Ending violence against Jamaican women in the context of HIV and AIDS

Following up on International Women’s Day, I sat in on an excellent session organized by Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) and funded by the European Union in Jamaica. Sadly, on such occasions the issue of violence against women is a recurring factor. We have to confront it, again and again.

And so, yesterday, we pulled out that half-open drawer and looked inside, for new perspectives, things we might have missed. It was an intriguing discussion, ably moderated by Emily Shields, and you can find it here. Below you will also find JASL’s overview of the event. State Minister Alando Terrelonge’s passionate speech included a defiant quote from dancehall entertainer Shensea. JASL’s Kandasi Levermore’s call for anti-discrimination legislation is something we should look at. And Joy Crawford of Eve for Life told the organization’s story, and their evolving and “upgraded” mission – to ensure that the young women and girls “release their innate strength and resilience.”

JASL hosts symposium to ‘Unmask Violence Against Women’

March, 2021, Kingston, Jamaica – In recognition of International Women’s Day, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) hosted a virtual symposium under the theme ‘Unmasking Violence Against Women in the context of HIV and AIDS’ on Monday, March 8. The symposium featured several keynote speakers and two-panel discussions aimed at exploring issues of sexual and gender-based violence and its intersectionality with HIV. It was used to make an urgent call on the government to strengthen legislation to offer greater protection to women. 

The symposium allowed for four women who experienced intimate partner violence at the hands of their male partners to share their stories to encourage other women to ‘get out’ of abusive relationships. Their stories highlighted how often women are further victimised by police when seeking redress.

(left to right) Ms. Jade Williams, Legal Support Officer at JASL and Ms. Nastassia Robinson, Legal Support at JASL, speaking at Monday’s Virtual Symposium.

While presenting on a  technical report titled ‘Accessing Justice Through Health’, Jade Williams, Legal Support Officer at JASL revealed that “there is a causal link between violence against women and HIV, often women who are raped are at risk of contracting HIV. Women in abusive relationships, even when they want to use condoms to protect themselves, will not say this to their male partner fearing that they may be beaten and accused of being unfaithful.” The report retrospectively reviewed legal cases among 52 of JASL’s female clients and found that 39 or 75% experienced physical violence from their partner and 21 or 40%  were sexually assaulted or raped by current/previous partner, as well as family members. Nineteen of the 52 women were sexually assaulted or raped at least once before,  it happened as early as 13 years old for one woman.  

The key speaker at the symposium, Minister Alando Terrelonge, explained that a lot of this violence against our women is rooted in ‘toxic masculinity’ and it has contributed to Jamaica raising a society of ‘broken men.’ He shared “toxic masculinity has somehow permeated our culture, a great portion of society believes that to truly be a man, you must be rough and course and box dung yuh woman because a fi yuh property, and yuh can kick har dung and style her as dutti gyal and wukklis gyal.” The Minister called on men to play a greater role in protecting women and young girls. 

(left to right) Minister of State in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Alando Terrelonge; Executive Director of JASL Kandasi Levermore; Ambassador Marianne Van Steen, Head of Delegation, European Union in Jamaica; and Joy Crawford, Executive Director, Eve for Life in conversation. (Photo: JASL)

In her address at the forum, Kandasi Levermore, Executive Director at JASL called on the government to work expeditiously in enacting Anti-Discrimination legislation to deal with the stigma and discrimination faced by those living with HIV/AIDS. Levermore also noted that the Domestic Violence Act is woefully inadequate in protecting women, she shares “the Domestic Violence Act in its current form is more bark than bite, it fails to define what domestic violence is, the maximum penalty under the Act for a man violating a protection order is a mere Ten Thousand Jamaican Dollars. If we say we are serious about protecting women, we need laws that reflect this.” 

As a service provider, JASL has a vested interest in matters related to violence against women considering that a significant portion of their female clients experience abuse. Studies continue to show that women who are abused are at greater risk of contracting HIV and the adherence to treatment regimens are negatively affected for those who are already living with HIV.

The virtual symposium was held in partnership with the European Union. JASL encourages women who are being abused to call the police or the crisis hotline at (876) 929-9038.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Alando Terrelonge, guided by his smartphone.

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