Violence against women not only a problem for ‘a piece of Jamaica,’ says abuse survivor Duncan Sutherland
Patricia Duncan Sutherland

President of the People’s National Party (PNP) Women’s Movement, Patricia Duncan Sutherland says abuse against women and girls is not only a problem for “a piece of Jamaica.”

Instead, she said in order for the country to adequately tackle this issue, which affects approximately 30 per cent of women across the island, there must be discussions and actions taken across the “whole of Jamaica … across the political divide, across the community divide, across the economic divide. It's a problem for [the] whole of Jamaica.”

Speaking with OBSERVER ONLINE in an interview on Friday, Duncan Sutherland stated that among the initiatives by the PNP Women’s Movement to drive this conversation is the Elevate Her Summit being held on May 31.

“It’s about finding solutions to domestic violence and sexual abuse of girls in Jamaica. It is the coming together of women leaders in the space to facilitate practitioners, facilitate providers, community members, schools, police, church, to come together and say we have a cultural problem in Jamaica. And so we have to find a way to change our mindset to shift the belief systems that cause this abuse to continue to happen in our country,” Duncan Sutherland said.

The summit will be held from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, and admission is free. People can also view the event on social media live @elevateherja.

Duncan Sutherland said organisers expect to leave the event with “some action items” that would allow them to set up sub committees of this summit.

“Then we come back annually to review the work and see what else we need to do. Some of it will be advocacy, some of it will be facilitating the implementation of programmes on the ground,” she stated.

But as a survivor of sexual abuse as a child, Duncan Sutherland said she came from a family that believes in service to community. As such, she wants to encourage victims of abuse to speak up.

“It is just generally my advocacy for Jamaicans. I come from a family that knows that you don’t exist for yourself, but you exist within a community. We live off of the principle of Ubuntu - I am because you are - we are connected. And so I can’t create my own successes, I can’t create my own survival mechanism without impacting my wider society,” she said.

“So what drives me is that… the truth is as a young woman I grew up in such an empowered environment I didn’t even see the abuse of women as a big issue. But as I became an adult and became more enlightened and became more exposed in the context of the politics and the gender issues in our country, I realised this is something that we need to fight for, we need to expose within our country and we need to change the systems that promote it in our country,” Duncan Sutherland continued.

She went on to say that over the years the PNP Women’s Movement has been advocating to put all sexual abuse cases into a court similar to the Family Court and place them through a fast-track process.

“Work out a process, so that if you have a way to sensitise all the persons who work in the court so that they understand, so the persons who go in there are in a more comfortable and safe space as well as you have enough judges so that we can push these cases through faster and we can have justice. The rest of it that we want to look at is how we look at the community to protect the children more and to protect women from domestic abuse, Duncan Sutherland explained.

“How does a church respond, how does a community respond? So if a child should see something occurring, how do we then break that cycle of silence and not say ‘mhm, dat man deh a trouble [a] little girl, you know.’ Instead of just saying that, what do you do? If you see that a woman is being abused in her home and you know that she get up every morning with that lick on her face. How do you help, how do you intervene? And then how do we get to the abuser so that we can have healthy relationships between men and women,” Duncan Sutherland asked.

She said these concerns will be discussed at the summit.

Duncan Sutherland, in revealing that organising the summit cost approximately $5 million, thanked the event sponsors, including JMMB, Joan Duncan Foundation, Sagicor, The Lasco Foundation.

CANDICE HAUGHTON , Observer Online reporter,

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