Imani Duncan-Price | Tambourine army rising
There's a new army in Jamaica, and they are recruiting. This is not an army that fights with guns and M16s - though they are militant about their cause. The tools of this army: knowledge, passion, determination, smarts, love. The aim: to finally make Jamaica safer for women and girls, to deal systematically with the scourge of violence against children and women.
This physical and psychological violence manifested itself in a spate of gruesome murders of women over the last two months, leading to 134 women and girls murdered in 2016 versus 116 in 2015. This sexual and psychological violence came to light with the revelation of predatory behaviour of trusted men of power over young girls ñt2 the recent cases of allegations against the leaders of the Moravian Church, among others.t
The Tambourine Army is equipping its soldiers with the knowledge to more effectively deal with the abuse, rape, and all other forms of sexual violence against women and girls. On February 8, they held a teach-in with Dr Verene Shepherd of the Institute of Gender and Development studies (IGDS) at UWI, Mona, on the 'History of and Culture of Rape in the Caribbean'.
Dr Shepherd was powerful in her analysis of the historical underpinnings of sexual exploitation, rape, and physical abuse as a tool of power by the conquistadors from Spain, the captains of the Middle Passage, the masters on the plantations. She referenced the work of Orlando Patterson The Sociology of Slavery: An Analysis of the Origins, Development, and Structure of Negro Slave Society in Jamaica. Patterson's seminal work found: "The sexual exploitation of female slaves by white men was the most disgraceful aspect of Jamaican slave society. Rape and the seduction of infant slaves, the ravishing of the common-law wives of male slaves under the threat of punishment and outright sadism often involving the most heinous forms of sexual torture were the order of the day."
In addition, black men, as floggers and drivers, were commanded to violate women in unspeakable ways in the public arena. In this violent experience of slavery, too, for more than 300 years, men were also brutalised and their roles as husbands and fathers severely diminished.
This manipulation and abuse of power through sexual violence continued into post-colonial society, where laws and customs offered no protection. The patterns of behaviour became norms and impacted the psyche of Jamaicans ñ how we see ourselves and each other. No wonder Marcus Garvey, in recognising these intended consequences, stated "We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind."
How do we do so in Jamaica if our education system was never re-designed to deal with the vestiges and scars to radically lift us from the mire of our collective past of slavery? Is it surprising then that popular dancehall lyrics aggrandise or uplift the male identity and debase and denigrate the woman? Such lyrics range from 'cock-it-up-jack-it-up-dig-out-de-red' to 'Walk like a dog then yuh cock up and piss'. The answer is not simply to censure such lyrics. It won't make the lived reality of what inspires those lyrics go away.
Similarly, while preventative detention may work in some cases to reduce murders by domestic violence, it doesn't deal with the root issues and, unfortunately, will likely lead to further police abuses. Why would the Government open this door? If the Government wanted to really address the issue of domestic violence, for example, would it not have been better to make a significant investment in safe houses for women who want to leave their abusive husbands and receive counselling for their own healing? This is critical to avoid the escalation to murder. After all, the one shelter for all of Jamaica, run by Woman Inc, is now closed for much needed repairs. Even when it reopens, it will still just be one. None are in major towns across Jamaica.
The Tambourine Army, in seeking to equip its soldiers with the tools to fight and reshape the system, will also hold a teach-in on February 17 on the Sexual Offences Act. This is being done in partnership with UN Women and the I'm Glad I'm a Girl Foundation. Led by Tracy Robinson, a gender and law specialist, the goal is to equip advocates with the knowledge and strategies to impact the current review of that legislation and related acts that is currently under way in Parliament.
From Healing Circles for survivors to people across Jamaica from all walks of life wearing black as a show of solidarity to teach-ins, to the Survivor Empowerment March, this is the kind of coordinated advocacy and activism needed to wake us out of apathy. As Barack Obama rightly said, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
So I'm asking every woman and man who thinks it's time that we address the real issues driving sexual violence against children and women to join the Tambourine Army! On March 11, 2017, they will march and present the Tambourine Army 20-Point Action Plan for Change. Sign up, soldiers!
- Imani Duncan-Price is co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and former senator. Email feedback firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.