Woman Inc. – Fighting for those who Suffer in Silence


In 1984, Bahamian Angela Jones had a vision. Concerned about the growing incidences of violence against Jamaican women, her vision was to establish a network that would offer refuge and other assistance to these battered women, especially those who were suffering in silence.
Ms. Jones rallied her friends, businesswomen Kathleen Johnson, Patsy Mair, Gloria Palomino and Veenal Vaswani, to discuss how they would spend the proceeds from their very successful staging of a trade fair. Out of their discussions, the idea to create Woman Incorporated (Woman Inc.) was born.
Mrs. Palomino, an active social worker who served as President of Woman Inc. in 1991, and who is currently patron of the organisation, asserts that the first two years following the creation of the charitable, non-profit organisation, were relatively easy, but not without the initial reticence from the public.
“Well it wasn’t very easy but having been in the forefront and trying to plug Woman Inc. people started to recognise the work we were doing, then the Government stepped in and gave us some financial help,” Mrs. Palomino remembers.
Without a physical space from which to work, Woman Inc. operated from the offices of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, where they remained for a number of years before purchasing the premises on 7 Denehurst Avenue.
One of the first missions of the newly established organisation was to set up a safe haven for ‘survivors’ of physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse.
This was realised in February 1985, when Woman Inc. opened the doors of Jamaica’s first Crisis Centre. Three years later, the organisation started another first-of-its-kind project, the Crisis Shelter, to provide temporary emergency housing for victims of abuse or violence.
While the shelter can only accommodate 12 women at any point in time, it nonetheless provides an essential service to the community. “In the early years, I for one usually would have to go to the person’s house, pick them up and take them to the shelter, and so would other volunteers who were on the hotline at that time,” Mrs. Palomino tells JIS News.
With the spiralling incidence of violence against women, particularly as it relates to domestic violence, rape and incest, many persons question the relevance of the Woman Inc. organisation in today’s society.
According to Dundeen Ferguson, current President of Woman Inc., however, “the role that the organisation plays in this society is so multi-tiered and encompassing, that without their services, many women would have no source of consistent help, no avenue for support and no outlet when they need to tell their story.”
“In 1984, when this organisation started…the founding members recognised that this problem of violence against our women was increasing…so our work is very relevant and we will continue our mission of educating women about the atrocity of violence until the message reaches every community, so that they talk about it, break the silence and have a zero tolerance to it,” she avows.
Based on calls to the Woman Inc. hotline, Ms. Ferguson asserts that the incidences of incest and rape and sexual abuse of young girls is increasing, however, “nobody wants to talk about it.”
“So far, between January and July this year, over 2,500 women and young girls have called our hotlines for help,” reveals the Woman Inc. President. “In fact, in any one year, we get a field of well over 2,000 women who are calling in on various cases, so we know there is a problem with violence in our communities.”
One of the greatest challenges for the organisation is getting the persons they are trying to help – the victims – to speak out about the crime. And the women in Woman Inc. recognise that this is a challenge that will not be overcome easily as it stems from the longstanding notion that “to talk about violence against women in the family and in the communities is taboo and uninteresting and so isn’t taken seriously.”
“A lot of women are still living in denial. They are being psychologically, physically and sexually abused in the home and in the communities. A lot of them are not talking…so we have a great challenge trying to reach out to the women out there and encouraging them to speak out. Until this society recognises that violence in all its forms is not a private matter but a public matter, we will never get rid of this problem of violence in our communities,” Ms. Ferguson laments.
In 1991, a group of women from western Jamaica opened a Montego Bay chapter of Woman Inc. to spread the message to that side of the island. That year, the group also opened a Crisis Centre in the second city.With no established Crisis Shelter in St. James, the Woman Inc. Montego Bay chapter, with funding from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica recently founded a shelter for the children of abused women. The project is called the Support Services for Children of Abused Women (SSCAW).
“It was very important that a project such as that was started in Montego Bay, because in 1988 we established the first shelter of this kind in Jamaica, and it remained the only shelter up until this project started a few months ago. We are very glad that such a project has started on the western side of the island to assist some of these women,” Ms. Ferguson tells JIS News.
Woman Inc. has been actively working to spread their message about the negative impact of violence on our society – particularly violence against women. The group has been lobbying churches, schools and other organisations to appreciate that violence against women is unacceptable and must be discontinued in order to secure a healthy environment in society.
“Part of our mission is to raise the level of public awareness on the issues, which we address and therefore, we form linkages with other NGOs, with community-based organisations, government agencies and the private sector to go out and conduct public education programmes,” Ms. Ferguson informs JIS News. “We work extensively with the police and have police training sessions. Right now, the police have in their curriculum, a component dealing with domestic violence and the Domestic Violence Act, to educate the police officers and new recruits,” she continues.
Throughout the years, Woman Inc. has been working steadfastly to maintain a 24-hour hotline for women, young girls and families in crisis, while at the same time providing counselling services for abused women. But this has not always been easy.
The organisation has had to solicit financial assistance to realise some of its work and its trademark trade fair and exhibition has become its primary source of funds. In truth, the funds raised from the Woman Inc. Trade Fair and Exhibition, which is held annually, is used to maintain the Crisis Centre and Crisis Shelter. The organisation’s vision, says Ms. Ferguson, is to get to a point of self-sufficiency.
Woman Inc. hopes too, to expand its services across the length and breadth of Jamaica, through the involvement of government and corporate citizens.”We are very hopeful that we will be able to have more shelters across the island and certainly move from something that is small to something much larger.”
“Internationally, the conventions, which govern violence against women and women’s issues have indicated that one of the things that governments should look at is assisting NGOs to provide shelters for battered women, and we are certainly looking forward to assistance from government at a later date. We would also seek assistance from private sector if we can,” the Woman Inc. President asserts.
Woman Incorporated is 20 years old this year, and while much has been done to give voice to battered women who often suffer in silence, the organisation and especially its President, Ms. Ferguson, acknowledges that there is much more to be done. The organisation has grown from strength to strength and what started out as a team of five, is now a team of approximately 40 (20 active members and 20 associate members). Twenty years ago there were only four counsellors manning the hotline service, today there are over 30 volunteers.
In coming years, Woman Inc. hopes to see a reduction in the number of cases of abuse, and so a significant part of their work will be to “unmask the ugliness that is abuse and break the silence.”
One of the issues that will be placed at the forefront of their agenda in the near future will be lobbying the authorities for a clear policy regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.
Yet another battle to be fought…and won.

JIS Social