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We must not be silent about gender-based violence

Sunday, November 11, 2018

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The following is a lightly edited version of the statement made to the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, November 6, 2018:

I stand today in this House to speak for every woman, every child, every victim and survivor of gender-based violence.

I'm sure the whole House will join me in condemning the spate of violent attacks against our women and children. While we acknowledge the decline in the number of children and women killed this year over last year, we remain concerned about the acts of violence being committed in our country.

Let's look at some cases of violence against women and children:

1. The burnt body of 14-year-old Yetanya Francis was found by residents in an open lot in her south St Andrew community. Residents reported hearing shouts of rape and cries for help coming from the open lot, but said that the shouts quickly ended.

2. The skeletal remains of 13-year-old Shanoya Wray was found in a bathtub in Mona, St Andrew, after she went missing on July 16, 2018.

3. Allisha Francis and her two sons, age 6 and 12, were chopped several times by her ex-boyfriend in St Ann in August of this year. Francis and her younger son were pronounced dead at hospital.

4. Forty-five-year-old Deon Smith was stabbed multiple times in a jealous rage while her 16-year-old Jayshenel Gordon's throat was slashed as she slept in St James. Her common-law husband killed himself by driving into the Rio Cobre in St Catherine.

5. Forty-three-year-old Mar-lee Russell Knight was beaten to death with a pickaxe. The accused, her husband, allegedly tried to take his own life by drinking a poisonous substance.

6. In January 2018, Simone Campbell-Collymore and a taxi driver were shot to death in Kingston. The accused, Simone Collymore's husband, was charged with murder and conspiracy charges for the killing of his wife and her cab driver.

7. Twenty-four-year-old Rosalee Campbell succumbed to injuries received when her ex-lover torched her home in Mocho, Clarendon. In this incident, her 16-year-old brother died, and her 53-year-old mother remains seriously injured.

The attacks have been heartless, callous, horrific and brutal — and are causing many of our women and children to worry. This is understandable. But we must not cower in fear. We must expose the brutes, help the security forces to find them, and provide the evidence for the courts to put them away.

I share the grief of the families as we all wish for speedy investigations and successful prosecutions. I am also leading my team in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport to find solutions and to end the violence.

I will not be silent. I will raise my voice in this House and everywhere else. I will denounce every act of violence. I will do all that is in my power to help prevent violence. We all must do what we can to protect victims of violence, ensure that perpetrators are punished, and that the victims get redress.

Tackling violence in our country, particularly against our women and children — those who are the most vulnerable among us — requires the participation of everyone. I keep saying that we can end the violence, but it requires all of us to end the violence. This is a message that requires constant repetition. As the writer Zadie Smith said: “Progress is never permanent; it must be redoubled, restated, and reimagined if it is to survive.”

And so the violent attacks over the last few weeks must serve to remind us all that we simply cannot be complacent. We all must restate our commitment to eliminating violence against women and children, and redouble our efforts to making this a safer world for all of us.

The Government has a critical role to play to prevent and to end violence against women and children. In the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport we have been playing our part to tackle this issue as part of the whole-of-government approach to these horrendous crimes. Through the Bureau of Gender Affairs, we have developed and championed the National Strategic Action Plan for the Elimination of Gender-based Violence. We have begun to implement this 10-year plan that presents an action-focused approach across all of Government to eliminating all gender-based violence.

This year, the national activities to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, on November 25, will target key stakeholders towards the implementation of the National Strategic Action Plan for the Elimination of Gender-based Violence. We will use this observance to undertake significant outreach activities in communities that are associated with high levels of violence.

We have been clear that we need stronger laws to deal with gender-based violence, particularly sexual offences. For this reason we reconvened the joint select committee to review laws relating to violence against women, children, the elderly, and persons living with disabilities. We heard submissions from various quarters and we have given earnest consideration to all the arguments. Our report and recommendations will be laid before this House in short order.

We are also finalising proposals for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Bill, which will be brought to the House very soon. Sexual harassment is not a simple matter. It is a very serious crime that militates against the desired level of peace, harmony and happiness in our country. And I look forward to our debate in this House, and us providing protection to all women and men from unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and crude sexual behaviours that affect quality of life by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

But the laws will only be deterrents if people believe that they will be enforced. People who like to abuse women and children will think again if they know that they will be caught and punished. In my view, successful prosecutions will not only depend on investigators and the justice system — success is also dependent on our people taking a stand and using the mechanisms we put in to deal with the problem. It is one thing for us to have harsh penalties for gender-based violence, but to punish the perpetrators we need convictions, and that requires people speaking up.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force statistics up to late October show that 38 children were the victims of violent deaths — 10 fewer than the corresponding time last year, or a 21 per cent decline. The police report that 20 of the 38 cases have been cleared up — a clear-up rate of 53 per cent.

In remaining true to our commitment to the care and protection of our children, the number of child abuse cases that have not been investigated moved from 5,000 to 400. Critical to this is how we have removed the bureaucracy by the merger of the Child Development Agency and the Office of the Children's Registry to create the Child Protection and Family Services Agency.

I believe the message that should be sent from this House today is that each of us has a part to play in ending gender-based violence. We cannot remain silent. We cannot afford to look the other way. We have a duty as family, neighbour, friend, and co-worker to intervene; to call in the authorities; to give evidence in the court; and to help make Jamaica a land of peace, love and harmony.

Earlier this year, the prime minister asked the country on International Women's Day to be unyielding in how we deal with violence against women. We have been doing the work. We are committed to ensuring that all Jamaicans equally enjoy socially valued goods. We are the Administration that continues to seek institutional responses for gender-based violence, because we understand that until we really unravel this problem of violence against our women, children and vulnerable groups, the shared prosperity that we are building for all Jamaicans is at risk.

We are advanced in the establishment of the first State-run national shelter to assist women who need to leave abusive environments. In the last few months we completed acquisition of the property and we are transforming it into a centre to accommodate survivors of gender-based violence and their children. It will also offer basic necessities, counselling and other forms of support. I acknowledge all those who have graciously donated towards its establishment.

We continue to raise awareness of violence against women and children and its impact in various ways, including the use of the media. We are currently developing the “No Excuse for Abuse” public education campaign with the support of UN Women. In September of this year we entered a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UN Women Multi-Country Office of the Caribbean for the implementation of the National Strategic Plan to Eliminate Gender-based Violence. Included in this MOU is the funding of the campaign. The “No Excuse for Abuse” campaign will take the anti-violence message to communities across the country. We will empower women and men; confront old notions about a woman's place; and encourage behaviour change among women and men. We are grateful to the many partners — local and international — who continue to give support to our various initiatives to end gender violence.

We are indeed proud of the achievement of two women human rights advocates, Oberlene Smith-Whyte and Novelette Grant, who were recognised on Heroes' Day for their service to the country. Grant still continues to help in the reduction of violence against women, though in retirement, as she recently started an advocacy group, 'Enough is Enough' to address community-based violence on the ground. Groups such as Enough is Enough will be important in the implementation of the National Strategic Action Plan to Eliminate Gender-based Violence. I am hereby asking more men and more women to join us, because the impact of domestic violence is even felt by those who are not immediately in contact with it. Domestic violence is not a private matter, it involves all of us and no one is immune.

But I am compelled to call for a greater partnership with our men — those in this chamber and those in the wider society. Men are the main perpetrators of the violence and men have to acknowledge their responsibility for the violence. Men have an important and unique role to play in fixing things. The conduct, behaviour and attitudes of men must change if we are to end sexual harassment and abuse of women and children everywhere. Men need to stand up to end violence against women, children and other men.

The violence is not inevitable. We can end it. We must end it. Let us stand against violence. Let us stand for justice, brotherhood, sisterhood, peace, and prosperity.

I extend condolence to the friends, families, communities, and networks of all those who have been affected by the brutal and senseless acts of these callous and brutal individuals. I endorse the statement by the prime minister that these individual have no place in the Jamaica we are trying to create.

I now turn my attention to my brothers and sisters in communities across Jamaica. I wish to challenge you to “Speak Up and Speak Out” against all acts of violence. I implore you to make use of the various associations as a means of working collectively to tackle family violence and other issues relating to gender-based violence. This is critical to restoring social order and engendering respect for life.

You have my commitment to continue working at the inter-ministerial level to do my part, as well as with the strength of my team, to tackle head-on the monster of gender-based violence. To the women who are still in these toxic relationships, I understand that it is complex, but for your safety, you must walk away.

Enough is enough! There is no excuse for abuse.

Olivia “Babsy” Grange is a Member of Parliament and the minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport.

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