It's not woman against man; it's both of us, united

WE recently ended 16 days of activism in the quest to end violence against women, which commenced on November 25 with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and ended on December 10 with International Human Rights Day.

I believe that as a country we cannot move ahead if we continue to see each other as the enemy or are in competition and fighting for limited resources. Often when I speak on gender-based violence (GBV), men stop me to counter that men are being killed too, a fact of which I am acutely aware. This interjection in some way demonstrates that men are not that interested in hearing about women being killed because, for them, men being killed is more important.

As a feminist and gender advocate, I promote equality for women, for men, girls and boys and that all genders should be protected from gender-based violence. All victims of GBV deserve compassion, support, and guidance. This is not about who needs it more. We have done that too much in the past and now need to move forward by balancing the equation, being respectful and willing to hear and attend to the pain and abuse of women.

Though the 16 days of activism have now ended, I am inviting my brothers and all Jamaicans to focus some attention on this issue that impacts women and their ultimate emotional and physical welfare and has far-reaching implications on the family unit as well as the economic and social outlook of the entire society.

In 2014, the World Health Organization noted that if Jamaica reduced its violence rate by eight per cent per 100,000 people, the country could increase its annual economic growth per capita by at least 5.4 per cent. Recent studies have shown that sexual violence against Jamaican girls is more than three times the global average and according to a 2015 study by Moreno, "The direct costs of rape and domestic violence to the health system run in the millions of dollars, but the indirect costs in lost productivity, in the aftermath of a physical or sexual assault, are likely costing Jamaica billions." In Jamaica, 40 per cent of adolescent girls' sexual initiation is forced and occurs while they are below the age of consent. Between 2007 and 2014, 16,790 cases of child sexual abuse were reported and 93 per cent of all cases involved girls.

Despite the high rankings that Jamaica has attained regarding its women holding middle-income jobs, we have to look at what consistently happens to women in our society because of our cultural norms. Many a woman has told me her man beats her because he loves her. These women have accepted this distorted view which is unfortunately inaccurate. Love does not deliberately cause another pain.

I believe that if we lessen the violence against women, we will also lessen the violence against men. Many cases of violence are borne out of feelings of anger, fear, and disempowerment. Therefore, if we want to create a society where all people are safe, we also need to address the part of our culture which encourages lashing out and uses our former enslavement as justification for doing so. We have to move away from that and respond to each other as each other's keepers, our brother or sister.

To correct this behaviour and damage to our society, we have to tackle this from a multi-pronged approach every day of the year until we have transformed our ways of interacting with one another. Jamaica currently spends four per cent its gross domestic product (GDP) on violence. Imagine the fundamental and positive changes that would occur if even three per cent of that was put into training skills and sustainable lifelong good paying jobs for young women and men. I, therefore, proffer the following solutions to help us get to this space:

1) Institute conflict resolution training in all schools throughout Jamaica for all primary school students to teach our children how to communicate in a calm reflective manner.

2) Establish conflict resolution and effective communication training in all parish community centres, and hold monthly town hall meetings on the impact of GBV and how to seek help before resorting to violence.

3) Engage or even commission local singers to write songs that reinforce effective communication and loving relationships.

4) Erect billboards that show women and men arriving at non-violent resolutions.

5) Create radio and television advertisements and programmes that address the issue of violence and promote viable alternatives.

Given the grave and critical situation here in Jamaica, we need more than 16 days of activism. We need to attend to this issue year-round. Do join me in helping to restore peace and justice in Jamaica and make the home safe for women, girls, boys, and men.

Professor Opal Palmer Adisa is a gender and cultural activist and a writer.

Opal Palmer Adisa

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