Gender equality advocate says women’s safety must become a national issue

President of WAR, Alexandrina Wong. (File photo)

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By Makeida Antonio

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Women’s safety should be seen as a national responsibility, according to the head of a major non-governmental organization.

Women Against Rape (WAR) President Alexandrina Wong responded to recent press releases highlighting the upsurge in sexist burglaries across the country.

On October 3, the Directorate of Gender Affairs (DoGA) and the Royal Antigua and Barbuda Police issued a joint statement on women’s vulnerability and related security issues.

Both entities have been pushing for greater safety and security awareness following a series of robberies and home invasions.

“The administration within the Royal Antigua and Barbuda Police Force takes this issue seriously and is working with the help of DoGA to provide a level of reassurance so women can feel safe and secure. comfortable at home and elsewhere.”

The statement also provided a list of personal safety measures that can be taken at home and while walking, including ensuring all doors and windows are properly secured, verifying the identity of service personnel, checking the property for any signs of burglary upon return, pay more attention to your surroundings and avoid walking in poorly lit areas.

In a follow-up statement on Friday, Social Transformation Minister Dean Jonas called out the perpetrators of these home invasions that target women.

“I strongly urge those who have been the perpetrators of these despicable invasions to refrain from these actions. The Gender Affairs Directorate has communicated with the Royal Antigua and Barbuda Police and is actively working on strategies and approaches that can be taken to raise awareness of this issue and ensure that women receive the kind of assistance needed to prevent these attacks from occurring,” he said.

Jonas encouraged residents to stay vigilant and protect each other to build protection within communities.

Wong also agreed and recommended that more public service announcements on the issue be run in state media to raise awareness about this type of gender-based violence.

“It is our hope and desire that the state’s level of concern will not only be raised when we see home invasions or similar security issues being challenged and that awareness will always be at the forefront as we have to understand that citizen safety is a priority,” Wong told Observer on Monday.

She also discussed personal safety measures such as having a close friend on speed dial or calling 911 in the event of low or no cellphone credit.

However, Wong pointed to the socioeconomic position that some women may live in that contributes to being vulnerable in the first place and argued that landlords, for example, should take on more responsibility.

“We have to take into account that many of us live in rented homes and not all of our landlords are up to repairs and replacements, and so the responsibility lies with the person who lives there and, in that cases, women who live alone, women who may be single mothers or who may be unemployed or underemployed, so their first priorities may not be locks or doors and windows,” explained the president of the war.

Meanwhile, the DoGA has advised anyone who may have been assaulted to contact the Support and Referral Center (SARC) hotline at 463-5555, or visit the office at the corner of Nevis Street and Friendly Alley without delay. The office offers support services including forensic examination, counseling and police intervention.

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Mara R. Wilmoth