Mon | Jul 4, 2022

Alison Drayton | Ensuring access to essential services for gender-based violence survivors

Published:Thursday | May 26, 2022 | 12:05 AM

A cursory glance at newspaper headlines across the Caribbean paints a grim picture of the impact of gender-based violence (GBV) in the region, particularly violence against women and girls: ‘Woman hacked to death at home’; ‘Cop convicted of raping teenager’; ‘Man charged with raping daughter’; ‘St James-based pastor charged with the rape of a teenage girl’;. ‘Mother, stepfather charged with inciting 13-year-old daughter to have sex’. Are we prepared to accept this as our legacy?

GBV refers to any harmful act perpetrated against a person’s will, and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between males and females. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and other deprivations of liberty. Recent studies undertaken in Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago estimate a high prevalence in intimate-partner violence and child sexual abuse, as well as a significant risk for women and girl survivors being killed by their intimate partners.

While prevention of these crimes lies mainly at the perpetrator’s hands, a number of these incidents (including deaths) can be prevented by service providers, who, with the proper training and resources, will be able to mitigate risks, protect survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Essential services, such as health service providers, are also considered as entry points for survivors of GBV, especially those who are suffering from intimate-partner violence and are being isolated from their support networks, or those who are unaware of having been subjected to GBV, or don’t know where to find help. These entry points, when properly trained and provided with adequate resources, can become safe havens for survivors. Additionally, when services such as the police, justice mechanisms, health points and the social protection system work together to ensure that referral pathways are clear and responsive, survivors are better supported to navigate their options, without having to tell their stories to multiple actors and be re-traumatised.


Under the EU-funded Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have established the regional Essential Services Package Community of Practice (ESP CoP), a space that will allow for key regional institutions and national gender bureaus across the Caribbean to establish standards and priorities in ensuring that service provision for survivors of GBV is of the highest quality.

The ESP is a guidance tool for the provision of essential services that will be available to GBV survivors. These services include health, social services, justice and policing. When these services are in place and offered to all survivors and those at risk of experiencing GBV, the consequences of violence on the health, well-being, safety and resilience of survivors can be mitigated, and can essentially save lives.

As the United Nations Sexual and Reproductive Health Agency, it is UNFPA’s responsibility to collaborate with partners and stakeholders, like CARICOM, to ensure that services are carried out in safe, ethical and confidential ways, and in a manner that is non-judgemental and non-discriminatory. Unfortunately, a lack of coordinated services, human resource capacity and general mistrust in our systems result in underreporting, and the burden of care, healing and recovery often lies on the shoulders of the survivor -and this is one of the reasons for this collaborative effort to establish the ESP CoP.

The ESP CoP is co-chaired by CARICOM and UNFPA. It is a space for representatives of the health, social services, justice and policing, coordination and governance, humanitarian and education sectors at the regional level, including UN agencies overseeing the implementation of the Regional Spotlight Initiative. A space where these regional institutions will sit together with representatives of national gender bureaus across all countries and territories of the Caribbean, to exchange good practices, adopt global standards, and facilitate South-South cooperation in the prevention and response to GBV. In addition, several civil society organisations have also been invited to participate in all relevant events and meetings, so as to ensure a common approach and understanding.

Following a virtual regional inception workshop held at the end of 2021, the first in-person meeting of the ESP CoP will be hosted in Trinidad & Tobago on May 24-25 2022. Members of the ESP CoP will embark on a two day working meeting to agree upon the key priorities and action plan for the coming year, based on the finding of a regional ESP Lessons learnt Study currently being conducted by UNFPA.

UNFPA is committed to achieve, by 2030, our three transformative results of zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal death, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices. The ESP COP will undoubtedly contribute significantly to the achievement of the third ‘zeros’ here in the Caribbean.

Alison Drayton is a director and representative of UNFPA’s subregional office for the Caribbean. Email feedback to