From “Victim” to “Survivor” of Gender-Based Violence: Jamaica Urgently Needs More Shelters

Women who are experiencing violence and abuse in their lives, especially at the hands of a partner, are incredibly vulnerable. Yet we may chat with them in a line at the supermarket, pass them by on the street, even work with them on a daily basis, without realising what they are going through. Gender-based violence – or intimate partner violence, specifically – is like that. It is insidious and often hidden. The woman struggles to maintain a “normal” life while her self-esteem,  her dignity is crumbling. So often, this kind of violence is isolating. Who does the woman turn to for help? Who can help pull her out of this trap?

Joyce Hewett of Woman Inc. (Photo: Gleaner)

So, I had a conversation recently with Joyce Hewett, the Past President of, and Gender Specialist with a small but long-established NGO named Woman Inc. Founded in 1984, the organisation has provided emergency shelter for battered women over thirty-odd years. Woman Inc also operates a 24-hour Emergency Hotline, crisis counselling and referral services for victims of rape, incest, domestic violence, domestic crisis and sexual harassment. It also conducts outreach in schools and communities, and advocates for legislative change.

My talk with Joyce was not an easy discussion, and I kept turning it over in my mind afterwards, because it worried and disturbed me. What disturbed me the most, I think, was the apparent general lack of caring and empathy in Jamaica towards women of all ages (from teenagers to seniors) who are enduring abuse week in, week out. There is this kind of attitude – I saw this quote on violence against women, from a thriller writer named Nenia Campbell, and thought it quite appropriate to Jamaica:

Sympathy is only meted out if you follow all of society’s rules for how a victim is supposed to behave.

The question I asked myself, over and over again was: Is this another of those “social issues” that we would much prefer to draw a veil over? Even while it is hiding in plain sight?

Let me get to the point. Basically, Jamaica needs shelters for victims of domestic violence (and their children) in at least three parishes. At present, it has only one (in Kingston), which is being refurbished and remodelled, thanks to the remarkable U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno and his wife, Gloria. It will be ready in a few months’ time, and it will be wonderful. However, there is a huge gap right now – no shelter at all.

Ambassador Moreno and Mrs Moreno listen to past President of Woman Inc Joyce Hewett during a reception held on November 13, 2015. (Photo: U.S. Embassy Jamaica)

Jamaica also needs a “half way house.” The shelters are for emergency situations – those moments when a woman has to flee the home, in fear of her life. It is intended as a temporary shelter, for not longer than two weeks. And then what happens next? She cannot go back to the abusive situation at home that she just ran away from. She must transition from a “victim” to a “survivor” – and this takes longer, both in terms of physical and family arrangements, and in terms of the psychological adjustments she has to make. So, she might stay at a halfway house for a year or so, paying nominal rent. There has been some private sector interest in supporting this, I understand. The Jamaica Public Service Company (thanks, Ms. Kelly Tomblin!) has also been supportive to the cause.

Woman Inc is crowdfunding, and really needs support. You can find the link here: Please donate whatever you can, and share. Woman Inc has enormous experience, but would love to do so much more – and the need is there.

You can find Woman Inc on Facebook and the telephone number is (876) 929-9038. You may also email them: The emergency (crisis) hotline number is 929-2997.

I will end with this quote from President Jimmy Carter:

The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on Earth.



6 thoughts on “From “Victim” to “Survivor” of Gender-Based Violence: Jamaica Urgently Needs More Shelters

  1. Thanks Emma! Things happen slowly, while the situation facing abused women and their children continues to worsen, but it is encouraging to see some progress being made towards the half way house. Hope this will encourage other groups to create one in another part of the island.


    1. Yes – that is the goal, and funding is only part of the challenge. Setting up a shelter like this is not as simple as it seems… But have to keep working at it!


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