Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), GraceKennedy Limited, Douglas Orane, has suggested a review of the laws, to provide support and protection for victims of gender-based violence.
He called for the courts to accept independent evidence, or initial reports, to prosecute offenders and protect victims who might fear testifying.
Mr. Orane was speaking at a forum commemorating International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, held under the theme, Changing Culture to End Violence Against Women”, and organised by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture’s Bureau of Women’s Affairs, at St. Andrew Parish Church Hall, on Thursday (November 25).
“If a woman does not pursue a complaint, because she remains dependent or afraid, when will our laws accept independent evidence or initial report, especially if corroborated by medical reports?” he asked.
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla (right), in discussions with Regional Director – Region 1, Jamaica Library Service, Mary Bewaji, before the start of a forum commemorating, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, at the St. Andrew Parish Church Hall. The forum was held under the theme: ‘Changing Culture to End Violence Against Women’.
He said that many abusers persist, because they believe their victims will never have the courage, or support, to leave.
Mr. Orane also pointed to the need for greater enforcement of the laws, a change in cultural norms and a collective approach to problem solving involving the church, the community and other stakeholders.
“Does our legislation have the necessary teeth, and is it applied impartially and fearlessly to protect the most vulnerable?” he asked.
He also questioned the extent to which persons who work in the legal system, were trained to deal with situations or crimes associated with domestic violence.
“Is it appropriate to have abusers and victims together in the same court room, while an act is prosecuted or defended, without an experienced judge to understand the syndrome of violence?” he asked.
He said the Church had a critical role in framing society, noting that since the institution is often close to the family situation, it was ideally placed to promote anti-violence messages among members, and, by extension, the wider society.
“Also, it can use its moral authority to induce those who commit violence, to seek the help necessary to acknowledge their wrong and change their ways,” he said.
Mr. Orane argued that eliminating violence against women must be a shared responsibility, involving men and women, and some men should be educated and resocialised to better appreciate the rights of women.
Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Faith Webster, said that for society to effectively eliminate violence against women, it was important to change currently entrenched cultures and stereotypes that devalue girls and women.
“We have to consciously change the negative images and messages which are being churned out every day through the lyrics of our songs, and the portrayal of our women as commodities,” she argued. She said men and women must become partners in ending violence against women.
Assistant Representative, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Melissa McNeil Barrett, said that although issues surrounding women’s rights have improved significantly over the years, gender-based abuse and discrimination is still a reality for many.
Statistics have shown that one in every three women worldwide is likely to be beaten or suffer grievous physical harm; coerced into sex; or psychologically abused in her lifetime: and one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape, she said.
A country baseline assessment conducted by the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 2009, found that in 2007 there were 9,625 reported cases of domestic violence, an increase of about 30 per cent over 2006, she said.
Mrs. McNeil Barrett, however, noted that incidents of domestic abuse are often under reported, as victims fail to report cases out of embarrassment, fear, or for economic reasons.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is observed annualy on November 25. The day also marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism, to end violence against women, culminating on December 10, International Human Rights Day.