Tackling Gender-Based Violence in Sint Maarten

Safe Haven

Money from Sint MaartenTrust Fund used to protect survivors, increase advocacy, and build capacity.

Nearly one in three women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Alarmingly, the scourge of gender-based violence worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic started, as stay-at-home orders and government lockdowns forced women to stay home with their aggressors. Even after quarantine measures were loosened, heightened emotional and mental stress alongside financial insecurity and unemployment were identified as potential drivers of increased abuse. In the Caribbean region, advocates in Sint Maarten are working to support survivors and mitigate this violence within the country.

Addressing gender-based violence is a key area of work for the Resources for Community Resilience (R4CR) project funded by the Sint Maarten Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund administered by the World Bank. The Trust Fund has allocated over US$7.2 million to award grants to local non-governmental and civil society organizations, including those working on gender-based violence, to support the community’s resilient recovery. To date, 36 grants have been provided to organizations in Sint Maarten for close to US$1.5M for community projects.

Through R4CR, the Trust Fund is supporting organizations such as the Safe Haven Foundation and Foundation Judicial Institutes Sint Maarten (SJIS) and strengthening their efforts to offer critical services to survivors such as free shelter and counseling. These organizations are also developing domestic violence awareness campaigns with an intent to spark a national dialogue on the magnitude of the problem in the country.

Vanessa Fraser, Executive Director of the Safe Haven Foundation, explains how “gender-based violence is embedded in our culture. A woman is supposed to submit herself to her partner, and if it comes with him being somewhat volatile and aggressive, that’s okay because that shows his macho behavior.” Adding that when a woman comes to Safe Haven, it is often because she fears for her life.

Cynthia Filemon, Acting Director of Foundation Judicial Institutes St. Maarten (SJIS), agrees. “I know cases of women who have been abused multiple times,” says Ms. Filemon; “and they keep going back to their husbands. I don’t think there is enough in place yet for these women to offer them proper safety. In some cases, a safe house off-island would be the best solution.”

One of the reasons for women to stay with their aggressors is the fear of being shamed, explained Ramona Riley, President of civil society organization, Prominent Women. She said, “as a society, we judge these women in these situations unfairly; they are either ungrateful or naïve to have let the relationship regress so far. That is why a support system is so important. These women need to feel that someone is there for them, no matter what.”

Addressing gender-based violence 

The Safe Haven Foundation offers free shelter, counseling and supportive services to women and their minor children who are the survivors of violence. The non-profit organization has received R4CR grants for a domestic violence awareness campaign and a vehicle to ensure the safe transportation of survivors.

The Foundation Judicial Institutes St. Maarten (SJIS), primarily funded by the Ministry of Justice, works on domestic violence cases together with the Court of Guardianship, the Prosecutor’s Office, Police Force of Sint Maarten, and other enforcement officials. Supported by an R4CR grant, SJIS trains mediators, launched a training targeted to perpetrators of domestic violence and implements a community outreach campaigns.

The organization Prominent Women raises awareness about GBV and domestic violence and gives voice to the community on the topic through live radio programs and social media campaigns.  Through its platform, R4CR fosters exchanges between organizations and offers a range of capacity building resources to improve their collaboration and effectiveness.

The Way Forward

Advocates in the country say there is a long way to go to break the cycle of domestic violence, but thankfully resources and awareness have been focused on some of the main challenges. Cultural norms are being challenged, awareness is rising, and organizations are collaborating more closely to achieve greater impact.

For the Sint Maarten Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund, empowering the institutions working on gender-based violence is fundamental to an inclusive recovery. As they work together to protect the vulnerable, these organizations change the trajectory of people’s lives and contribute to a more inclusive and empowered future for Sint Maarteners.

For more on what’s being done to accelerate recovery and address development challenges in Sint Maarten, visit the World Bank's Sint Maarten Country site.

About the Sint Maarten Trust Fund

The Sint Maarten Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund was created to provide immediate assistance and accelerate recovery after the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma in 2017. The Government of the Netherlands has contributed US$511million, to help Sint Maarten. The Trust Fund is funded by The Netherlands, administered by the World Bank, and implemented by the Government of Sint Maarten and its designated agencies.