The Jamaica Constabulary Force put out a statement on Friday (April 16th) that it cannot continue investigations into a violent episode that took place in a parking lot ten days earlier, because the two people involved (a man and a woman) are not willing to press complaints. Also, the JCF said, the quality of the video was poor – although all relevant parties seem to have identified the alleged perpetrator (seen in a video beating Ms. Tannisha Singh with a stool) as businessman and “embattled” Member of Parliament, George Wright. Mr. Wright has not been charged.
Mr. Wright has not been particularly cooperative at any stage, but eventually met with the Chairman of the Jamaica Labour Party Horace Chang at party headquarters. Their disciplinary committee is now looking into it, and meanwhile Mr. Wright is on leave (I believe, sort of). Other party members (including several women elected last year) have, it seems, all taken a vow of silence. Will it be swept under the carpet? One of our famous “nine day wonders”?
This is one deeply disconcerting case, since it involves a public servant. However, the global case against the epidemic of gender-based violence – a pandemic – is never closed. I hope our political leaders realize that this is much bigger than the evasive, elusive Member of Parliament and his political future (which frankly I could not care less about). There are also legal and constitutional issues. But I hope that the matter will not be just wished away. For a long time now (and in particular, in this early part of 2021) the issue of violence against women has been as topical and high profile as the COVID pandemic itself – especially after at least two highly publicized femicides (and several others, this year) have deepened the malaise. There are many examples from our not too distant past, also.
Yes, the Prime Minister and others have been most eloquent in decrying violence against women, especially after the murder of 20-year-old Khanice Jackson last month. Passionate words have flowed in Parliament. And yet…
I was reminded of this when I received information on the ongoing Spotlight Initiative, which turns the focus on gender-based violence, from the United Nations Jamaica, which represents the collective UN presence in Jamaica. The forthright comments by the UN Resident Coordinator Dr. Garry Conille below seem particularly relevant in light of recent occurrences.
The remarks by Professor Opal Adisa Palmer, who chairs the Spotlight Initiative’s Civil Society Reference Group in Jamaica, and by European Union Representative in Jamaica Ambassador Marianne Van Steen are similarly unequivocal. Indeed, “let us go beyond condemnation to action,” as the Ambassador states.
I also spoke with Hilary Nicholson, who for many years has worked on the empowerment of women and is a member of WMW Jamaica. These are her thoughts on the George Wright débacle:
“The lack of public apology and accountability on the part of George Wright and the JLP, the party that he was representing when this happened, is inexcusable (to be polite). It shows a lack of understanding by leaders of what is expected of a leader. Mr Wright should resign, or be asked to resign totally as a Representative by his parliamentary peers, if he doesn’t do so himself (regardless of the lack of an impeachment law). This justifies my ongoing loss of trust in this Government’s commitment to addressing violence against women.”Hilary Nicholson
I believe many Jamaican men and women would agree with Hilary that the very least the Jamaican public deserves is a meaningful apology from Mr. Wright and from his party.
Here is the United Nations’ release dated April 16, 2021 – the day after Mr. Wright met with his party:
April 16, 2021, KINGSTON – The Spotlight Initiative has approved a 2021 work plan aimed at addressing the scourge of family and gender-based violence (GBV) in Jamaica and operationalizing the goals and objectives outlined in Jamaica’s National Strategic Action Plan to Address Gender Based Violence (GBV).
The Programme is being implemented at a time of widespread crime and violence against women and girls, which continue to affect families and communities and hinder progress towards the SDGs. Around the world, there is a 30 per cent increase in reports of violence against women in some countries. In Jamaica, more than 700 new cases were reported to the Victim Support Unit in March and April (2020) alone when compared to previous months.
The 2021 work plan will allow the Spotlight partnership to work more closely with government and civil society, to strengthen legislation; improve services; and empower men, women and children to address harmful gender norms that often encourage violence as an acceptable way of solving problems. The work plan was approved at the Spotlight Initiative National Steering Committee meeting on April 14.
This year, The Spotlight Initiative will, among other things, focus on the training of nurses, police officers, justice system personnel and other frontline workers in understanding GBV; expanding domestic violence intervention centres attached to police stations across the island; strengthening local coordination networks that support survivors of violence and abuse; supporting the establishment of national shelters for survivors of GBV and their dependents; and educating parents and men to explore beliefs and attitudes towards gender-based violence.
In his remarks to Spotlight stakeholders, The United Nations Resident Coordinator Dr. Garry Conille condemned the spate of crime and violence and committed UN’s support to fighting GBV.
“All leaders in government, institutions, private sector and every well-thinking Jamaican must speak loudly and act firmly against gender-based violence in all its forms, wherever it occurs and regardless of the perpetrators. Gender-based violence is a violation of the right to life, a violation of the right to freedom from torture and degrading treatment, a violation of the right to freedom from discrimination and the right to safety and security,” Dr. Conille said.
He added, “the widespread and seemingly normalized acts of violence is a significant disregard for human right, and presents a social, economic, and public health emergency of which all Jamaicans should be concerned.”
“This year’s work plan for the Spotlight Initiative, we hope, will ensure that our signature interventions tackling family violence and violence against women and girls are fit for purpose and are responsive to today’s crises,” Dr. Conille said.
Ambassador Marianne Van Steen, Head of the European Union Delegation to Jamaica in condemning the high levels of gender-based violence in the country said, “Violence against women and girls is not just a tragedy for the victims, it’s a monumental failure for the societies where it occurs. Gender based violence is also a major obstacle to achieving equality between women and men, a prerequisite for achieving thriving democracies, successful economies and the Sustainable Development Goals.”
She added, “the consequence of impunity and silence on this matter is too high a price to pay and sadly, too many women have already paid that price. For the sake of their families and loved ones, let us go beyond condemnation to action. The Global Spotlight Initiative is one of the ways that the EU is responding to end this scourge.”
Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, Chair of Spotlight’s National Civil Society Reference Group, noted that “Each of us has a right to be outraged at gender-based violence, and to recognize that change of this nature requires deep thought, collaboration and an honest look at the root causes of the problem,” Palmer Adisa said.
Recognizing the challenges, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange in her statements shared, “the objectives of the Spotlight programme must be sustained, and its efforts will have to be bolstered in meaningful ways.”
Minister Grange has since shared information on the legislative agenda including upcoming amendments in support of reducing GBV.
“The Spotlight Initiative will positively contribute to gender equality, social inclusion and protection of human rights which are effective stimulants to poverty reduction and sustainable development,” Minister Grange said.
The Spotlight Initiative exists as part of a targeted, multi-stakeholder and an all-of -society approach to ending family violence and gender-based violence in all its forms. The multiyear programme, launched in 2020 is implemented by the United Nations, Government of Jamaica and civil society with funding of over $10M USD from the European Union. A reflection of the implementation and expenditure of Jamaica’s Spotlight programme is available here.