We have been stuck in a loop of femicide, anger, outrage, then tone-deafness and silence from our government representatives for decades. We have asked for protection from domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment, murder-suicides. We have asked for legislation that recognises the full extent of the particular violence that is perpetrated by men towards women and all we have got are beautiful words in lengthy documents hidden in barely functioning government sites.
Thirty-five; that is the percentage of Jamaican women who have a lifetime experience of intimate partner violence.
Two; that is where Jamaica was ranked in the world, in 2017, having the highest rate of femicide in the Caribbean.
Successive governments have waxed poetic about their impressive plans to take concerted action to address gender-based violence and uproot its contributing causes. This Administration presented the National Strategic Action Plan to Eliminate Gender-based Violence in 2017. It promised to “adopt the sexual harassment policy draft without further delay”, “public campaigns and trainings targeted at men”, “public educational campaigns to reduce gender-based violence”, “additional shelters for victims of gender-based violence”, “interventions to eradicate the socio-cultural patterns of victim-blaming”, and “redress for victims of gender-based violence”. In the reading of the 2019/2020 budget, the minister of gender read that $86 million would go towards purchasing two shelters for female victims of abuse. The minister said in August 2019 saying, “[B]efore the end of the year we will have the shelter up and running.” The Government has talked and written while women and girls desperately fight to stay alive. Are the deaths of Jamaican women not enough to signal the urgent need for action to address this epidemic?
When will they stop talking? When will they act? Importantly, when will we stop normalising the toxic nature of relationships and the idea that entering into a relationship means we become the property of our partners? Our society continues to cling to these harmful justifications for men’s violence; from controlling women’s ability to making personal choices to using jealousy to justify dangerous actions and defining gender roles in the household where the man is “king of the castle”.
Jamaican women are exhausted. But, more than that, we are angry. We are angry because we feel deserted. We are angry that the media and people with national platforms have immortalised this narrow-minded, uninformed, worrying rhetoric that women are the reason for their own deaths. We are angry because our prime minister has not called this intentional murder of women by their intimate partners what it is — femicide! Call it by its name! Call it what it is! Until we have acknowledged the specific crime, until we have acknowledged that this is a war on women, and at any minute it could be any one of us, women will never be safe.
Feminist activist Audre Lorde wrote: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” None of us is free.