Editorial | Angry women must unmask abuse
If indeed Khanice Jackson’s murder has been solved, the credit must largely go to her family and close friends. They appear to have been observant and communicative about their relationships, which allowed them to be ahead of the police in investigating Khanice’s disappearance. That someone may be tried for her killing won’t return Khanice to life. Neither is it likely to fill the void left in her family. Hopefully, though, it might afford them the closure that is too often denied to the families and friends of the too many victims whose bodies are never recovered and of those cases that are never solved.
But we hope that in the Khanice Jackson case, the other outrage it has ignited will be galvanised into an enduring movement against this metastasised malignancy of violence against women. It is an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted by the Government, especially Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, the minister with responsibility for gender affairs.
This, though, we warn Ms Grange, is no easy exercise to be achieved via exhortations and boilerplate statements of commiseration. It will require hard policy, rigorous law enforcement and legal interventions, and, more important, the mobilisation of women to an awareness that their dirty little secret is common knowledge and that they should rise up – figuratively – against their tormentors. That, for many, will mean overthrowing long-held societal norms.
In this regard, the data from a 2016 survey of women’s experiences with violence by intimate partners are important. It was done by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), with support from the United Nations and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The vast majority of Jamaican women (93 per cent), the report showed, supported the idea of shared authority with men in family relations. Nearly the same amount (92 per cent) agreed that women should be able to spend their own money. Yet, nearly eight out of 10 women (77.4 per cent) said that it was natural for men to be head of the family. Seven in 10 (70.2 per cent) felt it was the woman’s role to take care of the home. Nearly a third (32.2 per cent) agreed that a wife should always obey her husband, while 31.4 per cent felt she was obliged to have sex with him.
While these numbers shifted, depending on the woman’s education – for instance, among women with tertiary education only 51 per cent felt that it was their role to take care of the home – patriarchal dominance is clearly ascendant. Indeed, approximately three in 10 (31 per cent) of women believed that violence between husband and wife should be a private matter, and six per cent said violence should be tolerated to keep families together. Additionally, nearly two in 10 (15.8 per cent) didn’t believe a woman was raped if she didn’t fight back. Five per cent held that a victim of rape had to be careless to find herself in that position.
Happily, the vast majority of women didn’t condone being hit by their partners, although one in 10 said that such violence would be justified if a woman neglected the children. The younger the women, the more tolerant they were of physical violence by partners – 17 per cent for those in the 15-19 age group; 14 per cent for those 20-24; and 15 per cent in the 20-29 bracket. In other age groups, the tolerance for intimate-partner violence fell to single digits.
But the fact that women disdained violence and other forms of abuse didn’t protect significant numbers of them from it. Nearly three in 10 (27.8 and 28.8 per cent, respectively) said they had suffered sexual/physical violence and emotional abuse over their lifetimes. Seven per cent and 11 per cent, respectively, were at the time of the survey still experiencing sexual/physical violence and emotional abuse. One in four women had at some time been subjected to plain physical violence. Six per cent still did.
While most women confided in someone, usually friends (40 per cent), about their abuse, nearly a fifth of the victims (18.4 per cent) kept it to themselves. Only 19 per cent went to the police. And of those who reached out, only four in 10 (39.1) reported getting help. Fewer than one in 10 (8.6 per cent) had police support. Of those who did something about their situations, nearly half (47 per cent) said they acted because they could no longer endure the violence, while a quarter (25.9 per cent) had been badly injured. Eighteen per cent of the women acted after specific threats of murder.
EPIDEMIC AFFLICTING JAMAICAN WOMEN
The statistics we have highlighted represent the broad outlines of an epidemic afflicting Jamaican women, separate from the forms of criminal violence that consumes the society. Aptly, the survey was framed in the context of a report on women’s health. It is indeed a public health crisis. In the event, we are surprised that the situation hasn’t been treated as such, with the survey used as a guide to action.
During public health crises, the usual response is to make people aware of them, while mobilising potential victims to behavioural change to limit the possibility of infection, until the scourge is eliminated. It is the approach the Jamaican authorities took to the COVID-19 pandemic and other infectious diseases. It is what we insist that Minister Grange does in confronting this virus. In other words, women must be empowered to stand up, speak out and push back against their abuse. There should hardly be a place where a Jamaican woman could turn without bombardment by messages against covering up dirty secrets of physical or emotional abuse by partners. She should know that the nastiness isn’t hers, but his. She should hear, too, that patriarchy is a male imposition that shouldn’t be normative in today’s world. It must be rejected in favour of gender equality.
This aggressive mobilisation of women should be but the starting point. Men, too, should be subject to a radical public programme of re-education to effect behaviour change, in keeping with an effort to get ahead of the curve of what is a debilitating disease.