Markets unsafe, unsanitary for women
Women account for one-third of the farmers in Jamaica and an even higher portion of the market vendors across the island, but Mildred Crawford, former president of the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers and honorary member of UN Women, is raising the alarm that most of the markets across the island are not suitable for women.
"The way how these places are constructed, rape happens in them, attacks happen in them, and lives can be taken before anybody reaches the spot to rescue anyone. It is definitely not safe," Crawford told The Sunday Gleaner.
"Look at the Coronation Market. I have gone to the sanitary convenience that exists there, and it is intolerable, and the waste-disposal aspect of it has to be genderised," argued Crawford.
She said that the bathrooms in the markets generally do not have sanitary napkins receptacles, and in some cases, males are allowed to use the female bathrooms.
"If one is malfunctioning, of course the man is going to step into the woman's own, and if the woman's own is malfunctioning and she really needs to use a bathroom, she is going to step into the male one. The thing is that she needs to ease herself," added Crawford.
She charged that she knew of females who had been raped in bathroom facilities in the markets.
"We have reports, but I don't know how documented they are at the police station. As civil society, we usually get so much information because we do social work," said Crawford.
When our news team visited the Coronation Market in downtown Kingston recently, we were greeted by a man coming out of one of the female bathrooms. Of the 10 stalls in that rest room, at least three did not have a door and all four shower stalls were also without doors.
PAYING TO ACCESS TOILETS
The dark and dingy bathroom was manned by one of the vendors in the market.
A second bathroom inside the market had a steady stream of females paying $50 to access the toilets. At least three women were seen mopping the floors, while one sat on a chair handing out tissue and collecting the designated fee.
Hardly anything escaped the attention of Paulette Blagrove, who monitored the entrance to that facility as she handed out tissue. Because there is no water in the bathrooms at the market, she ensured that patrons filled buckets with water to flush the toilets after each use.
Blagrove works from as early as 5 a.m. to as late as 9 p.m., and although she makes only $4,600 every fortnight, she likes her job.
According to Blagrove, it's her job to ensure that the vendors have access to proper sanitary conditions while providing food for Jamaicans from all walks of life.
Blagrove said that the lack of water is the only major problem facing women in the market, and this was confirmed by several female vendors who spoke to The Sunday Gleaner.
"Just water mi want, and mi all right. Mi don't have to charge $50 dollars when mi have water, just $20 for the tissue," said Blagrove.
She pointed out that vendors who want to shower have to do so using a bucket that they provide along with a bottle of water. She has been working there for two years, and this has always been the case.
"Dem (women) a cuss say dem want water to wash themselves," added Blagrove.
The need for proper water supply in the markets was underscored by Crawford.
She argued that considering that some of the women who sell in the market are from rural Jamaica and would need access to shower, more consideration should be given to improving the markets to make them more comfortable.
"When they sleep in the market for two or three nights, where do they bathe?" questioned Crawford
"When they sleep on these benches in the market cover up under sheets, men and women in there, what happens after dark? When it rains heavily and there are threats of storm and they can't go home to come back the next day, where do they stay, and what conditions are they exposed to?" she queried.