Is this Caribbean idyll the worst place in the world to be a woman?

Note: This article contains disturbing content that may be triggering for some readers.

 

By Jennifer Yang

 

Every now and then you have to cuff them down/ They love you long and they love you strong/ Black up they eye, bruise up they knee/ Then they will love you eternally

— lyrics from a classic Calypso song

 

KINGSTOWN, ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES—Hungary, China, Namibia, Colombia, Mexico. These are among the top 10 countries from which refugee claims to Canada are made.
 

But one of the world’s tiniest nations has started appearing on the list, a place many Canadians couldn’t find on a map: St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
 

Last year, 710 Vincentians sought asylum in Canada, up from only 179 in 2001.
 

Over the past decade, it adds up to more than 4,500 refugee claimants — or 4.3 per cent of the tiny Caribbean archipelago’s population. Proportionally, it’s as if the entire populations of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador were to flee Canada.
 

Last year, this “jewel of the Caribbean” ranked 8th in the world for refugee claims to Canada, surpassing India (population 1.2 billion) and Pakistan (population 187 million).
 

The population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines? An estimated 104,000.
 

The majority of Vincentians flocking to Canada are women. And it appears most are fleeing domestic violence.
 

“There is something very wrong in the relationship between men and women in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” wrote Canadian Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington in a 2009 ruling. “Year after year, woman after woman washes up on our shores seeking protection from abusive, violent husbands or boyfriends.”
 

It turns out the vacationer’s idyll, with its turquoise waters and verdant hills, is one of the world’s worst places to be a woman.
 

Over the last decade, more women have been murdered in St. Vincent than any other country in the nine-member Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.
 

In 2007, the island nation had the third-highest rate of reported rapes in the world, according to a UN report. Even Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has been twice accused of sexual assault, once by a policewoman and once by a Toronto lawyer. Both charges have since been withdrawn by the public prosecutor.
 

And then there’s domestic violence.
 

In August, Stephmnie Daniel was stabbed in the throat, allegedly by an ex-boyfriend. On Sept. 16, George (Chocolate) Franklyn was charged with gunning down his wife and their female neighbour, reportedly one week before the couple was to begin divorce proceedings.
 

And last month, a jealous boyfriend attacked Rosalie Roberts and her 25-year-old daughter with a machete before setting their home on fire and drinking poison.
 

Attacks like these have driven untold numbers of bruised women from St. Vincent’s white-sand shores. But of those who have recently sought asylum in Canada, only one in three have been successful.
 

“There are no political, religious or social conditions in St. Vincent that justify any Vincentian applying for refugee status,” says Steve Phillips, the country’s consul general in Canada.
 

Phillips contends shady immigration consultants have “duped” many Vincentians into making refugee claims. And those claiming domestic violence are running from financial difficulty, not fists, he says.
 

A beleaguered banana export industry and a 22 per cent unemployment rate have caused many Vincentians to leave. And word has spread that claiming domestic abuse is an easy ticket into Canada, Phillips says.
 

“The fact that . . . Vincentians are making refugee claims, (is) alarming and disgusting for us as a nation,” he says.
 

But in 2008, Phillips wrote a letter to support the refugee claim of domestic abuse victim Leila Brown Trimmingham, who feared for her life in St. Vincent.
 

Phillips wrote that Trimmingham would require 24-hour protection and this could not be guaranteed given the police’s “limitations and challenges.”
 

For two other Vincentian women, Canada has been a hope for survival.
 

Faith, a 19-year-old who asked that her real name not be used, speaks softly, eyes downcast, as she recounts her story.
 

It began Oct. 7, 2006, her 14th birthday. The day of her first kiss from a girl. The day she was first raped.
 

Faith’s sole guardian was her adoptive grandfather. When he caught her kissing her friend, he beat her. Then he raped her. Then he left her with an ominous message: by the time I’m finished with you, you won’t be gay anymore.
 

After that, Faith was raped and beaten daily, sometimes by her grandfather’s friends.
 

When Faith reported the initial assault to police, “they told me that I should behave and stop being a ‘batty’ girl,” she says, using a Caribbean slang word for homosexuals.
 

At 17, Faith ran away.
 

Borrowing money from a friend, she flew to Canada, where no visa was required for a visit. She landed in Toronto in July 2010, filing her refugee papers soon after.
 

(To read full article, visit this Toronto Star link)

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