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JIS News

Acting Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Faith Webster, has said that violence against women continues to be a serious problem in Jamaica.
Speaking with JIS News, Mrs. Webster noted that recent figures in terms of police reports on gender-based violence are alarming. “In 2005, we had 714 reported cases of which the police were only able to clear up 367. Carnal abuse was 433 and there were a total of 28 incest cases, with 20 cleared up.” The incest cases, though small in comparison to carnal abuse, do not tell the true story as according to Mrs. Webster, people are reluctant to report these cases.
“When you look at incest, people refuse to break the silence on this issue because of the nature of the type of sexual abuse and who it involves. It involves close family members such as a father, an uncle or a brother and so family members do not want to speak about the issue and it is left unreported,” she told JIS News.
In the meantime, Mrs. Webster noted that her organization has been working assiduously over the years to review and revise numerous laws in an effort to prevent and eliminate the problem of gender-based violence in the country. “We have made significant progress over the years especially with the Incest Punishment Act and Offences Against the Person Act. The aspect that deals with rape and sexual abuse has been on the books for a number of years and we have made great progress to actually have them reaching where they are now,” she stated. She noted that the Bureau has developed a Sexual Harassment Policy and “we are hoping that it will be tabled at the Human Resource Council Sub-committee of Cabinet shortly.”
This piece of legislation, Mrs. Webster said, will ensure that women have protection in the workplace as presently, there is no sexual harassment legislation in place. “It will help them to get better protection under the law. It will also cover education and health institutions as well,” she added. The Bureau has a Legislative Review Programme where representatives visit communities across the island in an effort to sensitize stakeholders about the various pieces of legislation in place, and how these affect their welfare. According to Mrs. Webster, this approach have proven to be very effective as oftentimes, the feedback and comments from the women at the sensitization sessions have helped to shape the drafting of policies and Cabinet submissions.
The Bureau of Women’s Affairs was set up in 1975 to ensure that the government address the problems that confront women, including high rates of unemployment and violence in various forms such as spousal abuse, rape, incest and sexual harassment.