Women demonstrate in Paris, France, on the eve of the worldwide recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW). (Photo: AP)
Violence against Jamaican women pushing HIV numbers

SEVERAL Jamaicans, particularly those at the policy level, failing to make the link between violence against women and the spread of HIV/AIDS has led to calls for emergency action by the island's leading non-governmental organisation trying to stem the spread of the deadly virus.

Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), which has been at the forefront of the HIV response in the island for past 30 years, has identified gender-based violence (GBV) as a significant issue driving infections for women and affecting treatment for those infected.

JASL has since ensured integration of GBV responsive interventions into its prevention, clinical and psychosocial services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

As the world marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW) under the theme 'Orange the World: fund, respond, prevent – End violence against women now', policy and advocacy officer at JASL, Patrick Lalor, says there is more to be done in terms of policies and legislation to deal with this problem.

“We have a lot of clients in our care who have become HIV-positive as a result of sexual violence, so you can understand,” Lalor told the Jamaica Observer as he explained why the internationally recognised NGO has turned the spotlight on violence against women.

“Research is out there that has established the strong connection between violence and HIV, where women who are in violent relationships are unable to negotiate condom use, are unable to decide, when, where, and how they have sex, and as a result are predisposed towards HIV,” added Lalor.

“Women who are HIV-positive have to hide it from their partners because of abuse and are unable to come for care and remain in care. When they are in these abusive relationships they have to give a reason as to where they are going, everywhere they are going.

“Some of these abusers want to accompany them where they are going, and if they have not disclosed their status they cannot say they are going to the doctor for treatment, and if they disclose their HIV status then they are predisposed to further violence,” charged Lalor.

He noted that the main focus of JASL is to end AIDS by 2030, but underscored that, “If we can't control violence against women, which is one of the causes, then we would have failed in our attempts to end AIDS.” According to Lalor, it is widely accepted that Jamaica's Domestic Violence Act is very weak, while not enough is being done to provide shelters for battered women.

Addressing the IDEVAW church service staged under the local theme: 'Safer Spaces for Women and Girls' last Sunday, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Denzil Thorpe announced that the second of three national shelters being established by the Government to accommodate women who are victims of abuse and their children will be opened shortly.

We are currently working on shelter two, which should be opened soon, and shelter three, which will be coming, hopefully, in the new year,” said Thorpe. The first shelter was opened in 2020.

But that provided little comfort for Lalor, who told the Observer, “We have clients who come to us day after day and we still don't know where to direct them in terms of a State-operated shelter. So, the issue of strengthening policy and legislation is needed. The issue of shelter is another that needs to be addressed.”

Lalor added: “Until we get to the stage where we start reviewing the legislation around domestic and gender-based violence, until we start looking at the different policies, and most importantly, a fully functioning shelter — and we don't just mean a space for women who are victims of violence to go and cry on each other's shoulders — we need a shelter with structured programming to help women reintegrate into society so they don't have to return to those abusive relationships.”

JASL has repeatedly agitated for strengthening existing legislation and the inclusion of new ones to effectively prevent and respond to various forms of violence against women, including sexual harassment, domestic violence and marital rape.

Since 2013 JASL has staged a road march on the day to mark IDEVAW, but because of COVID-19 the road march was shelved last year and it will again not be held this year. Instead, Lalor said the entity will stage a virtual event tonight with survivors of domestic violence and their supporters.

“At this event you will get to hear the JASL's full programming around violence against women. Also throughout the day we will have a town crier with the messages that we would normally have on the march going around,” said Lalor, as he listed some of the events which JASL will host to mark IDEVAW 2021.

Policy and advocacy officer at JASLPatrick Lalor responding to questionsas Jamaica prepared to join the rest ofthe world in marking International Dayfor the Elimination of Violence againstWomen 2021.(Photo: Naphtali Junior)
BY ARTHUR HALL Editor-at-Large halla@jamaicaobserver.com

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