'We got the calls from desperate women'

'We got the calls from desperate women'

Grange points to domestic abuse increase during COVID-19 lockdown

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, July 16, 2020

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Olivia “Babsy” Grange, the minister who has responsibility for gender issues, says while Jamaicans were in retreat for the past three months trying to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Members of Parliament were fielding calls from desperate women trapped in abusive situations.

“Mr Speaker, we got the calls, we got the calls; but we weren't able to respond to all calls for help that we received and we continue to build our capacity to respond,” Grange told the House of Representatives on Tuesday while making her contribution to the 2020/21 Sectoral Debates at Gordon House in Kingston.

Grange did not provide data to support her claim, however she noted that domestic abuse has increased across the world during the COVID-19 lockdown, and said the stay-at-home measures that countries have had to implement had the unfortunate side effect of having women and children locked up with their abusers, sometimes without access to family or friends or an opportunity to call for help.

Grange's observation comes as the United Nations in June pointed to a worldwide increase in domestic abuse, describing it as a “shadow pandemic” alongside COVID-19 with cases thought to have increased by 20 per cent globally during the lockdown.

On Tuesday, Grange said the work-from-home orders had impaired a government initiative to renovate and retrofit buildings to be used as shelters for victims of domestic abuse, but this, she revealed, was now back on track.

“I am happy to say work has resumed and we are on schedule to open one of the shelters in August this year. We have taken possession of a second property and the title for the third property is now being transferred,” Grange told the House.

“The minister of finance found the money and gave it to us in the budget to acquire two properties, so one property will be operationalised in August, another property I have just taken possession of it, the key is here and the third property the title is at the Title's Office to be transferred to us,” she said further.

“I can't tell you where the shelters are [located], I can't say, but suffice it to say I now have two sets of keys,” she told the House.

The promise of domestic violence shelters has been on the table from as early as 2017. In 2016, following the publication of Jamaica's Women's Health Survey, which revealed that a quarter of Jamaican women (25.2 per cent) have experienced physical violence by a male partner, it was announced that Jamaica's first State-run women's shelter for victims of domestic violence would be operational by the end of that year.

In the meanwhile, the Government in March launched the Spotlight Initiative Country Programme for Jamaica, which focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The initiative, a three-year programme funded by the European Union with contributions from the United Nations at a cost of approximately US$10.6 million, aims to improve the lives of women and girls and eliminate violence against them.

Grange on Tuesday said the Jamaican programme will focus on establishing 24-hour hotlines for victims including text lines for the deaf and hearing impaired, review and or development of legislation to increase protection of vulnerable people, such as children and the elderly, and ongoing sensitisation of the public on gender-based violence.

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