Safe havens sought Grange vows to establish more shelters for battered women
More than eight years after the hosting of a major fundraising event to finance the establishment of three shelters for women experiencing domestic violence, government officials are still struggling to find suitable locations to establish these facilities.
In 2008, many Jamaicans responded to the call to contribute to the Sisters to Sisters Benefit Mediathon which was undertaken by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture.
Just over $9 million was raised through the event, which also commemorated International Women's Day that year.
"It was highly interactive to the extent that it served to facilitate 'nuanced conversations' on violence against women and provided an excellent opportunity to garner well-needed financial and other support for women and girls who were victims or survivors of violence," Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia 'Babsy' Grange told The Sunday Gleaner.
The event was highly publicised and pledges were made by several corporate entities as well as local and international donor agencies. These included Food For The Poor and the UNFPA which pledged a combined $9.9 million to furnish the shelters.
According to Grange, a vacant property was located in Kingston through the National Land Agency. However, in 2013 this venue was deemed unsuitable after a site visit by representatives of the Office of the Prime Minister, the Bureau of Women's Affairs, and the non-governmental organisation Woman Inc.
Former president of Woman Inc, Joyce Hewett, who was one of the persons who visited the site proposed for the shelter, noted that the location was not suitable for several reasons.
Her organisation currently operates the only shelter for battered woman in the country, as well as a Crisis Centre which offers counselling services to abused women.
"It wasn't adequate or conducive or confidential, which is a key component for a shelter in this country and a degree of anonymity that people don't know where it is," said Hewett, who noted that the Crisis Centre operated by her organisation had to be closed down in the past after the spouse of an abused woman visited, thinking it was the shelter, and threatened staff. The shelter, is at an undisclosed location.
Hewett hopes that a suitable location will be found soon for a government-funded shelter, as Jamaica is in dire need of more shelters for abused women, given the high levels of domestic violence cases in the country.
"There is a need. Ideally, we used to say at least one in every parish. Nowadays we say, my God, if we could at least get three, at least for starters," said Hewett.
"We need one badly in the west and we need one at least in the middle of the island, like in the Clarendon, Manchester area," added Hewett.
She noted that operating a shelter can be very costly and is only a temporary solution for abused women.
According to Hewett, she wants consideration to be given to the establishment of long-term housing where women can live and pay their own way.
"The amount of funds that are required to put up a shelter that has ample space and adequate facilities is extremely costly, because you not only must put it up, you must maintain it," she said.
Grange said the Government is still committed to the establishment of a minimum of three regional emergency shelters within the next two to three years.
However, the money raised from the mediathon has been used to support the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation as well as to provide quarterly subventions to Woman Inc.
According to Grange, other alternatives will also be explored, including transitional housing facilities, safe homes, emergency safe spaces, and confidential private accommodation.
She noted that discussions have already started with the Ministry of Housing towards establishing a National Shelter Committee to create a robust shelter strategy for victims and survivors of gender-based and other forms of violence.
"The Government of Jamaica remains committed to working in collaboration and partnership with other key stakeholders from the public sector, private sector and other entities and organisations to identify at least one regional emergency shelter within a year," said Grange.