Putting a stop to domestic violence

Putting a stop to domestic violence


Sunday, February 16, 2020

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Although Jamaican women are well-represented in Government, business, sports and other positions of high social value, many of them still feel physically unsafe. The brutal murders of women in recent times at the hands of their partners have sparked public outcry and alarm.

Femicide defined as a homicide in which the victim is a woman or a girl is something the country can and should do more to stop.

Jamaica has the second highest rate of femicides in the world, according to United Nations data from last year. The Jamaica Constabulary Force reports an average murder rate for women as 13 per 100,000 females higher than the 10 murders per 100,000 threshold for epidemics established by the World Health Organization. For regional comparison, in 2016 the same murder rate figure was 6.6 for Trinidad and Tobago, 5.6 for Grenada, 2.6 for Guyana, and 2 for Barbados. One in four Jamaican women have suffered physical violence at the hands of their partner, according to the 2016 Women's Health Survey. In some communities, rates are reportedly as high as 60 per cent.

Explanations range from the country's turbulent history to widely held patriarchal views, under which some men see themselves in a position of dominance over 'their woman'. According to the 2016 Jamaica Women's Health Survey, 70 per cent of Jamaicans believe that the man is the head of a household, and that the place of a woman is to do the domestic work and raise children.

Increasingly, however, women in Jamaica, as around the world, are becoming more financially and socially independent, which can in turn generate a perceived disruption of traditional roles, and anger or frustration on the part of men. In the Jamaica Reproductive Health Survey 2008, over 55 per cent of Jamaican men said that a good wife should obey her husband, even if she disagrees.

Two out of every five Jamaican men, or 40 per cent, said that it is important for a man to show his wife or partner who is the boss. Incredibly, 24 per cent of respondents either approved a man hitting his wife if she neglected household duties, or disapproved but understood. The numbers were higher if the wife is unfaithful. 38.9 per cent of men approved or understood, while among the women surveyed, 23 per cent either approved or understood.

In this context, conflict resolution and anger management skills are in short supply, and violence often becomes the default response in a dispute. Some men often do not express their emotions in a healthy way and there is a view that infidelity on the part of women is unacceptable, whereas for men it is the norm. Jamaican social norms and views on the dynamics of relationships need to be closely examined and addressed.

The continued use of corporal punishment to correct and punish children, especially boys, can result in traumatised, angry and violent children and violent future adults. All this on top of undiagnosed mental health issues and drug abuse. It is clear that the country needs solutions that are comprehensive and effective in both the short and long terms.

At the Government level, recent advances such as the establishment of a domestic violence call centre by the Bureau of Gender Affairs are heartening but insufficient. The strengthening and full implementation of police protocols to handle domestic violence cases need to be expedited and rolled out nationally. Court personnel should be better trained to effectively identify and assist victims and to provide trauma-informed support for their cases.

There also needs to be stricter enforcement of protection and occupation orders made by the court, under the Domestic Violence Act, to provide restraining orders and court orders removing the abuser from the home.

Evidence-based programmes from around the region and the world offer insight and guidance into what might work here. The Partnership for Peace (P4P) domestic violence diversion programme, which provides counselling and other actions for men brought before court for intimate partner violence, has helped reduce domestic violence in the Caribbean.

The action plan to eliminate gender-based violence and the National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence 2018 need to be fully implemented as these plans have been rolled forward for several years.

There needs to be renewed and more extensive and sustained campaigns on conflict resolution, positive values and social norms as well as respect for others.

Ending violence against women will also require broader action across Jamaican society. According to the 2016 Women's Health Survey, most survivors of intimate partner violence disclose their experiences to close family members or friends, rather than the police or a social service agency. Only 32 per cent of those who sought help turned to the police, while 11 per cent turned to the health care system and five per cent resorted to the courts.

More can be done to strengthen community-level response and support for intimate partner violence survivors and to provide them with adequate resources to identify and protect loved ones experiencing violence. The multi-agency network of service providers and referral agencies that can support victims needs to be strengthened and stronger awareness campaigns instituted. We see the recent announcement that the Government plans to review the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Harassment Act as steps in the right direction.

The IDB has a long trajectory working in the areas of violence prevention, including domestic and gender-based violence. One of our projects is supporting efforts by the Jamaica Constabulary Force to revise its protocols to deal with domestic violence. You can send us your thoughts and ideas on this topic by writing to IDBJamaica@iadb.org.

Gender-based violence is a part of the larger problem of violence facing Jamaica. While we believe that all forms of violence need to be addressed, violence against our more vulnerable citizens whether they be women, youth, the elderly or disabled needs to be a priority to move Jamaica towards being a kinder, gentler and safer society where everyone can flourish.

The Bureau of Gender Affairs' hotlines for domestic abuses are: 876-553-0372, for women, and 876-553-0387, for men.

— Therese Turner-Jones is the IDB's general manager, Caribbean Country Department and country representative for Jamaica

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