WASHINGTON, DC, USA — One in three women will be exposed to and experience gender-based violence in her lifetime, a problem that cuts across all ethnicities, religious groups, classes, education levels and cultures.
Anita Botti, chief of staff in the Office of Global Women's Issues at the US Department of State, in quoting the statistics from a World Bank and UNiTE Campaign study, said this kind of violence is not exclusive to the Caribbean, but it's a big problem in the region and affects economies and security.
In the Caribbean, she said the study showed that all the Caribbean islands have higher rates of sex violence than the world average.
She said that only when leaders understand the link between the economy and violence, will real steps be taken to enact change, as in most countries, no one wants to touch the issue.
"You have to have the will of your government," she said. "You have to have the laws and then the will to implement the laws."
Botti, who was addressing Caribbean journalists attending a seven-day reporting tour on women's empowerment and combating domestic violence at the State Department in Washington, DC, Monday, said though gender-based violence presents in different ways in different parts of the world, domestic violence is not new to any part of the world.
She said her government is now exploring what's happening with the multilateral programmes surrounding the gender violence issue, and they're doing mapping by country and region to find out what exists in each.
Also, they are in the midst of implementing a process where gender will be included in US foreign policy.
For the Caribbean, Botti said the plan is to bring all the countries together to look at this issue on several levels.
"Certainly at the parliament level, they're looking at the laws; at the judicial level with the rule of law - with judges, prosecutors, the police; and the health providers, the NGOs, the people who are actually handling the cases as they come forward," she said.
"We're talking about this, and it hopefully will be part of the action plan we're hoping to put together."
The problem of gender-based violence is global, she said, and manifests in rapes, dowry-related murders, female genital cutting, and the ostracising of widows in certain parts of the world.
It's a problem that is not being adequately dealt with by governments, and has even got worse in areas like the Pacific Islands, even with the injection of "an inordinate amount of funds".
The problem is not confined to the developing world, as in the United States, she said it took 20 years for the implementing of a domestic violence law.
"Why? Nobody wanted to touch it [saying] it's private, it's between husband and wife, between couples. It takes that form in most countries -- it takes the form of 'we don't want to talk about it, we don't want to hear about it'..."
The solution, she said, has to be approached from a holistic angle.
"It may be manifested in violence against women, but unless you involve the men and the children, the boys and girls, it doesn't get better," she said. "It has to be a holistic approach. It doesn't get at the societal issue of trying to deal with things unless you involve them."
The tour, which has a second leg in Atlanta, Georgia, was organised by the State Department's Foreign Press Centre.