14 advocates changing Jamaica’s gender landscape

THESE days more women are becoming part of the movement for women’s rights, equality, and justice. From global marches to social media campaigns, women are raising their voices in unison, calling out sexual harassment, unequal pay, for access to safe abortions, and for women’s representation in positions of power.

This week we highlight a few of these women and their work, even while we acknowledge that it all started with the work of our stalwarts who worked tirelessly to lobby for changes and amendments to the laws that afford us many of the rights we have today.

Who is the woman you know who has been creating the framework for others to live a life free from violence and discrimination? E-mail your picks to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com.

Lisa Hanna

Her public and parliamentary stance on the matter of abortion rights are well known, and she says she courageously supports the mission of abortion rights for all women. Hanna, the Member of Parliament (MP) for St Ann South Eastern and People’s National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, says as the world looks on in shock at the potential reversal of the landmark ruling of Roe vs Wade in the United States, Jamaica remains silent as one of the few countries worldwide that choose to criminalise some female reproductive choices.

“It’s 2022 and high time we give Jamaican women the freedom to choose what happens to their bodies reproductively,” she says. “A woman’s right to choose what happens to her body should not make her a criminal.”

Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn

Once a lone voice in the parliamentary wilderness as she battled for decriminalising of abortions, the junior minister for health and wellness says she is happy that Hanna has joined her call for action to amend the country’s abortion laws.

Cuthbert Flynn filed a private member’s motion in Parliament over two years ago, reasoning that the denial of safe and legal options to carry out abortions have turned many women to the black market. Her resolution seeks to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Person Act, which makes abortion illegal, and substitute it with a civil law — The Termination of Pregnancy Act — as was recommended by the Abortion Policy Review Group in 2007.

The motion drew the ire of church leaders, who said Cuthbert-Flynn’s pro-abortion promotion reflects the heights of moral decadence. But Cuthbert-Flynn would not back down, and instead lashed the leaders for their strident opposition to the decriminalisation of abortion while remaining mostly silent concerning men who rape and impregnate women and girls.

Dr Dalea Bean

In 2020, Dr Dalea Bean was lauded for her second published book entitled Jamaican Women of Distinction, Holding Up More than Half the Sky. A lecturer and graduate coordinator at the Institute for Gender & Development Studies (IGDS), Regional Coordinating Office, The University of the West Indies (UWI), her general research interests include women and gender justice in Caribbean history, women in conflict situations, and gender relations in the Caribbean hotel industry and Caribbean masculinities. She has written widely and presented internationally on these and other topics.

Dr Bean has also conducted gender equity and gender mainstreaming training regionally and has been engaged in research with the IGDS that facilitates gender mainstreaming in education, history writing, and masculinity studies.

Dr Nadeen Spence

Dr Nadeen Spence, the one everyone leans on to comment on issues of gender and women’s rights in the media, and the executive director of I’m Glad I’m A Girl Foundation, which empowers adolescent girls to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health, education, and career by providing them with access to mentoring, has said she’s proud to train girls to take on leadership roles.

I’m Glad I’m A Girl was founded after Spence heard stories of physical and sexual abuse nearly every day at The UWI, where she works on Mary Seacole Hall, the only all-female hall of residence, and felt she had to act.

“If I ask any one of the women in Mary Seacole Hall to tell me about their girlhood, they’d tell me a story of trauma – and that trauma is usually sexual trauma,” she told the #WithHer Campaign of the Spotlight Initiative.

Together, she hopes to build a more gender-equitable world for the next generation.

“I do [this work] because of the past and the future. For my mother, who never had my chances in life and didn’t get to live her best dreams of herself, and my granddaughter, who has all these hopes and dreams. When women come up to me and say, ‘I was in I’m Glad I’m A Girl and this is what I’m doing now,’ that feels like the work is happening.”

Dr Karen Carpenter

Dr Karen Carpenter is a Florida board-certified clinical sexologist and a licensed counselling psychologist in Jamaica. She has been working in private relationship and sex therapy for the past 20 years. She’s an author, researcher, psychologist, clinical sexologist, and relationship and sex therapist, and has focused her work on gender and sexuality, interpersonal dynamics, diversity, and relational challenges.

In 2020, then acting as head of the IGDS, she made the recommendation for greater focus to be placed on the psychological health of victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment, with mandatory counselling of both, while addressing the joint select committee reviewing proposed sexual harassment legislation.

She has also said it is important for society to pursue gender equity in order to achieve harmony between the sexes, noting that there are social benefits to be derived from achieving parity.

“In the societies where there is more gender equity, there is greater happiness,” she affirmed.

Prof Opal Palmer Adisa

“When you ask people about their sense of gender, many don’t know how to articulate it. They think it’s women against men, and it’s important to dislodge that notion and educate the public. We’re not just for women, we’re for gender justice and we’re just as concerned with women who are victims of domestic abuse as we are with men who are the perpetrators,” she has said.

Prof Adisa is a supporter of the #ThursdayInBlack yearly protests, most recently held this year to raise a red flag against child abuse. A gender specialist and cultural activist, her poetry, stories, essays, and articles on a wide range of subjects have been collected in over 400 journals, anthologies, and other publications. She has also conducted workshops in schools, museums, churches, and community centres, as well as in prison and juvenile centres on a range of issues that link creativity with healing, self-esteem building, and gender awareness.

Dr Leith Dunn

A sociologist and former senior lecturer/head of the IGDS, she has researched and developed courses on gender, climate change, and disaster risk management and gender sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. Her research interests and publications include gender equality in leadership and governance and gender mainstreaming in public policies.

In 2019, then the head of IGDS, she was named among the top 100 most influential people globally, in the areas of gender policy and equality.

Dr Dunn was among the top 100 specialists selected from more than 9,000 nominations — including politicians, civil servants, academics, and activists — from all over the world. She was the only person from the Caribbean included on the list.

Dr Dunn has been an activist and scholar on issues of gender mainstreaming and women’s rights for over two decades. At The UWI, Mona, she has led the development of a gender policy, and was appointed gender focal point for the campus in 2012.

Sharon Coburn Robinson

The recently named principal director, gender affairs at the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Coburn Robinson, is integral to the implementation of the National Policy for Gender Equality as well as coordinating the qualitative dimensions of social policy and action research.

Her experience in gender and development studies significantly impacts her involvement in the implementation of the National Strategic Action Plan to Eliminate Gender-based Violence in Jamaica 2017-2027 to support Jamaica’s minister of gender affairs.

As focal point for the gender division, she represents the ministry through participation in several fora to ensure the seamless integration of gender in national policies, plans, programmes, and projects.

A transformational leader, trainer/coach, and facilitator, she engages key public agents through strategic and sustainable collaboration/partnership towards the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment in keeping with the ministry’s gender mainstreaming mandate.

Lana Finikin

Sistren Theatre Collective, an independent women’s organisation over four decades old, which uses artistic expression as a means of inciting social change, continues to address issues of gender-based violence, gender equality, youth violence prevention, and cultural preservation led by Finikin. The executive director said the organisation’s latest projects since the pandemic have been addressing crime and domestic violence issues in several communities.

The organisation has also been working with local councillors, churches, Woman Inc Jamaica, and other stakeholders in the communities through the distribution of care packages to community members who are in need, and assisting the elderly to get their medication, taking them to the doctor, and picking up groceries for them.

“One of the things that we have looked at is how gender-based violence has been prevalent in these communities and working with other organisations and sharing information with them so that domestic violence, as well as the violence that is taking place, especially the gang violence, in their communities is minimised,” she said.

Sistren Theatre Collective over the years has consistently used the creative arts as a tool of analysis and action to implement its work nationally, regionally, and internationally.

Shirley Pryce

A veteran advocate for domestic workers rights, Pryce was a domestic worker herself for 31 years. She has led the way in changing the situation of domestic workers nationally, regionally, and internationally through her Jamaica Household Workers Union, the first-ever domestic workers union in Jamaica.

Her work has addressed domestic workers in the areas of capacity-building, advocacy, economic empowerment, labour, and gender-based violence.

She is the recipient of several awards, including the Badge of Honour for meritorious service to Jamaica (2006), First Caribbean Bank Unsung Heroes Award ( 2007), and the Order of Distinction (Jamaica) for outstanding contribution in working with domestic workers in the Caribbean (2015); and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs Award for outstanding contribution to initiative focused on sensitising the public on gender-based violence in Jamaica.

In 2017, she was named the Caricom Woman of the Year for outstanding contribution to trade unionism & women and development.

Tamisha Lee

Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers (JNRWP) President Tamisha Lee has been helping rural women embrace and overcome issues like the challenges posed by climate change in Jamaica. In April she was appointed to the Rural Agricultural Development Authority board of directors.

“Women represent a very large portion of the agricultural sector, being involved in all stages of the agricultural value chain. This significant portion of the agricultural community will now be represented and the issues that are pertinent to women in the agricultural sector can be directly considered,” read a congratulatory post on JNRWP’s Facebook page.

JNRWP helps motivate and empower rural women involved in farming to improve their quality of life. Lee is from the rural farming community of Lennox Bigwoods in Westmoreland and is herself a registered farmer, founder, and managing director of A+ Construction and Consultancy Limited.


The team at WE-Change, established in 2015, has been focused on advocating for and with lesbian, bisexual, and queer women. Though explicitly queer-centred, the organisation’s advocacy caters to and impacts women and girls in all their diversities. WE-Change is focused on equipping women with the tools to advocate and become activists for the creation of a world that recognises and protects the rights of all people, regardless of nationality, socio-economic status, abilities, race, gender, or sexuality.

Most recently, their ‘Let’s Talk Abortions!’ pamphlets hit the road as a resource to give women the support necessary to take charge of their reproductive health.

The group aims to promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, emotional, spiritual, and economic life, and has been pivotal in being a part of the voices on issues impacting vulnerable groups in Jamaica.

Joy Crawford

The co-founder and director of programmes and training at Eve For Life, Crawford has developed and co-authored several training material/manuals on adolescent reproductive health, HIV and AIDS, and parenting.

Her passion includes HIV advocacy, parenting and family life, and adolescent sexual health. She is a committed visionary for the empowerment, safety, actualisation of the adolescent girl, teenager mother, and adolescent living with HIV. She and her team have conceptualised many strategies, programmes, and interventions to address these groups.

Eve For Life was founded in 2008 in response to a dire need for support to women and children living with or affected by HIV and AIDS as women in Jamaica face the brunt of the epidemic as caregivers and breadwinners for infected husbands and children. Women and children are increasingly seeking psychosocial support and skills to help them to live normal lives and Eve For Life seeks to fill that gap.

Shelly-Ann Weeks

She’s an author and activist with a background in marketing and public relations. The focus of her work has been female sexuality where she teaches women how to become more sexually confident. Weeks also works with girls to help them better understand their bodies by helping them prepare for puberty and understanding menstruation.

She is also the founder and executive director of the HerFlow Foundation, which was established to empower women and girls about their reproductive health through education and mentorship. One of HerFlow’s main objective is to End Period Poverty in Jamaica, starting with public schools.

The drive to End Period Poverty started October 24, 2016 with three schools and is continuous. Today, the campaign has grown and included partnerships and donations to over 300 schools, government homes, community organisations, and clinics.

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