Minister of Labour of Barbados:  Cultural change about violence
is as complex as what we think about life itself


Barbados, October 11, 2010, Feminist International Radio Endeavour
By María Suárez Toro

The Labour Minister of Barbados, Esther Byer Suckoo made a call to remember and recognize “the work of those on whose shoulders we stand.”  Speaking at the Hilton Barbados, she recalled that for many years the struggle against violence against women was the solitary work of the global women’s movement, along with a few men.  “This movement understood the impact of domestic violence on our societies, and also to use this issue as a unifying agenda point to speak with a single voice beyond the Global North, to reach out to the South, to black and indigenous women, women of faith, etc….”



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Looking back at movement history, Byer Suckoo noted that in 1928 in Cuba the International Conference of American States addressed the issue of equality and of violence against women.  “In this meeting the women sought to adopt a Declaration for Women’s Equality, but accepted instead the creation of the Inter-American Commition of Women (CIM).”


Byer Suckoo said that it took 50 years of hard lobbying to be formally recognized in 1975 during the Year of the Woman at the United Nations that the presence of women, their strength and determination was recognized although they had to continue fighting.  “Then came the Decade of Women and the world conferences, the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985, presided by the former Governor General of Barbados Dame Nita Barrow, until the Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995 that produced a Declaration that recognizes that women’s rights are human rights, and that one of these is the right to live a life without violence.


Byer Suckoo mentioned the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) approved in 1979, the creation of the UN Special Rapporteur in 1994, the OAS (Organization of American States) Convention in the 1990’s and many other mechanisms, instruments and declarations.  “Ladies and gentleman, on this journey of remembrance we can note that it has been a long journey with some successes, so when we meet here now in this Conference on Accountability, we must ask ourselves: Who is going to be held accountable for this struggle for the lives of our sisters, for our lives?”


Recognizing the different levels of accountability for those who must keep fighting, including the individual declaring a zero tolerance policy, reminding the community level neighborhoods, churches, schools and others that are responsible for ensuring our sisters and indignant and respond to what happens with violence to public authorities, whether police, doctors, nurses, teachers, attorneys and lawyers, and judges should be valued and judged governments in office and voted according to their position and what they do on this issue.


We must recognize the different levels of accountability for those who must keep fighting against violence, including with the individual declaring a zero tolerance policy, the community level with neighborhoods, churches, schools and others, and who are indignant and respond to acts of violence including public authorities, whether police, doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, and also judges who should be assessed as government officials and voted in or out according to their position and what they do on this issue.


"But we should recognize that this struggle must go beyond the laws and policies. In Barbados we have laws, women's groups working for 44 years to end the violence, a hotline and shelter, but with all this, the study of CADRES, INC. most recently indicated that one in 4 murders between 2000 - 2007 were the result of domestic violence. "


Byer Suckoo stressed that that the second focus of the conference is critical: A cultural change to put an end to violence, noting that the same study documented stories of perpetrators interviewed “who feel out of control of themselves and feel that they can control their partner with the use of violence.”  She added that in other areas, the emphasis is placed on the power and control of the aggressor and the dependency of the victim/survivor, and the inequality between men and women.


"It is not enough what we have done in our plans and programs, or the argument that we know more about what changes behavior and knowledge, and legislation and policies are not enough. People actually need to relate the changes to personal benefits first, then other benefits. To test this approach, I think we should make the connections between domestic violence and the socio-economic cost they have on individuals, families and the state. "


As examples she referred to health costs, the cost in legal services, the loss of productivity, children who fail in school, etc.  “How much can society save if we put an end to domestic violence?  It is terrible to reduce it to numbers, but money talks.”


On masculinity, Byer Suckoo said the concept is built on a foundation of violence, validating those who take risks, those who do not surrender, those who fight. Ridicule Tthose who are honest with women are ridiculed, as are those who support their children and the ex-wife. "Masculinities are hiperheterosexualizadas, with multiple partners, support for homophobia and male domination and female subordination."


It is not easy, Beyer Sucko noted, “It is as complex as our understanding of life itself; but there does not have to be fear, and it has to be confronted directly.”


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To the young women she said that self actualization is the process of building the life that they want, not only what a partner offers but nothing else.  “Education, training and management are opportunities for that.  Learn about violence and about your partners before you get engaged, but above all, learn to know yourself:  what you want and what you don’t want.  “Cultural change requires that each one of us identify how these actions and behaviors have supported a culture of violence and abuse.”


To end Byer Suckoo suggested that during the two days of deliberations, “We remove the structures of domination and hierarchy that at times restricts the flow of ideas and creativity that is required to resolve these complex issues.”


The Minister opened the first session of the Caribbean conference for the Regional Launch of the UN Secretary General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women, that took place in the Hilton Barbados, October 11-12, 2010.

For more information go to

Translated by Margie Thompson


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