2023: A good year in Jamaica for gender policy
THIS year has proved to be a very good year when it comes to policy and action from the Government on gender issues, with several key pieces of legislation and policies enacted to benefit women, girls, and the vulnerable.
Here are some of the key takeaways from 2023:
Sexual Harassment Act takes effect
The Sexual Harassment (Protection and Prevention) Act, 2021 took effect on July 3 and was hailed as an important piece of legislation in ushering in concrete measures to protect the vulnerable and promote cultural change to end sexual harassment.
The legislation addresses concerns about sexual harassment that are employment-related, occurring in institutions or arising in the landlord and tenant relationship.
Contained are provisions for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, schools, correctional institutions, places of safety, nursing homes, medical and psychiatric facilities, among other places.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange said mechanisms were being put in place to investigate and adjudicate complaints of sexual harassment.
Number of domestic violence intervention centres increases to 10
The number of Domestic Violence Intervention Centres (DVICs) established at police stations islandwide has increased to 10. This follows the donation of six centres under the United Nations Development Programme’s Spotlight Initiative, which is funded through the European Union.
The newly established facilities, which were retrofitted, are in addition to those at the Constant Spring and Matilda’s Corner police stations in St Andrew, and the Morant Bay and Yallahs police stations in St Thomas. The new facilities are in Clarendon, at Hayes Police Station; St Ann, at Alexandria Police Station; St Catherine, at Greater Portmore Police Station (100 Man); St Elizabeth, Santa Cruz Police Station; St Mary, Gayle Police Station; and Westmoreland, at Negril Police Station.
The centres provide intervention, support and safeguards for victims of domestic violence seeking help.
Bureau of Gender Affairs helps people in crisis
Help is available for people in distress situations. Through the Bureau of Gender Affairs, the Government operates a support system that was established in 2008 from a telethon and is supported by various individuals and organisations to assist people in crisis.
The bureau also assists people through referrals and offers a confidential space in which individuals can get support by calling counsellors at 876-553-0372, 876-236-0387 (for females), and (for males) 876-553-0387, as well as their toll-free number 1-888-No-Abuse.
There is always a trained counsellor to provide support, and even some financial support is possible.
Senate Passes Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act
Members of the Senate on December 21 passed the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act, which will provide greater protection to victims of domestic violence. The Act was passed in the House of Representatives on December 19.
The legislation has been amended to provide for increased penalties for breach of protection orders from a maximum of $10,000 to a maximum of $1 million, and a sentence of up to one year in prison.
Additionally, more categories of persons can make an application for a protection order.
The review of the legislation seeks to afford greater protection to victims of domestic violence and assist them in their search for security and redress to these acts.
More resources coming
Government continues to undertake measures to address the issue of domestic violence. These include establishing shelters islandwide; the establishment of domestic violence intervention centres at police stations in eight parishes; special training for members of the police force; and the formation of a National Coordination Unit within the Jamaica Constabulary Force Community Safety and Security Branch.
Additionally, there was the establishment of the gender-based violence helpline 1-888-NO ABUSE; counselling and skills training for police, victims and volunteers; the provision of legal support and emergency response; training for parents; and partnerships with stakeholders, such as the EU to eliminate gender-based violence. And come January 2024, expect more resources to increase the number of gender-based violence helpline specialists. The helpline unit has dealt with more than 7,400 cases since becoming operational in late September â€” of the 7,400 cases, a total of 5,227 were from reports made by females and 2,239 by males.