The brutal murder of Andrea Bharatt earlier this year was a turning point for the country.
In the days and weeks after the 23-year-old magistrate’s court employee’s body was retrieved from the base of a precipice in the Heights of Aripo, national outrage was expressed in a series of protests and vigils, many of them spontaneous, demanding action from the authorities to protect women and girls.
Andrea’s death was a tipping point. Three months earlier, there had been the equally brutal death of Ashanti Riley, whose body was discovered in a river days after she went missing after getting into a PH taxi near her home.
But there has been little or no change since those days of protest that consumed the nation in February and March. In just the past few weeks, Kezia Jeneka Guerra’s body was found in a grave in the forests of Maracas/St Joseph and Rehana Jaggernauth’s battered body was found in the Guayamare River. Both died in circumstances that were eerily similar to Andrea and Ashanti—they went missing and were later found murdered.
As T&T joins the rest of the world in observing the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women today, these tragic, untimely deaths highlight how unsafe this country still is for women and girls
There is a need for decisive and urgent action in keeping with the theme for this year’s commemoration—Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!
Today is the start of a UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign around the world—16 days of activism that will end on December 10, International Human Rights Day. This is an opportunity to ensure that the cries for change heard when the nation collectively mourned the untimely deaths of Andrea, Ashanti and all the other women lost to gender-based violence were not in vain. There must be action that will yield tangible results.
Before COVID-19, one in three women and girls in this country were victims of abuse and at least a quarter of those had experienced some form of physical and sexual violence.
The emotional abuse, controlling behaviour, threats, stalking and sexual and physical violence that many women endure, also have debilitating effects on families and the wider community and the pandemic has only made that situation worse. Last year, the T&T Police Service (TTPS) reported a 140 per cent increase in cases of abuse of women and girls compared to the previous year. Anecdotal information suggests it is even worse this year.
That is why today, the colour orange should be visible in every nook and cranny of these twin islands, symbolising a commitment by every law-abiding citizen to a future in this country that is free of violence against women and girls.
There needs to be a redoubling of efforts to increase awareness, promote advocacy and search for solutions. The energy and effort exerted earlier this year in the aftermath of Andrea’s murder should be revived and directed towards activities that will bring about real change.
In support of that cause, let’s colour T&T orange today.