Wed | Oct 18, 2017

Warren Thompson | Why saving our boys is not enough

Published:Monday | May 1, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Warren Thompson, deputy registrar of the Office of the Children's Registry.

The headline for the Gleaner editorial published April 25, 2017, declared 'Save our boys and save Jamaica'. While I agree that special intervention is needed to 'save' our boys from involvement in gangs and a life of crime and violence, I believe the editorial is one in a set of recent articles that downplay the impact of violence on all children, the extent to which sex and gender determine children's (and adults') experiences of violence, and the extent to which girls are predominately at risk for physical, sexual, social and economic violence.

Linking women's and girls' experience of sexual and physical violence to men's involvement in gangs and their disconnectedness does not do justice to the many girls and women who suffer at the hands of men who are otherwise seen as upstanding citizens.

Just two months after a series of reports on child sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by respected male religious leaders, and the attempts to silence the Tambourine Army and quash its assault on sexual violence against women and girls, comes commentary from Peter Espeut (published March 17) complaining that feminists have hijacked gender studies and are using the veil of 'gender' to advance women's position and status in society at the expense of men.

 

MANY BRANCHES OF FEMINISM

 

Mr Espeut recalls accurately that gender studies, as an academic discipline, was born out of women's studies and the feminist movement for women's equality with men. Yet, what he failed to mention is that there are many branches of feminism, just as there are many Christian denominations, with varying forms and methods of activism; not all of these branches are anti-men or are aggressive.

Espeut's definition of gender-based violence as violence against persons because of their sex is correct, but it is basic in that it ignores the complexities of gender. The problem that Mr Espeut faces is that he seems to contend that all forms of violence are based on gender, simply because all human beings are gendered beings. In a similar vein, Dr Herbert Gayle is noted for seemingly discounting the phenomenon of violence against women and girls, claiming that violence against men and boys ought to be a greater concern. He suggests that, because of their sex, boys are particularly at risk for involvement in violence, as both perpetrators and victims; but this is male-on-male violence, and should not be compared with the violence historically experienced by women and girls at the hands of men.

The fundamental thing about gender-based violence is that inherent within the concept is an imbalance of power based on gender, whereby there is one sex that is disadvantaged at the hands of the other. This is not true of the violence against men and boys that Dr Gayle champions, nor is it true of all violence within homosexual unions or of women fighting over a man, as Mr Espeut seems to believe.

What both gentlemen must recognise is that the predominance of research and activism around violence against women and girls is a result of how this violence is historically tied to women's low status, their social and economic exclusion and disenfranchisement, and the extent to which it has been a global phenomenon.

 

EXPOSURE TO VIOLENCE

 

Dr Gayle claims in his article of April 11, 2017, that the women who die in Jamaica's war-torn communities do so as a result of war and not because of "brutal patriarchy branded worldwide as violence against women". In this claim, he discounts girls' everyday experience of violence (as a result of their sex) both outside and within war-torn communities, and which does not result in homicides.

There is no doubt that Jamaica's children (both males and females) have higher-than-normal exposure to, and experience of, violence. The most recent data (2015) from the Office of the Children's Registry show that females are more likely than males to be reported as victims of child maltreatment; the greatest disparity being that girls account for 94 per cent of victims in reports with a possible element of child trafficking, and approximately 90 per cent of victims of child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Saving our boys from becoming involved in gangs is important, but will this alone save Jamaica? What is clear is that violence against children, and child maltreatment (especially meted out to girls), is a cultural phenomenon that goes way beyond gang violence. It is a phenomenon that will contribute to a population scarred by violence and riddled with maladaptive behaviours. Therefore, saving our boys from being recruited by gangs and from being disconnected from social institutions will not be enough to save Jamaica from a dark future. Programmes are also needed to address the cultural and systemic problem of violence against women and girls, and the pervasive abuse and exploitation of our female children.

Saving half of our population just won't do.

- Warren Thompson is deputy registrar, Office of the Children's Registry, and PhD candidate, Institute for Gender and Development Studies.