Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Garth Rattray | Respect all communities

Published:Monday | October 9, 2017 | 12:00 AM
File Omar Sweeney, managing director of JSIF.

During his recent speech at a Rotary Club of Kingston luncheon meeting, Omar Sweeney, managing director of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), disclosed certain data concerning Mount Salem coming out of a wealth/poverty assessment performed by the Social Development Commission in January 2016.

I don't know if it was part of his prepared speech or if he was responding to a specific question regarding the Mount Salem community. From what I gathered, the managing director said that a high percentage of women from that community were engaged in prostitution.

Someone proffered that the managing director may have been alluding to intimacy for cash or kind, but not necessarily in the traditional sense of transactional sex. In other words, perhaps he was speaking about girls/women who have intimate relationships (including domiciliary arrangements) with men only because they provide for them.

Whatever the reason or the meaning or the intent, this situation demonstrates one of the reasons why this little country of ours has big problems. We don't show enough respect for everyone.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the managing director was simply stating what he considered to be a fact. My take is this: Given the sensitive nature and magnitude of what was stated, due care should have been taken and respect shown for the girls and women of Mount Salem before the findings were disclosed.

As it turns out, the focus group in question was participating in a session that only involved 46 community members between 13 and 19 years of age.

I believe that the import of what he said is so great that it could have a very negative impact on the community. Were it not brought out that the 'facts' were deduced from a small sample of citizens, every female living in the Mount Salem community could have been a suspected prostitute. The ramifications of such stigmatisation are mind-boggling.

Although I have never carried out any survey, I find that some women, from all walks of society, are living in relationships wherein they give their man sex and the man takes care of them and, possibly, their children.

I have a patient who has four children for one man and they have been living together for almost 15 years. When I inquired about his well-being, she replied with a tell-tale statement indicative of disquiet within a relationship, "Who? Him!" That was followed by an extended 'kiss-teet', "Chroooop!!"

Curious, I asked what was wrong, and, to my surprise, she said that she hated him, but she needed him to pay the bills. Similar situations obtain for some women in very upscale communities. Some who are driving top-of-the-line luxury SUVs, living in three-storey, 10-bedroom mansions and spend each day at the gym or the spa, are kept women who provide marital pleasures to their husband in order to live well.

Others who are living high off sexual favours are classified as the 'side dish' or 'matey', because the rich dude already has a legal wife but keeps a woman on the side. The providing of sexual services for money or support is not always called 'prostitution', but any form of this practice is disturbing. And, it is certainly not confined to communities like Mount Salem.

Some women only want to be kept women, but, in many situations, the deciding factors are education and employability. Obviously, the poorer the community, the more you'll find such situations. Therefore, it is unfair to single out and mislabel the Mount Salem community, especially at a time when it is already under the microscope and being exposed in a negative light. It is not unique in any way.

All such communities are in need of urgent, intensive and long-term social intervention - and, they are also deserving of our respect, something that the erroneous disclosure did not give the women of Mt Salem. It left many wondering if the misspoken words came easy because that community has many underprivileged citizens with very little influence or recourse.

JSIF has been an invaluable institution in providing multi-targeted interventions for more than 18 years. But, this sort of faux pas will only serve to cause hurt, distrust and animosity. It can undo much of the admirable work and progress that has been achieved.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.