Editorial | Well done, Mses Malcolm and Robinson
That they suffer physical or sexual violence, or emotional abuse, is usually a nasty little secret that women are too often ashamed to share. Men rely on it as cover for their indecent behaviour.
Indeed, a 2016 survey by The Statistical Institute of Jamaica found that more than one in four (27.8 per cent) of Jamaican woman had suffered physical and/or sexual violence, mostly from intimate partners. And nearly three in 10 (28.9 per cent) had faced emotional abuse. Seven per cent of the respondents were still suffering physical and sexual violence.
Nearly a fifth (18.4 per cent) of these victims told no one about their troubles. When they confided in somebody, it was mostly a friend (40 per cent) and/or their mothers (35 per cent) or a sibling (28 per cent). Fewer than a fifth (19.1 per cent) went to the police and of those who did so, only around eight per cent said they were helped. Indeed, approximately four in 10 victims of physical and sexual violence received no help whatsoever; and when there was assistance, it was more often from friends (18 per cent).
FOUR IN TEN VICTIMS HAD NO HELP
More disturbing, however, is the fact that nearly four in 10 (39.1 per cent) victims had no help whatsoever in dealing with their abuse – in part because they sought none. That, perversely, is understandable, given the complex attitudes to intimate-partner relationships in Jamaica, where three in 10 women believe that violence between a husband and wife is a private matter and the history of abuse suffered by victims often go back to their childhood.
Breaking this wall of silence is critical if Jamaica is to have a chance of cracking this epidemic, which has gained increased attention in recent weeks in the wake of the viral video of a man violently beating a woman. This newspaper, in the circumstances, applauds the courage of two young People’s National Party (PNP) politicians, Abigail Malcolm and Renay Robinson, for speaking publicly about their own histories of abuse.
Ms Malcolm, 32, is the PNP’s caretaker councillor for the Cornwall Mountain division in Westmoreland. Ms Robinson, 26, is president of the party’s youth organisation in the same parish. Both participated in a recent demonstration in the Westmoreland Central constituency, calling on the governing Jamaica Labour Party member of parliament to say whether he, as alleged, is the man in the viral video. In the normal course of events, the action of the PNP women might have been interpreted as an attempt to gain partisan advantage. Except that they told their stories – of violence that they were lucky to survive.
It is a familiar narrative of abusers blaming the abused for their suffering. Ms Robinson recalled a “simple discussion” that sparked a violent eruption from her former partner. “I can remember it was him squeezing my throat, and then he apologised and said it would never happen again, but it happened multiple times after that,” she said.
On one of those other occasions he cut the ear during a brawl then said: “Look at what you made me do.” Ms Malcolm also endured a choking episode during a seven-year relationship with a violent partner. She said: “... I remember going to bed, then I felt a hand around my neck and I was battling to breath.” That wasn’t all. “On one occasion, I was beaten so much that I could not even feel my own body,” said Ms Malcolm.
Violence against women crosses class barriers, although, as the 2016 researchers observed, middle- and upper-class women are reluctant to talk about it, and certainly not in group settings or publicly.
While women in these social groups often have more and better economic options than their working class/unemployed counterparts if they leave abusive relationships, they often suffer in silence, while sometimes either denying the violence against them or not recognising it for what it is. Neither is gender violence nor the victims thereof constrained by political affiliation, as Ms Malcolm and Ms Robinson attest.
Which makes the statement abhorring gender-based violence, read in the House this week by Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, reportedly on behalf of “women of Parliament”, of significance and potential importance. It could provide a platform from which to promote policies as well as mobilise women, regardless of their politics, class or social background, to take a stand, and identify with a campaign against gender-based violence.
It is unfortunate that Speaker Dalrymple-Philibert made a thinly veiled push for tit-for-tat moral equivalency in complaints of misbehaviour against members on either side of the House. She weakened the moment. The process need not be permanently damaged. Neither the Speaker nor Jamaicans should allow it to be.