On July 29, a group of 30 plus young girls aged seven to late teens sat around a large table in the recreation room of Friendship Tabernacle Church in Dundas Town. They were listening with rapt attention to the information provided by the local Director of Social Services, Ms. Ettamae Jones, who spoke to them about the issues faced by young girls and women all around the world because of their gender especially in countries where women do not have any say and end up being victimized and discriminated against.
Ms. Jones not only presented facts about physical violence usually from a male partner or men in general, but also on sexual abuse in the home, at school or at work, sex trafficking, and psychological abuse such as lack of free thinking with regard to choosing friends, where to work or what to wear.
She also drew the girls into the presentation by enrolling their participation with exercises and by asking questions such as: What is your biggest fear? What is your hope for all the girls in the world?
She discussed in depth the state of women forced to marry older men because of cultural customs, women used as commodities, women who cannot have a relationship outside their culture, and those who end up being beaten to death. She mentioned the fact that many young girls are bought by foreigners and taken as sex slaves.
She supported her information with statistics from the United Nations which shows that around the world, one in every three women has been beaten or abused in her life, more often by someone she knows including members of her own family.
“It’s a more pervasive but less recognized situation of Human Rights abuse in the world,” she said.
She mentioned that the issue was addressed during a United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 with a Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. The declaration defined violence “as any act of gender-based violence that results or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women.”
In the 1994 Conference, the Commission on Human Rights created the first gender-specific human rights mechanism by appointing a special rapporteur on violence against women.
Ms. Jones read some of the conference’s definitions, followed by exercises during which groups of girls working together had to come up with a list of words to describe gender-based violence and answer questions such as: “What does gender-based violence means to you?” and “What do you qualify as violence?”
Awareness on gender-based violence has reached The Bahamas with workshops such as “Eliminating Violence against Women” held in Nassau last November and the creation of an Annual Human Rights Day on December 10.
This most recent workshop was organized by Ms. Melissa McIntosh, an employee of the District of Education. She is the newly appointed coordinator for the Butterfly Club’s Abaco Chapter.
The Abaco Butterfly Club met for the first time at Patrick J. Bethel High School in Murphy Town in March 2017, but Ms. McIntosh would like to form a second club in Cooper’s Town (her home town), which will be based in the primary school. As with every non-profit organization, volunteers willing to work, in this case with young girls, are needed to extend the chapter.
The Butterfly Club was founded in 2011 in Nassau by Mrs. Patrice Paul and supported by three other ladies, her mother Linda Bethel, and her two sisters Dania and Deaneel Bethel who saw the need for “mentoring” young girls.
The four ladies coach girls by separating them into different age groups of seven to nine-year-old girls (Skipper Butterfly), 10 to 13-year-old girls (Peacock Butterfly) and young women 14 to 18 years old (Monarch Butterfly). The monthly meetings address topics such as special situations, school issues, self- worth, home issues, and they also advise them about creativity and entrepreneurial endeavors.
The New Providence Chapter of the Butterfly Club is supported by the United Nations while the Abaco chapter works with the Pan-American Development Foundation (PADF).
Another local club, Gifted Girls which was created by Mrs. Bertlyn Cornish-Linden addresses the development of self-worth in young girls. Gifted Girls meet from September to June every Thursday at Friendship Tabernacle from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.