There is no expiration date on trauma, Minister Chuck

There is no expiration date on trauma, Minister Chuck

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

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We have watched the happenings from Parliament and, like many of you, we are disturbed and angry at the sentiments expressed by our Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck. The cavalier manner in which he expressed his suggestion that individuals who have experienced sexual harassment should only have a window of 12 months to report their harassers is intolerable.

Worse still is the deafening silence of his colleagues. And even worst is the defence of his flippancy by others. When The Honourable Minister referenced the #MeToo movement, started by Tarana Burke, a black woman in the United States, he made his position clear. Those harassed individuals he was referring to were women. Women like us who, for all our lives, have experienced sexual violence, whether it be street harassment, workplace harassment, harassment by our educators, or intimate partner violence.

There is no expiration date on trauma, healing is forever, and no two women are alike. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all reporting mechanism when all incidents of harassment are not the same.

In Jamaica, there are numerous idioms, understood to be light-hearted and playful, which outline the stance of the Jamaican psyche on the protection of girls and women. We are sure you've heard them all, and perhaps some outliers which even we here at Eve for Life in our broad understanding have never heard.

Jamaican girls have been experiencing the adverse effects of sexual harassment since before they had language for it. The discomfort, at best, and fear and shame, at worst, have followed us since before we were conscious of it. We are a country of women who have been taught by our society to hold our heads down and walk briskly. We know nothing but anger and fear. We do not walk alone, day or night, if we can help it. We do not dress in a sexually attractive way if we can help it.

As women, we have to be worried that our every move is considered an invitation for violence, and our culture tells us that it is okay. Constant vigilance has crippled us in ways that cannot be enumerated, and so 12 months to plead our case is, in itself, insulting.

Off the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen in Jamaica an uptick in intimate partner violence (IPV) — something we as women are to understand as an inevitability. One in four Jamaican women have experienced IPV, and the mechanisms for not only reporting but also getting the necessary help afterwards are downright abysmal. We know because we are the women who see first hand the effects of such violence. We at Eve For Life see the realities of those hard to reach parts of this island. We know what occurs in the sprawling seeming jungles of our nation that our ministers of government have so efficiently left behind.

Sexual harassment is the newest topic that our ministers can squabble about and leave behind. There is no consideration for the psychology of sexual harassment, and there's no place in the Jamaican psyche for it either. It is seen as a rite of passage to be enacted upon young girls, a crucial part of our culture so that Jamaican men can “find potential partners”, and Jamaican women can continue to be proverbially hunted for sport.

The victimisation of our women is a norm, and the traumas we may face have not yet been studied, let alone acknowledged. In a country led by a progressivist government, bent on meeting the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality sadly seems to be on the back burner, which ultimately means we cannot expect to reach at least 41 per cent of those goals. When women thrive, their immediate communities and the broader country at large thrive as well. If our Government says women are the backbone of the nation, then we ought to be treated with the same care that they would their spine.

Mocking the need for protection against sexual harassment is the mocking of the pain of many silenced women who hold their heads down to survive. We don't only want to survive; we want to thrive.

The above was submitted by Eve for Life, a non-government organisation that champions in shaping a world where the sexual health and rights of young women and girls are protected and upheld.


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