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  • June 7, 2024

    Racialized Women: Connecting Experiences of Gender Persecution in Canada and the Caribbean 


    People take part in a protest against gender violence and femicide in Santo Domingo on November 24, 2019.
    ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES 

    Despite being a prominent issue, especially amongst racialized women, gender persecution is rarely prosecuted as a crime against humanity.

    Background 

    Recently, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched a new initiative on advancing accountability and prosecuting gender persecution as a crime against humanity. This initiative is building off the 2022 Policy on the Crime of Gender Persecution, which defines gender persecution as “the crime against humanity of persecution on the grounds of gender, under article 7(1)(h) of the Statute. Gender persecution is committed against persons because of sex characteristics and/or because of the social constructs and criteria used to define gender”. The document then discusses the general attributes of gender persecution based on implementations of human rights and international criminal law.  

    Despite being a prominent issue, especially amongst racialized women, gender persecution is rarely prosecuted as a crime against humanity. The reasoning for this has to do with the varying practices of other jurisdictions and other international criminal tribunals. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), despite having an overwhelming number of signatures, is the human rights treaty body with the most reservations. These reservations, in turn, limit the document’s efficiency and the extent of protection women are afforded in their given State. As a result, a weakened political resolve around the subject has developed and gender persecution is rarely investigated and/or prosecuted as a crime against humanity to a serious extent, which has prevented its overall visibility in both the past and present. 

    Gender Persecution and its Colonial Roots 

    I had the privilege of attending a roundtable discussion on gender persecution on May 21st, 2024, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights where we listened to a panel consisting of three speakers: Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, Brenda Gunn, and Shauna Labman. What stuck out the most during the panel was how much emphasis there was on the intersectional nature of gender-based violence and gender persecution.  

    The colonization of Indigenous people in Canada set the foundations for the ways in which Indigenous women are treated in current times; normalizing acts of violence against them and attitudes of dehumanization. Not only does it relate to the MMWIG2S epidemic, but additionally socioeconomic factors such as location, rates of domestic violence, education, living conditions, and a lack of political will to address the ongoing issue. Indigenous women continued to be victimized by gender persecution on a systemic level, yet they are not considered to be victims in the eyes of the law and those who control it. The racialization of Indigenous women contributes to their persecution, and understanding these root issues must be part of the solution in ensuring their protection; hence, the use of decolonization practices is essential. 

    Statistics: Between 2009 and 2021, the rate of homicide against First Nations, Métis and Inuit women and girls was six times higher than the rate among their non-Indigenous counterparts. Police were less likely to lay or recommend a charge of first-degree murder—the most serious type of homicide charge—when the victim was Indigenous (27%) compared to when she was not (54%). Instead, charges of second-degree murder (60%) and manslaughter (13%) were more common.

    The experiences of Indigenous women in Canada led to me think of the similar experiences within my own culture with Caribbean women across the West Indies. Their racialization and gendered subjugation stems from historic mistreatment during slavery and indentured servitude; conditions of systems put in place to promote white supremacy and domination. Despite white people being a minority in this region of the world, the systems they put in place centuries ago are still being upheld by men of color in the modern day through a normalized culture of machismo, domestic violence, femicide, and other forms of gender-based violence as a means of maintaining power and control over the women; something they themselves have been stripped of under colonial rule. This is why decolonization is so key in addressing the issue at hand; they are intrinsically linked, and you cannot discuss one without addressing the other. Decolonization means liberation for all, including those who face gender persecution in addition to racialization. 

    Statistics: Three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world occur in the Caribbean. While the worldwide average for rape was 15 per 100,000, The Bahamas had an average of 133, St. Vincent and the Grenadines 112, Jamaica 51, Dominica 34, Barbados 25 and Trinidad and Tobago 18. In a survey surrounding nine Caribbean countries: 48 % of adolescent girls’ sexual initiation was ‘forced’ or ‘somewhat forced’. The UNDP Caribbean Human Development report indicates that 30.4% women in the Caribbean report high rates of fear of sexual assault in comparison to 11.1% of men. Moreover, it indicated that violent crime has been increasing in the Caribbean and this is accompanied by a decrease in both case clear-up and conviction rates.

    What Needs to Change 

    Indigenous women in Canada and racialized women in the Caribbean share another commonality: their distrust of law enforcement and the justice system as a whole

    Indigenous women in Canada and racialized women in the Caribbean share another commonality: their distrust of law enforcement and the justice system as a whole. When these women report the crimes committed against them, they are often dismissed based on stereotypes surrounding their identities (i.e., Indigenous women are seen as incoherent addicts or alcoholics, Caribbean women are seen as stubborn and defiant, and therefore deserving of the abuse). This tendency to not view women of colour as ideal victims, which is another form of persecution in itself, contributes to the continuation of violence perpetrated against them and furthermore promotes a culture of silence around the topic. Victims are less likely to come forward knowing the law will not take their claims seriously.  

    Ultimately, this is why cooperation on numerous levels is needed to facilitate change. Implementing decolonization practices/education throughout the States’ systems, which allow the exploration of root causes of violence amongst these racial and ethnic groups, in combination with police sensitivity training that is culturally based, political collaboration, and international intervention are all required to rebuild trust within these communities. Rebuilding trust means more victims will feel empowered to come forward, and having these persecutions on record will aid in creating a safer environment in which gender-based violence and gender persecution are seen as severe crimes against humanity. 


    Talia Mohammed (She/Her),
    Practicum Student at MARL from The University of Manitoba (2024) 

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