My fellow Antiguans and Barbudans, Happy Orange Day!

It is my pleasure to address you on this the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls and to officially launch this year’s 16 Days of Activism Campaign.

Every year, from November 25 to December 10, Antigua and Barbuda stands with the global community to call attention to the atrocities women and girls face and advocate for their protection.

However, this year has challenged the world more so than any other time in recent memory. The COVID- 19 pandemic has disrupted every facet of life – our economy; the way we work and learn; how we socialize and how we access healthcare and other support services.

Along with these evident changes to our daily routines has come a shadow pandemic: an apparent increase in gender-based and sexual violence. A report released by the United Nations Development Programme in March, states that reports of GBV have increased worldwide since the start of the pandemic, with increases of up to 25% observed in some areas. Based on anecdotal information Antigua and Barbuda has also witnessed some increase in GBV.

Against this backdrop, the 2020 16 Days of Activism observation will focus on the implications of COVID- 19 on gender-based violence, under the theme Orange the World: Fund! Prevent! Respond! Collect! This four-part strategy aims to prioritize funding for GBV prevention and response, sensitize the public about the linkages between COVID and GBV, and calls for the declaration of a no-tolerance policy against gender-based violence. It also highlights the need to strengthen and maintain GBV response mechanisms during lockdowns and to collect relevant, sex-disaggregated data to improve GBV prevention and response services.

The task of ensuring that women and girls have equal protection in Antigua and Barbuda is work that the government takes very seriously. The Ministry of Social Transformation, Human Resource Development and the Blue Economy, through the Directorate of Gender Affairs, is currently in consultation with the Ministry of Labour on the impact of ratifying International Labour Organization’s

Convention 190. This Convention provides for specific measures to address gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace.

While we explore ways to strengthen our local framework, the Ministry continues to work along with local and international stakeholders and partners to ensure the safety of women and girls nationwide.

Through a collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, supported by the Government of Canada and the UK government, the Directorate of Gender Affairs, has provided cash- transfer assistance to survivors of GBV, along with others, impacted by the pandemic. This support has allowed us to maintain the services available to survivors of GBV through the Antigua and Barbuda Support And Referral Centre despite the continuing state of emergency. Within the next few weeks, the Directorate will roll out a series of Public Service Announcements and complimentary infographics that address likely impacts of COVID-19 ion gender-based violence and the services available to survivors.

The Directorate will also launch a newly refurbished website featuring a designated space for the Support And Referral Centre, providing the public with a new way to access information and services.

Thanks to the governments of the UK and Canada, and the UNDP for their continued support to Antigua and Barbuda.

During this year’s 16 Days of Activism Campaign, the Directorate will engage the public in a series of discussions on gender-based violence, COVID-19 and the idea of a violence-free Antigua and Barbuda through traditional and social media.

I encourage you to keep up with these critical conversations by visiting the Directorate’s Facebook page or by calling them directly at 462-3990.

Remember, if you or anyone you know is experiencing gender-based and sexual violence help is available through the Antigua and Barbuda Support and Referral Centre. You can access services 24/7 via the National Gender-based Violence Crisis Hotline at 463-5555.

Let us together work towards ensuring that we have a violence-free Antigua and Barbuda!

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