Violence Against Women: When Are We Going to Address It, Seriously?


It’s always there. A continuous backdrop to our daily lives.

Violence against women is a serious developmental issue because it has many implications for the individual(s), families, communities and the nation at large. That is, gender-based violence has serious long-term implications for women and their children and has social and economic costs for the society, which will impact on its growth. Women impacted are often isolated socially and unwilling to seek help. They may not be able to live a “normal” life at all, because of the physical and emotional impacts. This kind of paralysis means they are unable to contribute to family life, let alone participate in the society.

Prevailing attitudes and beliefs in the society about the role of women often lead to violence against women being justified, tolerated or condoned. These social and cultural attitudes stem from traditional beliefs that view women as subordinate to men and over whom men have dominion. Moreover, women are often blamed for the violence they experience at the hands of their perpetrators. “Victim-blaming” is very real, especially in cases of sexual violence.

27-year-old Sasha-Gaye Coffie was murdered on National Heroes Day in Cumberland, St. Catherine. She was seven months pregnant. She had been shot and injured earlier in the year but had been afraid to attend an identification parade. Her husband
27-year-old Sasha-Gaye Coffie was murdered on National Heroes Day, 2013 in Cumberland, St. Catherine. She was seven months pregnant. She had been shot and injured earlier in the year but had been afraid to attend an identification parade. Her husband and an accomplice were later charged with her attempted murder.

Violence against women occurs in a number of different ways, including intimate partner violence, sexual violence, human trafficking (including forced prostitution and economic exploitation of girls and women) and in some places, female genital mutilation (FGM). The consequence of these different kinds of violence perpetrated against women include mental, emotional and physical harm, as well as health consequences, especially around sexual and reproductive health. A 2013 analysis with the World Health Organization (WHO), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council, for example, found that women who had been physically or sexually abused were 1.5 times more likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection and HIV, compared to women who had not experienced partner violence.

Many international agreements have recognized violence against women as a human rights issue and Jamaica is signatory to many of these agreements/treaties. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), for example, seeks to minimize and remove gender-based disparities and discrimination that negatively affect the development of women and girls.

National laws, policies and initiatives have been developed and undertaken to facilitate a more equitable environment in which women and girls have equal access and opportunity to develop, by being free from gender-based violence and discrimination but much more is still left to be done on this front. 

Women make up approximately half of the population and if we are serious about making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business we must address violence against women in a systematic and sustained way. Strategies should include school-based programs on relationship violence, workshops on communication skills and programs to help women gain financial independence, implemented and monitored on a continuous basis and with determination and focus. We cannot let up. We owe it to our women, who are marginalized by violence.

Violence against women has sadly become almost a part of the landscape, in Jamaica and globally. Legislation alone is not the answer; we must improve the quality of our lives and our relationships, overcoming ingrained attitudes and prejudice, and ensuring our communities work more closely together. It’s going to take some work.

Much greater support and empowerment of women is, however, a “no-brainer,” and at all levels of society.

This post was written for the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life as part of their “Responding to Violence against Women in the context of HIV – Expanding Gains to Decrease and Prevent Violence against Women in the Context of HIV and VAW” Project.

A mother of five, Melissa Smith was chopped to death and a schoolgirl was raped on this road in Barnett Hall, St. Ann in June, 2015.
A mother of five, Melissa Smith was chopped to death and a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl was raped on this road in Barrett Hall, Golden Grove, St. Ann on June 24, 2015.

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