Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Jaevion Nelson: Let’s get serious about violence against women

Published:Thursday | December 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM

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.

I was reminded of how severe an issue this is on Saturday, December 5, 2015, when I patronised Women's Empowerment for Change's (WE-Change) event, Orange Lights, to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls in our society. Orange Lights was an emotionally charged and uplifting celebration of the resilience of our women who have experienced violence, both directly as a victim and indirectly because a friend, family member, partner or someone close to them was a victim.

They shared their experiences through poetry and short stories about how as women, and for some when they were girls, they are bombarded by men who treat them as their property, assault, rape, and beat them. WE-Change 'is a rights-based, women-led, community-based advocacy group committed to increasing the participation of lesbians, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women in social justice advocacy in Jamaica and the Caribbean.' You can read more about the women's experiences here: https://goo.gl/DbhD1O

The following morning, on December 6, I went to Christ Church in Vineyard Town for their human rights service, which focused on the issue of gender-based violence as well. It was as touching as Orange Lights and so powerful to see women being allowed to stand in front of a congregation to share their experiences and encourage/urge them to help in redressing this grave problem. All five women who spoke highlighted that they were embarrassed and ashamed about what happened to them, afraid to seek assistance, and that when they were brave enough to seek help they were stigmatised and blamed for what had happened, and that there is too little support available for those who experience these abuses and violence.

Challenges our women face

It is sad that we do not talk enough about this problem. If we want to address crime and violence in our country and make this a safe place for people to live, work and do business, then we most certainly cannot continue to focus most of our attention on the most heinous of incidents. We also cannot continue to ignore the myriad ways in which women are affected. We need to take stock of the issue and the challenges our women and girls face and begin to address them in a holistic way.

As Rochelle McFee, an executive at WE-Change, said, it is unfortunate that this is not more of a priority "in a country where 40 to 70 per cent of females murdered are killed by husband, partner or spouse, and where one in three women experience intimate partner violence, a country with 3.5 times the global rate of gender-based violence, three times the number of reported rapes than in other countries, where hospital records show more than 25 per cent more rapes than police reports and where the estimated rape levels are 10 times more than police reports".

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. This, of course, includes corrective sexual violence and other sexual abuse of women who are or perceived to be lesbian, bisexual or transgender. We also need to involve men and boys in the advocacy efforts. Importantly, civil society must foster greater collaboration with each other and with government entities to reach an even wider cross section of the Jamaican public.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.