ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES
St. Vincent and the Grenadines,1
an archipelago of islands in the Caribbean, was the last of
the Windward Islands to gain independence in 1979. The country
has a long history of multiparty democracy.2
Since 1984 politics have been dominated by the New Democratic
Party (NDP), credited with the modest economic expansion the
country experienced during the late 1980s. Prime Minister James
F. Mitchell of the NDP was reelected to an unprecedented third
term in February 1994. During the elections, however, the two
opposition parties united to challenge the NDP and won three
out of fifteen parliamentary seats - the NDP held all fifteen
prior to the election.3
St. Vincent has a market-based economy. Bananas are the leading
export product and major source of foreign exchange earnings
and account for roughly sixty per cent of employment. Throughout
the Windward Islands the banana industry continues to suffer
from low prices on the world banana market. The Government maintains
what its supporters consider to be a sensible economic development
policy, attempting to diversify agricultural production and
attract outside investment for joint ventures in manufacturing
and agriculture. Tourism is a small but growing business, with
cruise ship visitors drawn to the remote and unspoiled Grenadine
Islands. Live volcanos have visited disaster several times in
this century, as well as hurricanes, which destroyed most of
the banana and coconut plantations twice in the 1980s.4
There is a small island elite, owners of import-export companies,
banks, plantations and large-scale businesses, as well as a
middle class of shopowners, some farmers, skilled craftsmen
St. Vincent, like other small states that depend upon primary
products, is in danger of becoming increasingly marginalized.
The country's efforts at promoting a Free Trade Zone, for the
time being, have not succeeded, and there have been closures
of factories at the industrial park which employed mostly women.
Unemployment, especially among women and the young, is a serious
problem. Many people are only seasonally employed. Temporary
migration within the Caribbean and to industrial countries brings
in remittances which are essential to many families. As the
1994 Government report indicates, female emigration increased
in the 1980's and is currently almost forty per cent higher
than male emigration.
With extremely high unemployment and underemployment, population
growth is a major problem. According to the National Report
of St. Vincent to the Beijing Conference, teenage pregnancy
is an undisputed disadvantage to Vincentian women and to the
society as a whole. Although girls in St Vincent have equal
access to education, statistics show that there are almost double
the number of unemployed females with secondary education as
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Criminality and violence is increasing in the Caribbean as
it is every where else, and the increase in violence against
women, particularly domestic violence, is one aspect of this.
As stated in the 1994 St.Vincent Government report to CEDAW,
a study conducted in 1986-89 revealed that seventy-five per
cent of the perpetrators of violence against women were male
partners in common law relationships, fifteen per cent were
husbands and ten per cent some other male relative. Victims
were usually single women between the ages of thirteen and thirty-four
One activist attorney said that incest was the worst problem
facing women and girls in St. Vincent. She felt that lack of
assertiveness and self-esteem among women was a root cause.
Many women give up their legal, social and moral rights to be
with a man, who often has many other women. She added that most
women know about the incest that is taking place, but many do
nothing, or even condone it in order to appease the perpetrator.
This source believes that both legal and spiritual education
is necessary for women to challenge this problem.
Other sources agree that sexual abuse in the context of step-father/step-daughter
relationships is a particular concern. Serial monagamy, common
in St. Vincent, can lead to abuse or neglect of the children
from previous marriages, particularly by the male in the current
relationship, who may feel little or no responsibility toward
children he has not fathered. Vincentian society is said to
be both very religious and very family-oriented, so for many
people incest is a very difficult subject to confront.
In 1994, the National Committee Against Violence was formed.
Its purpose has been to raise awareness about domestic violence,
particularly incest, spousal abuse, and abuse of step-daughters.
The Committee has formed groups of three and four who visit
schools to lead discussion groups and put on drama productions
dealing with domestic violence. The Committee also broadcasts
ten minute radio spots dealing with these issues.
1995 Domestic Violence Act
The Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act of 1984
was followed by the 1995 Domestic Violence Act. Both married
and unmarried women (and men, where applicable) now have the
right to legal protection and redress for domestic violence.
Remedies include eviction from the home, a restraining order
and maintenance payments. Because these are both civil acts,
perpetrators cannot be jailed.
Women are represented by attorneys in court only if they can
afford it - there are no legal aid organizations. However, individual
attorneys do pro bono work at their own discretion.
Police sometimes do not report abuse to the authorities, or
they return the victims to their partners. One attorney said
that women themselves must take some of the responsibility for
this, because the officers become apathetic when so often women
do not follow through and the cases are dismissed. However,
this attorney added that women often do not show up for court
due to fear of physical or economic consequences, or for religious
reasons. Some religious groups pressure women to remain with
their partners and not to disturb the union. Nonetheless, because
most police officers are men, there is a tendency to be lenient
toward the mostly male perpetrators of violence against women.
Battered women's shelters
There are no battered women's shelters in St. Vincent, per
se. The Marion House deals with issues relating to domestic
violence and sometimes takes in victims, but by no means could
respond to the general needs of domestic abuse victims. There
are no half-way houses, and victims usually rely on family members
to help them escape an abusive situation.
POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AND PUBLIC LIFE
According to the National Report for Beijing, women in St.
Vincent have been able to attain top administrative positions,
but they find that they are still not involved actively in policy
and decision-making within their organizations. This is particularly
true of women who are administrators within the public service.
Their positions entitle them to implement rather than influence
directly the formulation of policies and decisions.
The low visibility of women continues to be characteristic
of Vincentian political life. In the history of electoral politics
in St. Vincent, only nine women have participated in national
elections, all of them candidates of the ruling party. In the
most recent national election in February 1994, there were 3
women out of a total of 33 candidates. St. Vincent is among
those Caribbean nations showing the lowest proportion of women
electoral candidates, despite the fact that, in the last elections,
women outnumbered men at the polls.
Currently two of the fifteen members of Parliament are women.
The same two women hold ministerial portfolios in the current
Sixty-five percent of all students are lost in the transition
from primary to secondary school. It is generally agreed among
IWRAW sources that there are no disproportionate educational
disadvantages for girls. In fact, girls usually do better than
boys throughout their schooling. Currently half of the graduates
from law school, for example, are women, compared with twenty
per cent two decades ago.
Nonetheless, despite the higher rate of secondary level education
among females, there are almost double the number of unemployed
females with secondary education as males.
Roughly half of all households in the country are female-headed.
The domestic system that has evolved in St. Vincent, and in
the Caribbean generally, gives very high status to the maternal
role. Although a legal marriage in St. Vincent provides higher
status still, bearing a child when unmarried does not necessarily
make a young woman less valued. Parentage is a means of forming
a household, and the process often begins for a young woman
in the home of her parents. In fact, most forms of male - female
relationships lead to women- headed households.
Though St. Vincent retains its traditional family system,
and family influences remain very strong, youthful pregnancy
in traditional Vincentian society is no longer regarded as a
positive adaptation to circumstances. The resulting population
increases are overtaxing the island's resources and potential
for economic growth, and the interruption of education for young
pregnant women negatively affects the whole society.8
According to the National Report for Beijing, the fifteen
to nineteen year old age group showed a moderate decline in
pregnancies when the Report was being written, but pregnancies
in the ten to fourteen year old group were increasing. The Report
emphasizes that teen pregnancy usually means the end of education
and the beginning of forced adulthood with limited resources,
which in turn tends to establish a scenario of multiple births
out of wedlock with different partners, dependency and poverty.
One source says that only in rare instances is a teenage mother
allowed to return to school after giving birth. (No source has
mentioned the policy schools have with regard to the father
of the child.) The girls can continue their education informally,
for example by taking evening classes. However, sources say
that most opportunities for evening studies are only available
in the Kingstown area, and lack of transportation and tuition
prevents many young women from attending.
Another source mentioned that the Ministry of Education is
experimenting with sending girls back to school once they have
given birth, although this is not widely known. It is also not
known how many girls have been allowed to return to school through
Various NGOs provide a number of social service programmes,
such as day care, counselling, and continuing education classes
for young mothers who have dropped out of school. However, many
of the skills training courses are in traditional subjects such
as sewing, cake decorating, tye-dying and crochet. Sources say
that more recently some NGOs are trying to provide non-traditional
training as well in subjects such as electronics and welding.
The National Report for Beijing says that vocational training
is lacking in too many schools in St. Vincent and that it is
still too often assigned a second place in academics. School
officials say that only two schools really encourage females
to enter non-traditional occupations. Despite having equal access
to education and being in the majority in secondary schools,
girls are not sufficiently exposed to non-traditional vocational
training. The two subject areas of greatest disparity in vocational
schools are agriculture and industry - the two areas of greatest
importance in terms of future employment.
Women dominate in the traditionally female occupations such
as nursing, teaching and domestic work, all of which fall into
the low-paying service sector. Despite women's dominance in
the teaching profession, the majority of primary and secondary
school principals are men. However, one source said that women
with the requisite education are well represented in upper-level
positions. (As an example she said that one out of the two High
Court Judges is a woman, and one out of four of the Magistrates.
At least in the judiciary, women's position is improving perceptibly.)
St. Vincent is a rural nation, and women constitute fifty-four
percent of the agricultural labour force. They are mainly involved
in field crop maintenance, production for home consumption,
post-harvesting and marketing of cash crops. "Despite this pivotal
role in agricultural production, women have comparatively little
or no involvement in the policy development of agricultural
organizations."9 These organizations
comprise the bargaining force in the agricultural industry.
In the rural areas women also work as domestics, and many
remain at home with children. Some women own their own land
with their husband, but it is quite rare for an unmarried woman
to own her own land. Most women work on rented land, crop-sharing,
or for other landowners.
The Equal Pay Act of 1994
The Equal Pay Act of 1994 has been fairly effective, according
to one source. It mainly addresses the inequities in pay between
men and women in agriculture, which is where the problem of
wage discrimination was most significant.
Women agricultural traders
Female agricultural traders play a major role in sustaining
the non-banana agricultural export trade. A 1990 ECLAC/CDCC
research project found that eighty percent of traders were women,
and nearly seventy percent of them were solely dependent on
income from their trading activities. The conditions of their
trade are difficult and dangerous. The National Report for Beijing
suggests that government could make their lives much easier
at customs points and in the provision of basic facilities.
HEALTH AND FAMILY PLANNING
According to one source, the Ministry of Health is attempting
to reduce youthful childbearing through public education and
public health measures. Radio messages, newspaper cartoons and
articles, directed to men as well as women, attempt to educate
the public on the modern view of teenage pregnancy. Health clinics
are equipped to distribute several types of contraceptives for
women, but traditional attitudes hamper the promotion of contraceptives.
Clinic nurses are directed to supply contraceptives to any girl
or woman who asks for them and to advise them about birth control,
but the attitude that it is not appropriate for schoolgirls
to be sexually active prompts nurses either to refuse to give
them contraceptives or to inform their mothers, or other persons,
about their sexual activity.10
Abortion is illegal in St. Vincent, yet sources say that many
clandestine abortions occur every year. A proper medical procedure
is extremely expensive, so it is not an option for many women.
Abortion generally receives little attention unless a woman
becomes ill or dies. Doctors who perform the procedure do so
in private clinics and are well known. They are not prosecuted
for performing abortions.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LAW
The Government established the much-heralded Family Court
in 1995. This Court handles all domestic cases, including incest,
domestic violence and child support payments. Some men have
already been jailed after convictions for incest, rape and non-payment
of child support. There is a trained counsellor assigned to
the Family Court who offers counselling to victims at the request
of the President of the Court. Sources are optimistic, stating
that the Court has been fairly successful at forcing men to
take responsibility for their actions.
The Family Court currently has only one branch, located in
Kingstown. Matters outside the jurisdiction of the Family Court
are referred to the High Court.
The enforcement mechanisms for child support are weak. When
the law is enforced, some fathers opt to pay a prescribed penalty
rather than pay maintenance.
Recipient mothers must travel from rural areas to the Welfare
Office in Kingstown to collect maintenance payments, which are
quite low. Because there are no legal aid services in St. Vincent,
only those mothers who can afford to hire an attorney, or who
can obtain an attorney's services pro bono , have recourse against
fathers who fail to pay maintenance.
In May, 1995, the legislature amended the child support law
to allow the Court to order payments while awaiting an appeal
of the court's decision.11
Previously, fathers who had been ordered to pay child support
could appeal decisions, delaying payment of child support until
after the appeal was heard and affirmed. This resulted in a
huge backlog of appeal cases and effectively reduced the number
of mothers and children receiving support payments.12
The success of the Family Court has been limited by its inability
to enforce the payment of maintenance. Sources say the problem
involves lack of staffing support, with only one bailiff responsible
for hundreds of arrears summons. Activists are urging the government
to provide at least two more bailiffs immediately, in order
to carry out court orders for child support payments.13
1 Hereafter referred to as St. Vincent
or SVG. back
United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights
Practices for 1995. back
3 US Department of State back
4 United States Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994 states that
most Vincentians are the descendants of African slaves brought
to the island to work on the plantations. There are also a few
white descendants of English colonialists, as well as some East
Indians, Carib Indians, and a sizeable minority of mixed race.
The official language is English. SVG is 340 square kilometres,
comprising one main island, thirty--two smaller islands and
cays, with a total population in 1994 of under 120,000.
5 Virginia H. Young, "Household Structure
In A West Indian Society," Social and Economic Studies, 39:3
(1990), USA. back
6 National Report of St. Vincent and
the Grenadines for the United Nations Fourth World Conference
on Women, draft No. 3, March 1994, Kingstown, St. Vincent [hereafter
National Report for Beijing]. back
7 US State Department back
8 Virginia H. Young, Becoming West
Indian: Culture, Self and Nation in St. Vincent, (Smithsonian
Institution Press, Washington and London, 1993), p. 155.
9 According to the National Report
for Beijing this can be attributed to women's limited access
to land. For example, to qualify for membership on the executive
of the St. Vincent Banana Growers Association, a farmer must
sell 56.8 metric tonnes of bananas annually, the equivalent
yield from 8 acres of land. To be a voting member a farmer must
sell the equivalent yield from 4 acres of land. back
10 Virginia H. Young back
11 United States Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995. back
12 US Department of State. back
13 Victor Cuffy, "Family Court in
Crisis," Vincy Rights August 1996: 1-2 back