Jamaica: Land of Wood and Water, and Women's Rights?

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Of all the things I expected to arouse intellectual conversations among Jamaicans about women's rights, Nicki Minaj was not one.

Two nights ago, Minaj took to Twitter to show her support for the #FreeASAP movement, a petition to free the Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky from Swedish prison. Tragically, her attempt at displaying her concern ended up offending many Jamaicans. Minaj referred to the infamous incident which occurred at the annual Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay in 2011; the Queen rapper was fined JMD$1000 for obscenity, owing to her lewd performance.

“I performed in Jamaica before & when I got off the stage I was surrounded by police with guns drawn. They were ready 2 take me to jail b/c they said I forgot to bleep a couple curses…. I could make one mistake & go to jail in a diff country where women have no rights. #FreeAsap,” Nicki tweeted.

This sparked an unexpected wave of comments from Jamaicans. Many openly expressed their disgust with the rapper's comparing of women's rights in Jamaica to the women's rights in Saudi Arabia. They believed it insinuated that women in Jamaica are treated like second class citizens, as would be similar for Saudi women. However, Minaj soon clarified her message, explaining that she did not intend to allude to such, but rather desired to convey how easy it would be for an outsider to get arrested in a foreign country, having no knowledge of the rules or law there. She thereafter used Saudi Arabia, where women are barely afforded rights, as another prime example.

Nicki received undeserved backlash for the misinterpretation of her tweet, but in spite of that, some good did come out of it. After seeing multiple threads and trending conversations all over social media, new and fresh intellectual conversations were facilitated, allowing non-Jamaicans to know and understand that women in Jamaica do have rights.

In Jamaica, women can legally be out in public at any hour of the day. They have the right to vote, can hold positions of power, and can even participate in the governing of the country. Perhaps, we take these rights for granted since, to us, they are basic human rights. Nonetheless, the sad truth is that in many countries around the world, women are barred from doing the simplest of activities. Case in point, dancing in the street, posting videos of themselves on social media, even driving, which only last year Saudi Arabia began allowing her women to do.

Needless to say, we as a country have a long way to go, as Jamaican women indubitably still suffer at the hands of misogyny, enduring abuse, rape, discrimination and humiliation, and many socio-economic problems. Sadly, women are still oppressed by dictates of patriarchy in all parts of the globe.

However, to say that women in Jamaica have no rights unjustly undermines all the tremendous work that women organizations in Jamaica have been doing for decades, ensuring that women felt empowered, offering them visibility, striking out ignorance and creating a path forward for the betterment of women's lives in society overall.

Yes, there are still a myriad of problems that affect women to this day that need addressing. This should not discredit the dedication and efforts of impactful organizations like the WCFJ (Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation)and Woman Incorporated (Crisis Centre) who have been around for years trying to help solve these problems. Even more fortunately for us, these attempts to help women in Jamaica have not stopped for recently, there has been a genesis of even more organizations including, but not limited to the HerFlow Foundation, Eve for Life, and Girls Who Know JA, who are consistently working towards ensuring that Jamaican women are not being withheld of their basic human rights.

Being able to recognize that Jamaican women face injustices in their society is essential. That being said, to believe that women have no rights period because of these injustices would be a misguided notion. We have come a long way in terms of women's rights as a nation. And thus, whilst acknowledging these injustices, let us be mindful of women in the wider world, and continue to strive towards improving our society.The change starts with you.

-Nathan Walker





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