Rosalea Hamilton | Budget key to domestic violence decline
March is International Women's Month. This year, we started the month on the heels of a frightening escalation of gender-based violence (GBV) and female homicides, a chilling reminder of the inhumane, historical atrocities meted out to African women during the era of slavery.
For enslaved African women, slavery was not only a system of racial bondage but also sexual bondage. She was treated as property and viewed as a sexual object to be raped and abused at the will of the slave owner, as well as some free and enslaved African men. Sadly, this legacy of slavery persists today.
The available data tell the story. A 2008 Reproductive Health Survey found that among every partnered female aged 15-49, about 30 per cent had experienced some combination of intimate partner violence during her lifetime, and about 50 per cent have experienced at least one controlling behaviour. In 2014, more than 90 per cent of all reported sexual violence cases were females under 25 years old.
In 2015, there were about 400 reported cases of rape. Note that only 28 per cent of the victims of gender-based violence report to the police. In 2015, reported female homicides were 116, up from 100 in 2014. About 80 of the victims of modern-day slavery - human trafficking - in Jamaica are women and girls, mainly for sexual exploitation. But behind the numbers are real women and girls that we all know.
The reasons for the perpetuation and acceptance of physical and sexual abuse are very complex and are not solely because of the wicked, aggressive behaviour of men. Whatever the reasons, solutions are needed to enable healing and empowerment of individuals and families, as well as to avoid emotional, physical, verbal and sexual abuse. Solutions must be financed privately and/or publicly. For most women incapable of privately financing their empowerment, adequate budgetary allocations are essential.
Last month, Prime Minister Holness promised a zero-tolerance response to the escalating violence against women and children that will have a profound impact. Measures include the establishment of two urgently needed women's shelters. It is expected that this and other measures will indeed have a profound impact on the 2017-2018 Budget.
PM Holness also noted that "a much broader programme that requires the partnership of the Jamaican society - citizen and institutions ..." is needed. I fully agree. In my considered opinion, what is needed is a meaningful partnership through the Budget process that goes beyond symbolism and mere talking, and gives ordinary Jamaicans an opportunity to make financial decisions about solutions to the problem of GBV in their communities.
This is possible through participatory budgeting, a community-based democratic process that provides financing and institutional support that enable citizens to design and implement projects that can meaningfully solve social and economic problems. Through such a grass-roots process, Jamaicans can come together to discuss and agree on solutions to this debilitating problems supported by professionals.
It will enable citizens to grapple with gender-related policy issues, such as equality of opportunity and the empowerment of women consistent with the national agenda to increase labour-force participation of women, equal pay for women and strengthening female entrepreneurship. The community-based dialogue will challenge all of us to consider our rights and responsibilities to raise the standard of personal conduct in interpersonal relationships and address entrenched, cultural and psychological issues that demotivate productivity, disempower Jamaicans, and limit our capacity for social and economic transformation and growth.
Simply put, the process enables Jamaicans with first-hand experience and knowledge of the immediate cause and effect of GBV to craft practical solutions to real problems facing real people in their communities. The process holds the seeds of social and economic transformation as well as the long-term sustainability of community-based solutions to curb GBV.
In the current context of escalating GBV, Jamaica needs all hands on board to address this crippling, deep-seated problem rooted in our historical DNA.