Picking up where we left yesterday

I recently sat around a conference table at HIAS headquarters to talk to staffers about their experiences, and about the upcoming Sixteen Days of Activism, the longest running campaign to end GBV, Gender Based Violence, with a focus on women, the migrant women workers.


As part of their campaign, the activists at HIAS use a Violentometro, a small handout outlining the progressive abuses of women’s rights, and how violence against them begins and escalates. (Developed by UNFPA, UN population fund.)

Women find it hard to diagnose GBV, it sneaks up on them and most individuals are in denial that it is happening to them. Incidences erupt innocently enough between couples, and in families, and escalate to life threatening situations.

According to my conference table participants the signs of GBV are confusing too, and may be falsely interpreted as love and affection but in reality are control-seeking and domineering.

In order to break through, to victims of GBV, HAIS hands out the Violentometro, printed in the form of an elongated column divided into four sections: At Risk, in yellow, at the bottom, Endangered, in orange in the middle and Maximum Alert in red, above. The brown area on top is dedicated to Femicide, the killing and sexual abuse of women and girls.

At Risk signs should tell a woman that her relationship is slipping into GBV territory: Public humiliation, unkind jokes, intimation, hot and cold treatment and the destruction of personal property.

This emotional roller-coaster should indicate to a woman in a relationship that she is at risk of suffering further aggravations.

The Endangered stage lists aggressive behavior, such as violent embraces, pushing, kicking, hitting, physical lock up and isolation.

The bells should be ringing by now, but when a woman is involved she often can’t see the forest for the trees, unable to understand a situation clearly because she is too deep in it, and if she is a mother and her kids are drawn in, it is even harder to make smart decisions, because the options are limited and informal, and the economic pressures immense.

I already told you yesterday, there is no protocol, and people are at risk because they are undocumented, with no way out.

More than 2,000 people applied for asylum last year, and there seems to be no progress there, just rejection. Pre-corona the policy was detain and deport. Now the policy is hands off, if detained, Aruba would have to feed and house, thus, hands off.

And that is why HIAS has become so important against our island’s apathetic landscape. They are open to the public and make experts available to those who walk in the door, at no charge, offering psycho-social group sessions, individual counseling, and even placement. Women open up, share their challenges and take the first steps toward change.

Because, in the Maximum Alert stage, things get very messy and between death threats and forced relations, the whole neighborhood is informed, and we’ve had cases of Femicide on the island where women and girls were killed by those they loved and trusted.

So the goal is to get help before it is too late.

According to HIAS, this group of migrant women, most of them mothers, are most resilient, most adaptable, self-sufficient and most resourceful, and if we find a way to help them, they will help us, become part of the island’s workforce, and raise good, productive Aruban citizens.

If we allow xenophobia and hostility and look the other way, it is detrimental to the health of our own society, because people are people no matter where from, and we are obligated to make space for the migrant workers here, because they bring gifts we could use. Aruba is an island led by women and as a society we should be inclusive and welcoming, break this culture of silence, that is typical to an old-fashioned patriarchal society.

We can make a difference and end violence against women.

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November 18, 2020
Rona Coster