Women’s voices raised on gender-based violence in Jamaica

The viral video that surfaced earlier this month, and subsequent calls for the alleged perpetrator, a Member of Parliament, to resign, continue to reverberate. Many statements and concerns expressed by various organizations have spoken out strongly on the issue. Here are the voices of some women from a grouping of ten women’s organizations and some 40 individuals (in the interests of transparency, I signed on to this statement myself, but I have not listed all the individuals’ names here, as the numbers are growing rapidly!)

It is unfortunate (but quite honestly, to be expected) that the issue has become a political football, mired in all kinds of accusations and counter-accusations on the part of “die-hard” political supporters on both sides. Those who have spoken out on the issue have been labeled as politically motivated hacks by…politically motivated hacks! It is tiring, and very sad that a more enlightened conversation cannot take place. However, in Jamaica partisan politics can overwhelm everything.

To date, Mr. Wright has maintained his silence – a silence that speaks volumes – while his party is reportedly investigating. The political fallout for the Government has been considerable, and the lack of trust in politicians, so often expressed by members of the public, has moved to another level (let us not forget that only 37 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the last general election on September, 2020).

A recent event organized by the United Nations’ Spotlight Initiative.

Amidst all of this, the underlying issue of violence against women has been swamped by a lot of noise. However, the Spotlight Initiative run by the UN Jamaica Resident Coordinators Office in Jamaica and launched in early March this year, is pressing ahead and taking on greater relevance. And the voices of Jamaican women are not likely to be silenced, any time soon.

Meanwhile, Khanice Jackson was buried today.

Clients, members, friends and supporters of the amazing organization Eve for Life (that is Joy Crawford in the center in a white shirt, with me peeping over her shoulder!) The non-profit organization serves, supports and empowers young women living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are also survivors of domestic abuse.

George Wright must resign, cry the women

We the women of Jamaica and beyond, who have signed this Press Release, call for the immediate resignation of George Wright, MP from the Parliament of Jamaica.

We find unacceptable the unexplained leave of absence of Mr. Wright from Parliament and the JLP. We are yet to be convinced that his leave of absence and removal from committees of Parliament, has nothing to do with the recent allegations connecting Mr. Wright with violence against a woman.

We hereby express our total condemnation of violence against women. Violence in general is terrorizing the land. Gender based violence is singled out, as our government has identified that it has particular development and economic consequences. The Government of Jamaica has signed onto global conventions, national policies and legislation as well as accepted international funds to address Gender Based Violence against women and girls. It is unacceptable that allegations of violence are made against a government representative in such a graphic way as in a video circulated in social media, and he has not denied such allegations.

We call on Mr. Wright to do what is right! Resign right now!

SIGNED:

1. WE-Change Jamaica, wechangeja@gmail.com

2. Woman Inc, Joyce Hewett, womanincpresident@yahoo.com

3. Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC); wrocjamaica@gmail.com

4. Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS-RGO), Professor Opal

Palmer Adisa, University Director, opal.adisa@uwimona.edu.jm

5. Jamaica Community of Positive Women (JCW+), advocacyhope@gmail.com

6. Girls Who Know Jamaica, girlswhoknowja@gmail.com , Antonette Hines

7. No Nine Day Wonder #N9DW

8. Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean (WENC), Ethnie Miller

Simpson, emsimpson@wencaribbean.org

9. Women’s Health Network, womenshealthnetworkja@gmail.com,

10. North East Manchester Skilled Women

These post-its from a women’s workshop in Jamaica tell the story (and the words “violence” and “abuse” are noticeable). My photo

I would like to add a piece by a young Jamaican woman, which delves deeper and raises some critical issues. I highlighted a couple of sentences myself. Thank you so much, Ruth! And thank you for highlighting several deeply disturbing instances of violence against women by men, in recent years. The names of these women should never be forgotten. Say their names.

Violence in Jamaica is a Gender Issue

I wonder what the United Nations was thinking when they decided to identify gender equality as an important goal for sustainable development? I wonder what would have possessed scholars, economists, development theorists and practitioners, who have studied the march of the human race for centuries, to determine that if a society is to move forward to “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”, it must give serious weight, attention and treatment to the issue of gender equality?

And I wonder what Jamaican legislators were thinking when they affixed their signatures to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women? Or the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women? Or the Cairo Programme of Action? Or the Beijing Platform for Action? Or the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality?

Were we signing for show? Were these political PR moments? Did we know, when we were making these international and regional commitments, that we were signaling to the rest of the world – and to the women and girls of Jamaica – that we understood the need to create and implement policies that would begin to correct gender imbalances and injustices that have been meted out to them for centuries?

These documents weren’t written to give women and girls an advantage. They were written from an understanding that throughout history, women and girls have endured significant and disproportionate disadvantages – based entirely on the fact that they were born female. This iniquity and inequity continues to be fueled by social institutions built on the belief that women are somehow less than men. And deserve less respect. And can be treated with less regard. This inequity directly affects women and girls’ equal access to rights and freedoms, particularly when it comes to how we see and treat their bodies, and their freedom of movement.

Demeaning beliefs about the roles women and girls are supposed to play in society, especially when juxtaposed with our expectations of men and our concepts of masculinity and maleness, continue to drive many of the social challenges we witness in Jamaica today. There are “gendered” beliefs about power, authority, ownership, masculinity, femininity, sexuality, identity, and respect underlying each tragic news report that flashes across our TV screens almost every night. These beliefs are entrenched in our society and feed directly into the power dynamics informing violence, especially gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against women and girls (VAWG).

It is what a man believes about his power in a relationship with his partner that allows him to think that he can beat her with a stool. It is the ownership a man thinks he has of a woman who dares to leave him that leads him to chop her up with a machete while the neighbors watch (Sharon Cole, 61, Clarendon). It is what a man believes about his right to sexual access to the female body that allows him to abduct a 13-year-old girl, drug her, and rape her (unnamed, St Ann); or strip her naked, rape her, and then stab her to death (Shelly-Ann Williams, 17, Clarendon). It is what a man believes about his identity and masculinity that allows him to shoot a girl dead through her window for saying no to his advances (Mickolle Moulton, 17, Kingston).

What’s a woman’s life worth anyway? What value do we place on a young girl’s right to a life free from violence, sexual harassment and abuse?

To disregard gender in the discourse on violence, crime – and development in general – is to turn a blind eye to the institutionalised belief systems that continue to drive some of our most heinous crimes.

It is a slap in the faces of the legislators who fought so hard for the creation of the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Childcare and Protection Act, and the Sexual Harassment Bill. It is to call into question the relevance of our very own Bureau of Gender Affairs in support of gender equality, as well as the usefulness of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse. What of the work that they are doing? And what of civil society groups such as Eve for Life and the Women’s Centre Foundation of Jamaica? What issues are we addressing through their programs? Ask their clients about the relevance of gender to violence, and how their lives have been forever changed because of somebody’s harmful and erroneous gender beliefs.

To disregard gender in the discourse on violence is like spit in the faces of the women who still grapple in silence with abuse in their own homes. And on the streets. And in every public and private space imaginable. It makes a mockery of the lives of so many women who have been victims and survivors of culture-sanctioned violence in Jamaica. Especially in the centre of a COVID-19 pandemic that confines us in ways that have exacerbated GBV and VAWG globally.

When will we get it? At what point in our history will we finally fully honor and protect – through our laws, regulations, attitudes and behaviors – the rights of women and girls as human beings – as equally deserving members of the human race? What women and girls in this country desperately seek is basic respect. It’s the protection of basic human dignity that they are looking for in our laws and policies … and from our policymakers.

That is the cry from the blood of Khanice Jackson. That is the cry from the blood of 83-year-old Ceyan Foster from Ewers Lane, St Elizabeth, who was beaten and raped. That is the holler from 14-year-old Yetanya Francis’ ashes. She was raped and burnt. These are the screams of the mother and her two teenage daughters who were turned away from one hospital and denied attention for hours at another after being brutally raped in 2018. It is the whisper of the woman who went to the police station in the middle of the night to report a case of domestic violence last year, only to be sent back into the house with her abuser. And it is the palpable silence of 11-year-old Ananda Dean and 20-year-old Jasmine Dean – both of whom have gone missing without a trace.

Who speaks for them? Who defends their right to life? Who will take the time to understand that their protection from violence was directly linked to gender-informed laws and policies, gender-aware law enforcers and service providers, and widespread reform of our cultural gender norms?

If it will not be our legislators, if it will not be our Parliamentarians, it will have to be us – the women and men of Jamaica who understand that harmful gender beliefs play a significant role in perpetuating GBV and VAWG in a nation with the second highest rate of femicide in the world; and where one in every four women experiences sexual violence and harassment.

This is not an ordinary time in our history. GBV is real and rampant in our country. It demands attention from everyone. This is our Jamaica. This country – its future – is our responsibility. Who will act, if not us? We cannot remain silent.

I am, etc.

Ruth Howard

Concerned Jamaican Woman Citizen

A group of women participating in an empowerment workshop for rural women in Portland back in 2016. (My photo)

7 thoughts on “Women’s voices raised on gender-based violence in Jamaica

  1. Is it that George Wright should resign because he did his act in full view of cameras? What about the others sitting in the same house who carry out similar acts behind closed doors where there are no cameras? I think we need to broaden the conversation to reflect exactly what we intend, otherwise we might unwittingly perpetuate the secrecy and taboo culture behind domestic violence and violence against women and children. I totally agree!!! ZERO TOLERANCE but are we now only concerned with the act carried out by George Wright (with whom I have no known relation by the way) or the mindset of abuse of vulnerable peoples and populations and the broader culture of violence existing in the society.

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  2. Emma! Thank you so very much for highlighting the tragedy of violence against women that is manifested through intimate partner violence, inflicted by men. The inclusion of Ruth’s letter is powerfully strategic – the voice of committed young advocate, and sister who so beautifully speaks truth to power, through her own words. Judith

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    1. Dear Judith: It’s so nice to hear from you. Yes, I was seeking the right moment to join Ruth’s voice and passionate advocacy with other women’s voices – many of us much older! I love her clear and poignant voice.

      Like

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