Ladies and Gentlemen, the Honourable Prime Minister disignated as her reprsentative at the launch this evening. The Prime Minister and by extension the Government of Jamaica believe the status of women and Gender is a critical component of our drive to achieve the Vision 2030 Goal to “Make Jamaica the place of Choice, to Live, Work and Raise Families and Do Business”.
I feel a personal honour in being a part of the this launch as everyone who knows me well, know of my intolerance to violence, especially violence against women and children.
I hope that increased dialogue and broad involvement will generate the urgently needed solutions.
Looking back on my own experience as a journalist, a particular story came to mind.
It is one of several often retold by reporters as they swap stories on the beat.
It is about a woman who decided that was a good idea to dress in her best, including her finest jewelry on a shopping trip to downtown Kingston.
Needless to say, she became a prime target of a petty thief wanting to relieve her of her jewellery.
The remarkable thing is that the attack was reported to be in broad daylight and on a busy street.
As he was relieving the hapless victim of her treasures and brutally beating the woman, the brazen robber’s ‘cover’ was; “Why did you leave the house?”, “You’re here to meet another man…..give me this chain that I gave you last year”…etc And for the record none of what he said to her was in standard English.
No one intervened, despite her screams, after all this was a “man and woman affair”.
The sad truth is, that as a society, then and no doubt now, we have become numb to the spectacle and frequency of a man assaulting a woman.
For many, it is an uncomfortable truth we would rather wish away or otherwise pretend does not exist and for others ” a nuh nutting, the man jus a discipline im woman”.
This story is operating at a number of levels:
- Firstly, there is the question of intimate relationships and how within this setting females suffer dreadful levels of violence that leave them scarred and often too paralyzed by fear to take action.
- Secondly, we have a culture of Impunity that seems to operate in the minds of the perpetrators of Intimate Personal Violence(IPV) who believe that it is ok and even justifiable to mete out such violence and the acceptance by some victims that this is normal, this is what they deserve.
- Thirdly therof are the risk factors associated with intimate personal violence and how they contribute to an endless cycle of violence against women.
There is an urgent need for a boader national dialogue and engagement on the issue of violence against women.
The Government has made some progress through the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, and through programmes in the Ministries of Health, Labour & Social Security and the Office of the Prime Minister.
Late last year, the Prime Minister Simpson Miller commissioned a high level multi-sectoral consultative committee to address violence and sexual crimes against women and children in Jamaica.
This Committee is charged with developing a holistic approach to tackling the problem by assessing and streamlining measures, recommendations and activities so that national action will be better coordinated, more comprehensive and effective utilising the limited resources.
The areas we are focusing on include: Public Education, Institutional Strengthening, Shelter Services, and promotion of Sustainable Livelihoods.
In addition, pieces of legislation have been either introduced or strengthened. These steps have allowed for the establishment of a Sex Offenders Registry, increasing remedies available to women and girls who are victims, the ability to give evidence via video and increased penalties on the perpetrators.
Jamaica believes that purposeful measures like these are required to combat violence against women and girls wherever it persists.
Despite our efforts, we will all agree that there is much more to be done.
The statistics are alarming and are an indication of the task ahead.
Thirty-five percent (35%) of the women 15-49 surveyed for the 2008 Reproductive Health Survey (RHS) reported that they had suffered Intimate Personal Violence (IPV) over their lifetime.
This takes on frightening dimensions when one considers that those incidents occur in the home setting.
That has implications for children who are exposed to violence as oftentimes it determines the choices they make as adults.
This brings me to this culture of impunity which I touched on earlier.
From the standpoint of conditioning and exposure, the data indicates that one in five of the young men aged 15-24 surveyed feel that it is OK for a man to beat his wife. Put another way, twenty-two percent of our young men believe ‘woman must get lick’!
Ladies and gentlemen, we would never be able to build and support enough shelters to give refuge to battered women who are desperate to break free of the shackles imposed on them by the men who feel it is their right to perpetrate violence!
The dialogue must begin.
The dialogue must be broad.
The dialogue must be intense.
We cannot ignore the prevalence of risk factors for intimate personal violence.
According to the Reproductive Health Survey, factors such as having witnessed abuse as a child, controlling behaviour of the husband or partner and alcohol abuse are risk factors.
Though these factors are not entirely predictive of future abusive behaviour they are nevertheless important indicators.
There is a lot we have to discuss. This report is very timely. We must as a society begin to truly grapple with the prevalence of IPV. To do less would be to continue to condemn whole segments of our society to a vicious cycle that does nothing more than hurt and destroy families.
It is my understanding that a distinguished panel is standing by to begin the discussion and that tomorrow there will be a workshop to foster further understanding and develop the plans to tackle the problem.
I hope that the discussion will be vigorous, with a full dose of intellectual rigour, bolstered by a good measure of common sense.
The Government of which I am a part certainly awaits the outcome of your deliberations and the concretization of the next steps.
Earlier it was by pleasure to receive a copy of the Violence against Women report from Ms. Skold.
It my pleasure to launch this report and my hope is that this will the beginning a wind of change in Jamaica.
Let me now hand over a copy to the participants so the discussions can begin in earnest.