JAMAICANS for Justice (JFJ) is urging people who have experienced gender-based violence (GBV) to consider getting legal support in order to claim their rights and access justice. GBV, it says, is a human rights violation and people, including men, who experience violence, face discrimination and indignity.
As the world starts to observe the annual 16 Days of Activism against GBV, JFJ says it stands with other organisations globally fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable and underserved. This observance, which runs from November 25 to December 10, is used by individuals and groups to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women.
This year's focus is to bring to the forefront the voices of women and girls who have survived violence, who are defending women's rights every day and are taking action.
JFJ, through its Justice for Persons Experiencing GBV Initiative launched in 2020, has helped scores of people, primarily women, to access justice. To date, the organisation has been approached with a vast array of GBV-related cases with people seeking help with protection and occupation orders while needing redress for correlated matters such as child custody, maintenance and divorce.
“In Jamaica, GBV remains widespread and prevalent across different socioeconomic groups. Recent data suggests that approximately 28 per cent of Jamaican women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime,” said Executive Director Mickel Jackson.
“At JFJ, while we provide avenues for legal recourse for people who have experienced GBV, we continue to conduct legal literacy sessions in several communities so that people are not only aware of their rights, but are also encouraged to make reports when they see rights of others being violated.”
While non-governmental organisations like JFJ continue to work in spaces where there is limited support being provided, JFJ is also encouraging the Government of Jamaica to do its part and provide better governance and legal protection to deal with GBV.
“JFJ acknowledges that the recently passed Sexual Harassment Bill is a step in the right direction, but notes that it is simply not enough to address the significant legislative gaps to respond to GBV,” the group said.
“The 2018 report of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament which reviewed the Sexual Offences Act and other pieces of related laws including the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) recommended that the DVA be overhauled. Three years later, the GOJ has moved at a snail's pace to overhaul the legislation with merely making an announcement on June 8, 2021 that the DVA would be tabled in Parliament for amendments.”
It said the current DVA has a plethora of limitations including:
• No clear definition of what amounts to domestic violence in Jamaica;
• The Act does not itemise a wide range of specifications to define the scope of a protection order;
• The duties and powers of the police under the legislation is not clearly defined, enabling law enforcement officials to provide an appropriate response to GBV victims; and
• The punishment specified for the violation of a protection order is a small fine ($10,000) or a short term of imprisonment, neither of which is serious enough to act as a deterrent.
Along with bolstering the legislation, JFJ is also calling for protection orders issued by the court to be introduced as a material fact, as this could assist persons who have experienced violence in their legal matters such as child custody, maintenance and dissolution of property.
“Although GBV is not a new issue, the pandemic has brought a new level of attention and urgency and there is a need for key decision-makers in government to act now to protect victims and survivors of GBV.”