According to the United Nations (UN), 1 in 3 women and girls experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women highlights the pervasiveness of gender-based violence and advocates action to eradicate completely all forms of violence against women and girls.

Gender-based violence has devastating, far-reaching and life-altering consequences for victims, their families and society at large. According to the UN, violence against women is a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.

The theme of this year’s observance, Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape, focuses on rape which is one of the most prevalent and destructive forms of violence regularly carried out against women and girls around the world.

Rape is a particularly heinous and degrading crime often used as a tool of humiliation, control and as a weapon of war. Rape is not perpetrated against women only, but women comprise the overwhelming majority of victims. Rape and other types of sexual assault are often minimised or trivialised and survivors blamed for their assault. As a result, many attacks go unreported and offenders unpunished.

In 2018, of the 726 reported rapes in Trinidad and Tobago, in only 217 cases were persons charged. This impunity emboldens criminals, further discourages and disillusions survivors and serves to perpetuate sexual violence. Greater effort and care must be taken to bring the perpetrators of rape to justice and eliminate the stigma and shame that prevents many women and girls from reporting incidents.

Men and boys are instrumental to the success of any effort to address rape and rape culture. We have to have the necessary conversations with our boys from an early age to ensure that they learn to respect boundaries, understand the concept of consent and become advocates for gender equality.

Rape, along with other forms of gender-based violence, is a grievous violation of human rights and dignity and an obstacle to development. On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I encourage all citizens to adopt a zero-tolerance stance against rape and other forms of gender-based violence.