“Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development. It imposes large-scale costs on families, communities and economies. The world cannot afford to pay this price”. – Ban Ki-moon
Jamaica is part of the international community which each year observes the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. From November 25 which is commemorated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women through to December 10, Human Rights Day, the global community pauses to raise public awareness regarding discrimination steeped in patriarchy and violence against women which has its genesis in the unequal power distribution between men and women.
According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), gender-based violence cuts across ethnicity, race, class, religion, education level, and international borders. An estimated one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Disturbingly, a significant amount of violence against women goes unreported and the perpetrators are not brought to justice.
The Caribbean region has one of the highest incidences of rape. According to the UN Women narrative on gender-based violence in the Caribbean, The Bahamas has the highest incidence of rape per capita in the Caribbean at an average of 133 per 100,000, followed by St. Vincent and the Grenadines 112, Jamaica at 51, Dominica 34, Barbados 25 and Trinidad and Tobago 18.
Over the years, Jamaica has been witnessing an alarmingly trend of murder-suicide. According to University of the West Indies lecturer in political psychology, Dr. Christopher Charles, the murder-suicide must be viewed in the context of domestic violence. As part of his findings on his research on murder-suicide in the security forces, Charles highlighted the fact that 86 per cent of the perpetrators of murder-suicide were males and that the targets were overwhelmingly females.
Sadly, the discourse on gender-based violence tends to ignore the social and economic cost associated with hospitalization, time off from work and counseling which the State and survivors must bear. In a recent presentation at the University of the West Indies, Miss Taitu Heron, Programme Coordinator, UN Women’s National Programme, stated that seven paid work days are incurred to victims of gender-based violence in Jamaica at a cost of $3,000 per day at a public health care facility.
She added that in Uganda 11 paid work days are lost per one incident of gender-based violence to the survivors, while in India it was five paid work days. In situations where children are exposed to seeing one parent being abused by the other, we are yet to fully quantify the psychological damage that such incidents can and does have on those children. Such children can become withdrawn, perform poorly in school, depressed, violent, angry, and fearful and can later in life become abusers.
This is an area where more research is needed in order to completely understand the impact of gender-based violence on the society. There is a tendency to exclude the fact that men are also victims of gender-based violence. We must come to the realization that some men are vulnerable and also suffer from gender-based violence from their spouses or significant others. Of course, in a society which values hyper-masculinity, such men rarely are afforded the chance to voice their concerns due mainly out of fear of being ridiculed and having their manhood questioned.
Gender-based violence is not confined to the domain of sexual and or physical. No one should feel a sense of shame and suffer in silence due to violence of any nature. Unfortunately, we live in a world and society with a high tolerance for lawlessness, in addition to our insatiable appetite for pornography which devalues women. It bears thought that we need to do more towards eradicating gender-based violence.
The society needs to increase awareness of the scope of gender-based violence and its impact on the target and the society through pointed public education campaigns. There is also an urgent need to engage more men and boys to join the effort in eliminating violence against women. The education system also has an integral role to play in eradicating gender-based violence by infusing the subject into the National Standards Curriculum.
We also need to ensure that our National Gender Policy for Gender Equality is gender-neutral in order to address discrimination against all genders. The government, through Parliament, should legislate and ensure the enforcement of laws to prevent violence against women. We need to ensure that gender-sensitive training becomes compulsory for the police and security forces so as to better equip officers to deal with such forms of violence.
We also need to create more partnerships with national governmental organizations, civil society, churches and other stakeholders in addressing all forms of violence. The creation of safe spaces for the survivors of gender-based violence should be of utmost importance to policy makers if the state is serious about tackling gender-based violence, at least one such facility should be in each parish. The State has an obligation to safeguard its citizens and eradicate gender-based violence. The society cannot achieve sustainable development and economic growth until and unless all citizens are protected.
As a society, we should work towards fulfilling the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) number 5 which speaks to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. In order for us to have better societies, we need to foster partnerships between both sexes while ensuring that women and girls have equal access to all resources and are protected from all forms of violence. In the words of Barack Obama, empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.
(Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)