Founder, What Women Want
By far the most startling revelation around gender based violence (GBV) in Jamaica is the complete lack of national rage, frustration, pain and anger smoldered into large scale protest; a lack of the collective voice demanding value to be placed on the life of the woman and girl child. For a country with rebellion and revolution etched in the blood of its people, a country with just over half the population coming from the fairer sex, a country that is built on the backs and spines of multiple generations of women, the collective responses from the powers that be as well as the collective voice that pressures such powers are woefully and cripplingly embarrassing.
Jamaican women live in a state that was listed by the UN as having the second highest femicide rate in the world in 2019, in a state where 1 in 4 women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, where the law continues to beat them whilst down by handing out candy like sentences to perpetrators, where true justice is but an illusion and the best way of living is no way to live at all; keeping your head down and surviving one day at a time. With everything Jamaica is perceived to be globally, it is nothing without its women, yet the same women that hold it up are the ones whose spines are worn, shoulders heavy with burden, tongues thick with unspoken words and spirits that have no room to breathe.
But perhaps the reason why there is no national disruptions to this level of state led violence is because the very people who are needed to champion the cause are so bogged down with domestic and child care responsibilities, driving and fueling much of the formal and informal economy, spearheading civil society efforts, maneuvering ingrained sexism and misogyny, pouring their souls into higher educational pursuits, and all whilst surviving some of the most heinous acts of violence usually perpetuated in their homes. The level of challenges stacked against the Jamaican woman are immense and overwhelming, overwhelming to the point where it systematically snuffs out their voices even though they are screaming from beneath the wheels of oppression everyday.
Some of these challenges that flow into the big, murky pot of GBV readily come to our minds; family violence, socio-cultural norms, lack of resources for survivors, lack of legislative protection etc. But equally important to this conversation is economics and how economic disenfranchisement and the female participation rate in the labour market trickles down into a myriad of factors that keep women economically tied to men. On the matter of economics, it runs so deep that it flows into sexual and reproductive health conversations and notably conversations around period poverty. On average, the link between period poverty and GBV can be drawn in two ways; economically as mentioned previously and from a socio-cultural perspective which purports that women and girls are unclean whilst menstruating.
Relating to economics, period poverty refers to the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints and not only is this an immediate financial need that makes women and girls vulnerable monthly but an issue that leads to long term effects such as reduced educational attainment as school attendance is inhibited. This then leads to further reductions in the possibilities of upward social mobility for women, which of course leaves them dependent on men and more susceptible to violence as they do not have the means to leave the abusers. And so the cycle continues.
The level of work needed to combat GBV in Jamaica is massive and complex and multilayered but the one thing we need to understand as a society is that the weight and expectations we place on our women to not only survive violence but to dismantle it is entirely inhumane and heartless. The state and the men that receive the warmth of and benefit from the strength of women must step up and speak up for them. And until then, socially, culturally and economically we are doomed…