YESTERDAY was recognised globally as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW). This year's theme is 'Orange the World: #HearMeToo', a call to stand in solidarity with survivors and break the silence, shame and stigma that often surround acts of violence against women. The day marked the beginning of 16 days of activism, led by the United Nations (UN), which will culminate on December 10, that is recognised as International Human Rights Day.
The UN says it chose the colour orange because “it symbolises a brighter future and a world free from violence against women and girls”.
All Woman asked some of Jamaica's strongest women representatives and trailblazers in feminism and gender affairs to tell us how they are helping to defend the rights of women and girls.
Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport:
As Minister of Gender Affairs, I continue to create several avenues for our women and girls to contribute to the decision-making process of our country. Additionally, I continue to work with our men and boys to bring them in the fight against violence against women and girls, as their support is critical. Simultaneously, my team and I continue to go into communities to empower and sensitise Jamaicans, as the responses to gender-based violence (GBV) begin long before a moment of violence occurs. Our 'No Excuse for Abuse' campaign will sensitise and educate the public about GBV in Jamaica. I am happy to also note that we have managed to acquire a national shelter that will offer temporary housing and counselling to women fleeing violent relationships, as well as catering to the needs of their children. This works in tandem with the National Strategic Action Plan to Eliminate Gender-based Violence (NSAP-GBV) that was launched in 2017 and the National Gender Policy (2011). Moreover, in my personal space, I am never too busy to listen and offer advice to women and girls who share their fears and experiences concerning violence against women and girls.
Shelly-Ann Weeks, author, sexologist, women's rights activist:
I believe that the best way to get girls and women to live better lives and to be empowered is to give them agency to decide what they want to do with their bodies, and the means to take care of them. It is very expensive to be a woman. We're not only looking at mothers who have to take care of families (sometimes by themselves or with little help), but even something as natural as menstruation is expensive. My focus is on educating young girls about the physical and emotional aspects of menstruation even before their first period, and to help grown women to understand and feel confident in their bodies, and how they negotiate sex. A sexually satisfied woman is an empowered woman.
Nadeen Spence, women's rights activist; Student Services and Development manager of Mary Seacole Hall, The UWI:
We started last Thursday with the fourth annual Mary Seacole Hall Clothesline Project. Ideally we want students of The UWI to engage each other and our visitors in a progressive dialogue about power and gender relations and the need for us to be committed to erasing gender inequalities and to support the full empowerment of women. We will also have Seacole Safe Space — A space that is focused on breaking the silence, healing and empowerment. We encourage survivors to send us an e-mail if they want to share — firstname.lastname@example.org. We will also stage a reading of For Coloured Girls who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange who died two weeks ago. We will also partner with Women's Empowerment for Change (WE Change) to have an awareness walk to end violence against women and girls on December 2.
Yaneek Page, founder and CEO, Future Services International:
One of the key focuses of my business is to enable women to have a greater right to justice. Many times women stay in abusive relationships because they lack the financial independence to step out of them. We have got women legal representation, and have gone into communities with our initiatives to empower these women. Also, every other year, we have a mentoring walk for young girls where we focus on networking and career empowerment. One thing I am very concerned about is that there are many single mothers who are bearing the physical and emotional burden of raising a child alone, while their partners are aided and abetted by a justice system that does not hold them accountable. In many other countries, men have to shoulder their share, and Jamaica needs to get to that place.
Joyce Hewett, acting executive director, Woman Inc:
As advocates of peace, we deliver the message of the impact of certain behaviours on the development of the country through our public education-awareness campaigns, seminars and training workshops; marches and rallies, and input to Joint Select Parliamentary Committees. Woman Inc is a strong and tireless advocacy group involved in the strategic planning and implementation processes. We address, through our multi-faceted work, a broad range of issues regarding Jamaican civil society/safer communities and those issues related to violence against women and girls, such as domestic violence, gender-based violence and women's human rights.