As 2016 draws to a close, Jamaicans might agree that the year has yielded some progress on the economic front, holding some hope for 2017. But a dark cloud remains: homicides — most of them in certain areas of the island.
In particular, the recent murders of several women by their partners (or exes) has shocked the country, sparking a sometimes heated debate about Jamaicans’ perceived inability to resolve disputes, as well as the tricky dynamics of male-female relationships.
Each case — including the high-profile uptown murder of a pregnant woman by her boyfriend — has revealed certain painful realities of interpersonal conflict in Jamaican society. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) reports that 24 women were killed in domestic disputes this year — a 60 percent increase in women killed in intimate-partner violence, compared to 2015.
Reactions from activists to the spate of femicides have grown increasingly vocal. The hashtag #Beyond16Days, which refers to the “16 Days of Activism” that ended on Dec. 10 (Human Rights Day) remains in use. One activist stressed:
— #SpunkyWoman (@embraceherflow) December 16, 2016
In Jamaican slang, “bun” means to cheat on a partner, and “jacket” refers to a bastard child — an inference that the man whom the woman is passing off as the child's father is a cuckold.
Too many men and women are engulfed in historically rooted patterns of violence, poverty and underdevelopment and have not been afforded, across generations, to lift themselves into leading productive and rewarding lives.
The system of patriarchy continues to socialize men into a false belief that they have the right to control women, even by the most violent means. Consequently, gender-based violence including rape, intimate partner violence (or domestic violence), sexual harassment and incest, committed mainly against women and girls, seems almost ‘normal’ in some communities.
Measures that have been taken to address gender-based violence in the society […] have generally been ineffective. […] Promises are repeated that the National Strategic Action Plan to Eliminate Gender-based Violence ‘soon come’. The latest promise was just a few weeks ago.
At the operational level, citizens continue to complain of inadequate responses by the security forces to complaints that are lodged at the station. Added to this is the general fear that grips many due to the continuing high levels of violence in the society. […]
A comprehensive response is needed; one involving the state, civil society and the private sector to implement the many measures put forward.
Concerns remain over the way police handle incidents of domestic violence — for example, in the case of the murder of a young Ocho Rios woman by her boyfriend. Yolande Gyles Levy observed:
We tell women to report instances of abuse to the police. They do. The police warn the man. The man still kills the woman.
— EmpressYolie (@jahmekyagyal) December 15, 2016
One young Jamaican man tweeted:
Stop killing your girlfriends and wives please. They aren't possessions yuh just dash weh when u done.
— Cevan 📸 (@cevancoore) December 16, 2016
The society needs to increase the awareness of the scope of gender-based violence and its impact on the target and the society through pointed public education campaigns. There is also an urgent need to engage more men and boys to join the effort in eliminating violence against women. The education system also has an integral role to play in eradicating gender-based violence by infusing gender-based violence into the National Standards Curriculum. We also need to ensure that our National Gender Policy for Gender Equality is gender-neutral in order to address discrimination against all genders. The government through Parliament should legislate and ensure the enforcement of laws to prevent violence against women. We need to ensure that gender-sensitive training becomes compulsory for the Jamaica Constabulary Force as well as the Jamaica Defense Force so as to better equip officers to deal with such forms of violence. We also need to create more partnerships with non-governmental organizations, civil society, churches and other stakeholders in addressing all forms of violence. The creation of safe spaces for the survivors of gender-based violence should be of utmost importance to policy makers if the State is serious in tackling gender-based violence, at least one such facility should be in each parish.
In the words of Barack Obama, empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do-it’s the smart thing to do.
At times, differing perspectives created friction on social media, like when women objected to the tone of an unattributed article in the women's supplement of the Jamaica Observer newspaper. Some women's advocates were also angered by the regular inclusion of Dr. Herbert Gayle — a male academic whose analysis they consider to be weak and biased against women — on media panels regarding women's rights. (Dr. Gayle maintains that 40 percent of men are battered by their female partners).
However, one leading journalist, Dionne Jackson Miller, defended Dr. Gayle's inclusion in discussions on gender issues.
Other Twitter users, like social worker Peta Ann Baker, tackled the issue of victim blaming:
— PetaAnneBaker (@PA13Baker) December 18, 2016
Young human rights activist Jaevion Nelson observed:
We need to stop skirting around the issue of rape, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual abuse that continue to affect countless women and girls in Jamaica. We can no longer afford to pretend that this is not a grave issue and quip that it's feminists and human-rights activists who are blowing the matter out of proportion to advance their agenda (whatever that is). We also need to recognise that women from all walks of life are affected and that it is incumbent on all of us to play our part to end violence against our women and girls…
We desperately need to prioritise addressing this kind of violence and end the lip service. Statements on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimation of All Forms of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and activities organised by myriad stakeholders between November 25 and December 10 are encouraging. We need to go beyond that.
We need to encourage parliamentarians, business leaders, civil society, schools and churches to begin to organise more and discuss how violence against women and girls affect our society more routinely. We need to work collectively, not to find solutions, but to fund, support and build on what we know works.
Development specialist Dane Richardson reflected on a series of headlines:
— Dane Richardson (@danoxid) December 17, 2016
While outrage continues on social media and the issue of gender-based violence remains a hot topic in broadcast media, some are concerned that the talk needs to be translated into action:
@GiovanniRDennis where is the church? Why aren't we protesting in hwt about this sudden act of violence against women.
— Virgo Royalty ♍ (@ItsmeReeny) December 16, 2016
(HWT is an acronym for “Half Way Tree,” the central hub of the capital city, Kingston.)
Where does Jamaica go from here? Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange recently announced that a committee to review several pieces of legislation related to women's issues will be reconvened in 2017, seeking to allay concerns that the Holness administration has not addressed the issue since it came into power in February. Additionally, the government's Bureau of Gender Affairs has re-established its Male Desk, where men needing counseling or advice can seek help.
There is undoubtedly a sense of urgency surrounding the issue, and civil society presses on with activities to empower women and girls. Development specialist and outspoken activist Damien Williams shared his thoughts about the longstanding Nuh Guh Deh (Don't Go There) campaign in Jamaica:
Yesterday, Eve for Life hosted a very important and necessary forum: ‘Nuh guh deh! Mobilising Communities to protect the girl child’. Why is this an indispensable work? Because change must start at the micro or grassroots level. The girl child exists in communities that raise her. These communities must be empowered to raise the empowered girl child. Too often, we work with building children, only to send the back in broken homes and communities. […] The advocacy has to reach the community and create the groundswell in the community for sustainable change. […] We ALL have our part to play.
Located in a volatile area of Kingston, the Denham Town Community Development Centre has also been conducting workshops for community members on gender-based violence, but had to curtail them last month — ironically, due to an upsurge of violence.