Let’s have a progressive agenda for Jamaica’s newly established Parliamentary Bicameral Women’s Caucus

So far this year, Jamaica’s news has been a little – what is the word? – dispiriting. Bleak, even, at times. However, I was very much cheered by news that the Parliamentary Bicameral Women’s Caucus (which I referred to in my last blog post) will actually become a reality – and very soon. The women will hold their first sitting on Tuesday, February 21 at Gordon House. Many women and civil society members are welcoming this, including Jamaicans for Justice. I hope we can attend in the public gallery.

Why is this so needed? JFJ explains below. There are so many legislative concerns surrounding women’s issues. I hope also that the Caucus will develop closer ties with civil society groups such as the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre, Women’s Media Watch (both established over 30 years ago) – and Eve for Life, which works closely with the most marginalised of young women. Since 2020, JFJ itself has also provided legal advice, counselling and representation to over 80 women.

February 2, 2023 – Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) welcomes the establishment of the parliamentary bicameral women’s caucus that will comprise a sessional Select Committee at both the Lower and Upper House. JFJ believes the caucus will provide an opportunity to bring into greater focus the issues relating to the challenges of gender-based violence within Jamaica while providing the relevant impetus to aggressively eliminate violence against women and children. 

JFJ notes the historic achievement where both the Lower and Upper House has, for the first time, a combined female representation of 30%. This, we believe, creates the opportunity for the women’s caucus to significantly advance the role of the legislature around gender-sensitive law-making. The organisation therefore urges the female parliamentarians to develop and advocate for a progressive gender equality legislative and policy agenda.This agenda, in keeping with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which Jamaica is a signatory, should span effective legislation, strong institutional framework, and a cultural transformation concerning gender roles and status.

In consideration of this anticipated progressive policy and legislative agenda, JFJ looks forward to the revised National Policy for Gender Equality and the amendments to the Domestic Violence Act (DVA). JFJ, like many other civil society groups, have been championing for the DVA to define domestic violence in Jamaica, which will provide greater scope and strengthening of Protection Orders; setting a clear mandate to police officers and how they are to appropriately respond to victims and complaints; and increasing the current small fine of J$10,000 or a short term of six-months imprisonment for the breach of a protection order, neither of which currently serves as a deterrent.

JFJ also calls on the female parliamentarians to be courageous in their advocacy in pursuing the recommendations made by civil society organisations to the 2017/8 Joint Select Committee around amending the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) and other related legislation, such as the Offences Against the Persons Act. This includes:

  • repealing marital rape provisions under section 5 of the SOA to eliminate exemptions to the general rape provisions based on marital status.
  • exempting children who are close in age from prosecution for sexual intercourse with a person under sixteen under section 10 of the SOA.
  • redefining rape and making changes to grievous sexual assault to address forced anal sex so that our men and boys can get greater access to justice. 

JFJ notes that while the caucus currently consists of all women, its purpose is to promote and help sensitize all Parliamentarians to the principles of gender equality in the country, regionally and internationally. Therefore, the involvement of male parliamentarians, at appropriate instances, will be critical in ensuring the legislature acts on the guidance and recommendations of the caucus, which also includes the current Minister of Gender. 

In pursuing this progressive agenda, JFJ encourages the parliamentary caucus to maintain and strengthen its partnership with civil society groups that are on the ground providing support to survivors of sexual, domestic and gender-based violence. Since 2020, JFJ has received complaints and reports from over eighty (80) women to whom we have provided legal advice, representation, securing protection and occupation orders. The organisation therefore makes a public commitment to lend its support in enhancing the caucus’ attention to social issues based on findings of its legal support services. 

We also stand ready to provide a space for discussions to be had; supporting capacity building sessions; hosting public education and community-based interventions; and other supporting roles necessary to fast-track this progressive policy and legislative agenda to advancing gender equality in the country. 

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