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  • Abby-Sade Brooks, an organizer for the Caribbean #lifeinleggings movement fighting violence against women, in Kingston, Jamaica, March 8, 2017.

    Abby-Sade Brooks, an organizer for the Caribbean #lifeinleggings movement fighting violence against women, in Kingston, Jamaica, March 8, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 10 March 2017

Violence against women in the Caribbean is widespread and women are finally speaking up about it.

A new feminist movement is growing in the Caribbean, from Barbados to Jamaica to Trinidad and Tobago, to speak out against gender violence in the region that women say is all too common. “Life in Leggings,” a feminist call that started as a hashtag, plays off the fashion trend in the region of skintight leggings by pointing out that women’s attire is not an excuse for discrimination or harassment.

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"We were debunking the myth that women attract this behavior because of the way that they are dressed and that men have the right to approach you in this manner," Ronelle King, founder of the movement, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "You deserve respect regardless."

The movement first took off when King took to social media to share her experience of a man trying to force her into his car after she refused his offer for a ride. The police were indifferent, so she told the story on Facebook with the hashtag #lifeinleggings.

Soon, women from all over the region, including Jamaica, the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago, were sharing their own stories of sexual assault, harassment and domestic violence.

"It's feeling as if you're not the only voice in the wilderness," said Nadeen Spence, a 44-year-old Jamaican woman who finally found the courage to publicly share her story of child molestation using the hashtag.

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In the Caribbean, violence against women is widespread.

An estimated one in three women in the region have suffered domestic abuse, according to a report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. While femicide has garnered more attention in other parts of the region, such as Argentina and Mexico, in the Caribbean, 30 to 50 percent of murders are related to domestic violence, reports the University of the West Indies' Institute of Gender Studies.

And the problem may be even worse than these statistics show, given that stigma and impunity often leads to underreporting.

Marches are being organized throughout the region for Saturday March 11 in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Some women planning on participating say the demonstrations are the biggest they can remember in their lifetime.

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