Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Ethnie Miller Simpson | Keeping victims of gender-based violence safe

Published:Thursday | November 19, 2020 | 12:08 AM
Ethnie Miller Simpson
Ethnie Miller Simpson
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As the COVID-19 pandemic lays bare gender and other enduring fault lines of inequality, the abuse of women has emerged as a main issue that cannot be ignored.

In a July 2020 Gleaner article, my team and I at the Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean (WENC) questioned the existence of protocols and practices that would protect abused women and children in abusive situations.

This issue was raised in light of their increased vulnerability during the current pandemic. In response, the Government’s assurance focused on the training of Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) officers, public sensitisation, and the selection of police stations where victims of violence were encouraged to report incidents of abuse and receive appropriate support, among other things.

So how is it possible that, according to The Gleaner article dated November 10, two weeks ago a woman who turned up at the Constant Spring Police Station was threatened with arrest for breaking curfew when she followed the Government’s advertised information and reported to the designated station to save her life?

Have the training and responsibilities of the police officers changed because of COVID-19? One would think this must have been the actions of a young, misguided officer, but then we are reliably informed that it was actually a police sergeant, which means the officer is in a supervisory position. This is shameful and distasteful behaviour!

How could this woman be turned away and told to “go home and call 119, and come back in the morning when the curfew is lifted?” This flies in the face of one of the main issues that we previously raised, that abused women during COVID-19 are especially constrained to remain in the abusive environment and situations and cannot get assistance.

Conversations held with officials of the ministry in charge of gender affairs last week assured that they would speak to the relevant authorities to ensure that this instance is not repeated.

We are therefore asking that the national plan consider educating the force on the management of abusive situations and maintaining the safety of the abused, with special provisions for unusual times such as curfew and states of emergency.

GUIDE TO SAFETY

JCF officers should also be equipped to effectively guide and, where necessary, transport abused women to safety with immediacy. Victims cannot be left at the mercy of enraged abusers.

The existing framework still has clear gaps, and the relevant government agencies need to provide training and accountability to entities such as the JCF to ensure this unfortunate incident does not recur. There also needs to be included an accountability framework to monitor and evaluate the efforts implemented. This could possibly be considered under the Spotlight Initiative, which is currently executing a communication campaign. Perhaps an additional approach targeting key service providers may be required.

Although WENC is an association for businesswomen, we launched a Crisis Support Programme earlier this year for our members because, based on the data, our women may be victimised too.

We are women entrepreneurs. However, we are women first. We must advocate against the abuse of all women and girls. This abominable experience was too distressing to ignore.

Ethnie Miller Simpson is a gender and entrepreneurship activist, and the founder and president of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica.