind words, yes we have a problem and solutions need to be meaningful, yes our men need to be re educated away from cultural norms, violence against women in any form is not OK.. Together we as women will succeed, let's continue to cheer each other on..

Jill Langhus
Jul 16
Jul 16

Hi Elizabeth,

I'm well, thanks. I hope you are, too:-)

You're very welcome. Yes, and will do!

Hope you have a good weekend.XX

ARREY- ECHI
Jul 16
Jul 16

Dear Elizabeth,
Congratulations for your story award!
It is a beautiful read which forcefully shines the light on the realities of many women across the globe but most especially Trinidad and Tobago. Surrounding by Idyllic sights but finding their lives in painful jumples.
Thank you for using your pen to shed more lights on this sad reality.
I agree with you that it takes a village and yes, all hands have to be on deck which therefore means as you rightly said, relearning and unlearning the way we raise our boys who become violent men.
I can picture that beautiful safe space you wish to own and all the amazing women who will be there, being shown how special they are. May your dreams come true.

Keep winning.

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 16
Jul 16

Thank you so much my dear for your kind words.. My dream is spurred on by your encouragement, yes together we all win. It is an issue that needs addressing, not just with words but radical plans that will bring change..Continue to shine in your own endeavours, we are sisters cheering on sisters

Marie Abanga
Jul 16
Jul 16

Congratulations dear Elizabeth,
that's my dream too for women in my country. Will definitely be following your updates closely and I wish you to find partners and funds the soonest so your project gets going and lives are save faster and hope restored earlier than not.
Love from Cameroon
Marie

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 16
Jul 16

Hey Maria, how are you? Thank you for your kind words, yes together we are stronger, we all win together.
Prayers go up for speedy investment, meantime the work continues.. Keep in shining my sister

Tamarack Verrall
Jul 17
Jul 17

Dear Elizabeth,
How good to see your story featured. It is full of such important news and information. Speaking out about the heightened violence against women that is happening in so many countries is so important to have documented and made known.
"Perpetrators’ misbehavior is chalked up to countless excuses and studies". So true! It is received as if violence toward women is just one of those things we have to accept as part of reality. "We have questioned why, wondering where we have gone wrong". As women working to support women through healing we constantly ask ourselves this question. It is not what we haven't done. It is the strength and determination behind the patriarchal systems we live under, that things stay this way. So true that there is a need to reach men and boys. Some welcome the idea of it being ok to be gentle and working together, as do the men here with us in World Pulse. One of the best work that gentle men can do is to teach boys that it is okay to break away from being "tough guys" and end that narrative.

What a great your vision of getting land for a healing place for women to come heal with sisters in nature. I so hope your powerful and beautiful dream soon comes true.
Sisterlove,
Tam

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 18
Jul 18

Hey tam , thank y0u f0r y0ur kind w0rds ,yes 0ur men need help as well t0gether we can c0mbat this ,i am s0 h0n0red t0 have an pp0rtunity t0 share my visi0n here 0n W0rld pulse ,where t0gether as sisters we are making an impact 0n the w0rld Success in y0ur endeav0urs as well ,keep 0n shining

Honorine Ngenwi
Jul 17
Jul 17

Hello Eli that's very taughtfull of you and may God give you the strength and wisdom my sister.
Stay blessed

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 18
Jul 18

Thank y0u my darling sister , may we all be granted strenght t0 acc0mplish 0ur endeavu0rs Keep 0n shining

Adanna
Jul 19
Jul 19

Congratulations on your story award Elizabeth!

Indeed, we can make a difference no matter how little and in any way we can.

Beautiful picture. :-)

Thank you for sharing.

Sending you lots of love.

Elizabeth Francis
Jul 19
Jul 19

Thank you so much adanna my dear sister, indeed every little effort adds up and will eventually make an impact
Together we win, keep on shining my friend

Mandali Thoughts
Jul 23
Jul 23

Congratulations elizabeth..I have seen this experience being faced by many women across the globe..thanks for sharing it with us..let us all hope that we bring in lot of awareness and hopefully the day will come when women don't have to face many hardships.