Ending violence against women is everyone’s business
As COVID-19 cases surged across the globe and right here at home in Jamaica, stay-at-home orders were put in place. With many schools closed and workers furloughed, or working from home, people have been confined to their homes. This limited personal movement and increased anxiety because of one public health crisis has contributed to another public health and human rights issue: family violence. Curfews intended to protect the public and prevent widespread infection have left many victims trapped with their abusers.
The Spotlight Initiative is a global European Union and United Nations initiative to end violence against women and girls. The themes for each region focus on the prevalent forms of violence experienced by women and girls. In Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, it is focused on Family Violence.
When someone experiences family violence, their well-being, security and survival are threatened. There are many terms for family violence with similar meanings. Under the Spotlight Initiative, family violence covers physical, social, sexual, economic and emotional abuse and acts of aggression within relationships that are considered as family connections or akin to family connection, including intimate partners, whether married, living together or dating, and violence between parents and children.
Violence has generally been a challenge in Jamaica, with the highest rate of homicide in the region at 46.5 per 100,000 people in 2020. It is therefore no surprise that family violence has also increased. There has been major public outcry in the last year due to the murders of women such as Nevia Sinclair and Andrea Lowe-Garwood, who were all victims of different forms of family violence. For interventions and policies to have serious and lasting impact on the Jamaican society, a comprehensive approach must be taken, including actions that engage men who have been perpetrators of violence, and the many men who are not.
UNDERSTANDING FAMILY DYNAMIC
Dr Peter Weller – a Jamaican community clinical psychologist based in Trinidad and Tobago, and former chairman of the Caribbean Male Action Network (CariMAN) – said for interventions to be effective and focused, all key stakeholders (policymakers, social scientists, schools and civil society organisations) should understand the dynamics of family and the varied roles men play.
“Most often we hear about it (family violence) in terms of the physical violence, and certainly, most often it is perpetrated by men against those who are perceived as ‘weaker’ .... We need more specifics about all the dynamics of family violence, including the emotional abuse which usually precedes the physical abuse, not to shift focus away from men, but maintained in the fact that violent dynamics have to be understood from all perspectives. Men are perpetrators, we must deal with that, but that doesn’t take place in a vacuum,” said Dr Weller.
Dr Weller also noted that the men and boys who perpetrate family violence play this role, especially if they have been programmed to think that they are entitled to power and control. “The stereotype concepts are that men are all the P words: powerful, protector, provider, procreator and very often portrayed as the perpetrators of violence and aggression and less often acknowledged as the prey of violence and aggression. Yet men are more likely to be the prey of violence primarily from other men. Engaging men is therefore a critical part of the solution,” he said.
He continued: “If a man has been taught and programmed that he should be the provider, then women have also been taught and programmed that men should be providers, and you can have dissonance taking place if the man is not able to provide but he is expected to provide and he thinks he should provide. Then, that can lead to significant stress. Now, that doesn’t take away his accountability or give permission to act on violent feelings of frustration, rather, this is just an understanding of the dynamic and expectations that can lead to certain perspectives and then behaviours and then actions.”
CYCLE OF VIOLENCE
According to ‘The Women’s Health Survey 2016 – Jamaica’, 25 per cent of women partnered with men who had witnessed their mothers being abused and were themselves beaten as children. These women had higher rates of intimate partner violence than women whose partners had no childhood experience of violence. It is not inevitable, but if actions aren’t taken to intervene it can become a cycle of violence.
“In the Jamaican context, everyday examples (of unhealthy masculinity) range from an attraction to risky behaviour and a propensity for violent outbursts to the tendency to rephrase words [‘no Mandeville, gyaldeville’ etc],” said Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis, performing artist, writer, educator and member of CariMAN.
The good news is that there are programmes such as the Spotlight Initiative and many others led by CSOs and the Government of Jamaica to break the cycle. Director of the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Sharon Coburn Robinson, highlighted several initiatives: the Way Out Project; Young Father’s Initiative with the Women’s Centre; Gender Ambassadors in Schools and the Refocus Perpetrator Intervention Programme, which is training implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Justice.
“This programme looks at the why; why did you become a perpetrator? Because in many cases we’ve discovered that when we are able to identify the reason behind the violence and how what you did affected the family, the individual themselves and the global village, it made a difference,” said Coburn Robinson about the Refocus Perpetrator Intervention Programme.
PROGRAMME GEARED AT YOUTH
UN Women also has a family violence-GBV prevention programme for youth – The Foundations Programme. This programme will be introduced this year through Spotlight, aimed at contributing to and strengthening prevention approaches to addressing gender-based violence in the Caribbean, teaching core gender concepts such as gender socialisation, and human rights to young women and men (13 to 24 years of age). This programme will be introduced in communities in the parishes of St Thomas, Clarendon, Westmoreland and the Kingston and St Andrew Metropolitan Area.
Ellis also outlined grassroots solutions that address family violence from a man’s perspective and have driven change at the community level.
“The exposure to positive alternatives and structured mentoring relationships has worked and can be strengthened. Mentorship programmes as well as solutions that foster empathetic facilitation of spaces where men can bond, bawl, vent and vision together have impacted change,” Ellis highlighted.
Coburn Robinson added: “In many cases, though violence may be between family members, it is done at the community level, so when we do one-and-one engagement with community members, we indicate to them what legislation is in place, what social services exists, and how they can protect them; individuals are then more aware of how they can truly avert danger.”
An end to family violence and violence more broadly across Jamaica cannot happen without the full engagement of women, girls, men and boys. The Spotlight Initiative will continue to engage all relevant stakeholders, including Jamaican men as advocates and key actors to end family violence.
Sheryl-Ann Thomas-Scott is a communication analyst at UN Women Multi Country Office – Caribbean. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org