Shelter for abused women, a good move

Friday, November 23, 2018

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Ms Olivia “Babsy” Grange's contribution to the Jamaica Labour Party's 75th annual conference last Sunday contained one of the biggest news items of the day. After decades of various administrations posturing about the need for a State-run shelter for battered women in Jamaica, Ms Grange announced that the plan was in the final stages for the first shelter to be opened.

In announcing a 'No excuse for abuse' campaign, Ms Grange, the minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, said that the Government had bought a guest house which was being set up as a shelter for abused women. The development was one of several that the Holness Administration was introducing to give women more protection.

The shelter should be fully operational between year-end and early 2019.

This is good news for the country, especially as we celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25.

Currently, the NGO Woman Inc operates the country's only official facility for battered women — the Crisis Shelter. But there was always a need for a national space, as the Crisis Shelter is only able to accommodate 12 women and their children at a time temporarily, and there are greater numbers of women who require the service, as evidenced by local domestic violence statistics.

The 2016 Women's Health Survey, a co-publication of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the Inter-American Development Bank, and UN Women, found that one in four Jamaican women had experienced physical violence by a male partner; 7.7 per cent had been sexually abused by their male partners; and lifetime prevalence of intimate physical and/or sexual violence was 27.8 per cent.

The study, the first of its kind to be conducted, sampled over 2,000 households, and was designed to collect quantitative and qualitative information on women's health and their experience with violence. It also found that women with no or lower levels of education, and those who had children, were more likely to be abused by their male partners, and as such seek support.

Ms Grange announced that the shelter will offer basic necessities, counselling and other forms of support, bringing Jamaica on par with other countries which have similar facilities. Women utilising the shelter will not only have a safe space to flee their abusers, but they will also be given psychosocial support and training to assist them to move past the hurt and get to a point where they can acquire skills if they didn't have any. That will assist them to move into sustainable livelihoods in keeping with the goals of the National Strategic Action Plan to Eliminate Gender-based Violence that was launched in 2017, and the National Gender Policy (2011).

One of the recommendations from the health survey was for counselling centres and shelters for women who suffer intimate partner violence to be established in each parish. We hope that this first shelter will create a domino effect for the establishment of others.

In the meantime, we should give kudos to the various entities which have aided with the establishment of the shelter — the European Union and the United States Embassy which will offer tangible support through furnishings; Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Japanese Embassy which have promised to provide support for the training of staff and persons using the shelter; as well as the Canadian High Commission, UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme.

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