Debbie Bissoon: No violence in love

By KIMBERLEY HIBBERT

Monday, April 23, 2018

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SHE is a renowned media personality who is passionate about women's affairs, particularly domestic and intimate partner violence.

Born and raised in Hayes, Clarendon, Debbie Bissoon told All Woman that growing up her interest was in law, but while at Clarendon College, her literature teacher helped to unearth a talent that eventually became her way of life.

Subsequently, on leaving Clarendon College she journeyed to The University of the West Indies, Mona, with the intention of attending the Caribbean School of Media and Communication. However, she was unsuccessful in the entrance test and instead had to do a degree in language, communication and society.

Not deterred, Bissoon never gave up on her dream and instead volunteered at the university's radio station, Newstalk 93FM, worked on Shark Radio — a feature of the AZ Preston Hall of Residence, hosted events on campus for free, and auditioned for different jobs until she eventually landed a job in mainstream media.

But in 2015 when intimate partner violence and domestic violence disputes resulted in the widely publicised deaths of 15 local women, Bissoon, alongside her partner Donovan Watkis, decided they needed to do something to address it. To further cement the need for her vision to be realised, 24 women were killed as a result of similar disputes in 2016.

And so, on Valentine's Day 2017, Bissoon alongside Watkis, launched the “No Violence in Love” campaign aimed and sending a message to Jamaica, women, men and couples that “love” did not involve violent acts.

“We thought about other people in the industry and country who were influential, had a voice, and people were listening to them. In the same way these people would say this is the new dance, hottest song, sporting activity, comedic piece, we thought if we could gather the influential voices to say one thing, to say listen, violence and love are not supposed to exist together at all, we could make a difference,” Bissoon said.

“We launched it and for the first year we were at Carib for weeks and weeks and weeks [lobbying] before every movie. We had over 21 people involved giving their time and influence to send the message of no violence in love. We got buy-in from the Government, the prime minister talked about it in his Parliamentary debate, and people embraced the message.”

Now one year later, Bissoon is set to launch phase two of the campaign in May, targeting young women through school tours in Clarendon and Kingston. She is still aiming to get Montego Bay-based schools involved.

“We understand that if we change that narrative of what love is with younger women, we would have accomplished something. The fact is as women we are the bearers of life and we are the ones who socialise our children. If we can change that with them from they are young, they would be able to change that new narrative with kids and basically cause an entire societal shift,” Bissoon said.

On completion, Bissoon intends to launch the next phase of the campaign targeting men and then formalise a discourse with integration of both sexes in a forum-based setting.

“They [men] are not left out of the conversation. Violence also impacts men and so we will be including them,” she said. “It's the same way they teach us social graces, teach us what love is. We want to eventually take it to the Caribbean, the Diaspora, as we believe every single country has space for the conversation.”

Outside of work, Bissoon, enjoys motherhood and is working on a book detailing her journey as a new mom in order to help other women through the life-changing experience.

“Medically I was told it was impossible and so now I get excited when talking about it. People talk about the journey and getting to giving birth, but no one talks about the journey after. This book will shed light on it and what that journey was for me,” she said.

Additionally she enjoys recreational swimming and netball, going to the beach, quiet serene spaces, is a lover of reggae music and different cultures, and expresses an appreciation for the new experiences she learnt recently on her visits to South Korea and Dubai.

Her guiding principle is that certain events or series of events do not define her end result. For Bissoon, imparting this knowledge to young women is what she commits to.

“You are not defined by the circumstances in your life. You are not defined by your family or where you come from. You can do anything and become anything. I know it's said so many times and it is so true and I have manifested it and said it assertively,” she said.

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