ON Thursday, November 25 the world commemorated International Day to End Violence Against Women (IDEVAW), marking the beginning of 16 days of activism towards addressing systemic and widespread violence against women, who are more likely than men to die at the hands of their intimate partners.
I would like to say it is no secret that women have become even more vulnerable to intimate partner violence but it is a hidden pandemic so it is very well hidden from the public glare.
A 2021 study by Northern Caribbean University found that 40 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 30 experienced violence because of the stay-at-home orders that mandated working from home. What should be a safe space for women has become the most volatile, with limited resources to arrest the issues that create and breed gender-based violence.
This is happening within the context of a nation grappling daily with reports of brutal assaults and gruesome murders that shatter the spirits of even the toughest crime fighters in law enforcement. Criminals have become more brazen and inhumane as they terrorise our homes and communities.
We know that this is not a fight that our nation can win by depending solely on the police. We know that this requires collective effort, cooperation from all stakeholders, and sincere commitment to doing the work consistently and over the long term, not only when it is easy, affordable, or politically expedient.
The PNP Women's Movement is committed to participating in the rebuilding and securing of our communities.
Our discussions with women in communities across Jamaica have yielded the following suggestions that we have shared with key stakeholders, including the Minister of National Security Horace Chang and the chairman of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica Crime Management Oversight Committee, Lloyd Distant. These recommendations were contained in a letter, hand-delivered last week.
We want to help build consensus around the principle that there are solutions beyond suppression. We can have safer communities without the long-term, consistent suspension of rights and indefinite and arbitrary detentions that are part and parcel of public states of emergency. This is not an exhaustive list but it includes viable solutions from the communities that have suffered greatly and are seeking an end to the bloodletting. Their voices deserve to be heard and their solutions infused in our national security plans.
Our women are recommending that the Government:
1) Invest in improving infrastructure so that our communities are safer to live in by:
a) Placing more emphasis on installing and fixing street lights within our communities so that our women are in a safer space on the streets at night;
b) Bushing the areas closest to the road in violence-torn communities to minimise the possibility of ambush attacks; and
c) Fixing our roads so that our vehicles can traverse without fear of ambush.
2) Increase funding for programmes that improve community trust and relationships with the police by
a) Expanding the community policing arm to build trust between the JCF and the people of Jamaica; and
b) Establishing domestic violence care centres in all police stations (only 14 are funded to date).
3) Strategically interrupt the growth of gangs using the tools that have worked, without asking for greater suspension of rights, by:
a) Funding the Peace Management Initiative as an institution that can help with the interruption of violence in the communities and using the 'connectors' to help the youths connect to services that would create a new path for them;
b) Using cordons and searches as the tool to find the gang leaders; and
c) Deepening the investigative skills of the police force.
4) Invest in psychosocial interventions to change the culture of violence by:
a) Employing an army of social workers to operate within our schools and communities as we work on changing our culture of violent responses to conflict and disagreement in our homes. These social workers would work with schools, families and communities to connect them to services like the Dispute Resolution Foundation, Restorative Justice of Jamaica, National Parenting Services, Victim Support Unit etc; and
b) Creating a campaign around bringing back the love in our communities.
5) Improve our justice system and legislation by:
a) Providing additional funding to the courts, because if people are not confident that justice will be served, they will take matters into their own hands;
b) Expanding the capabilities of the family courts such that they can prosecute related criminal matters in one space;
c) Creating legislation to support changes that allow for more efficient prosecution of domestic violence-related matters; and
d) Implementing legislative changes to allow for evidence-based prosecution, especially in the case of domestic abuse.
Since July 2021 the women of our country have been seeking a formal meeting with the minister of national security to discuss these solutions more deeply and bring to him the perspective of the mothers, daughters, spouses of those involved in and cut down by gang violence. Women want to be part of the solution and we believe resolutely that there are solutions beyond suppression.
Patricia Duncan Sutherland is president of the People's National Party Women's Movement.