#WeTurn5

Journey with us as WE reflect on our work since our inception in 2015. WE’ve captured some of our big moments, from our Launch at JFLAG’s Larry Chang Human Rights Symposium to our work with the Tambourine Army and all we’ve done with our volunteers and partners over the years.

2015 to 2020 had its challenges but WE’ve grown through it with the help of our core team, our Technical Advisors, our partners, our funders, our volunteers and ambassadors, local and regional activists and scholars and MOST importantly the LBQ Jamaican women who have supported our work over the years.

Thank you for staying the course with WE and helping us shape and sharpen our advocacy. Let’s see what the next 5 years has in store.

#WETurn5

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Here’s one of our Directors, Paige Andrew sending a tribute to the WE team. To current & past team members. To all the people who have worked to get us to 5. Thank you. ‬

WE also used the opportunity to launch our research on the Health seeking behaviour of LBTQ women in Jamaica with focus on their Sexual and Reproductive health, and to launch our database of LBTQ-friendly service providers!

Call femicide by its name

Originally published January 20, 2020 in the Jamaica Observer

Dear Editor,

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.

 

WE-Change

 

The Health Seeking Behaviour of LBTQ women in Jamaica: Sexual & Reproductive Health

Women’s Empowerment for Change (WE-Change) embarked on research, as a part of the Stonewall’s Out of the Margins project, to respond to the chasm in studies on health in the LGBT community by calling attention to the health-seeking behaviours of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer women with regards to their sexual and reproductive health. WE-Change engaged one hundred and thirty (130) queer women in Kingston, Jamaica about their ability to access (the availability of services relevant to their context, the ability to use these services without judgement, the existing factors that may prevent achieving satisfactory care) sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. From the data collected, WE-Change found that queer Jamaican women preferred to seek out services from more expensive private health facilities for the purpose of comfort and safety; medical and health professionals lacked the information and competency to respond to distinct LBTQ health needs; pervasive sexism by male doctors who dominate the field of gynaecology has pushed them to seek out female doctors or not use services at all. The information shared by these women demonstrated a deficit in the healthcare system in Jamaica to provide adequate, inclusive and acceptable patient-centred care for LBTQ women. This project presents an opportunity for government officials and policymakers to re-examine national health strategies on sexual and reproductive health. It further opens up the conversation about Caribbean queer women’s health outside of the lens of HIV prevention and the necessity in documenting this as Caribbean activists to inform our activism on the global stage.

Read the research paper here.

In an effort to increase access to LBTQ-friendly health services for LBTQ women, WE have put together a database of providers in Jamaica. If you are a LBTQ-friendly health service provider or have had positive experiences with a particular service provider in Jamaica, please contact WE. This database will be continuously updated.

Click here for access to the database.

 

Creating An Emergency Budget

With countries currently battling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemics, individuals and households will definitely be feeling the effects in the short term. Economists are saying this period will go down in history as “one of the worst the world has endured”. The UN Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean warned that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will have devastating effects on the global economy that will certainly be more intense than and distinct from those felt during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. 

Since we are here and can’t run away from the effects of the crisis, we need to be prepared. Creating an Emergency budget will be of great importance now more than ever. If you haven’t done so as yet, let’s get to it. 

What Is An Emergency Budget? (check out https://www.iheartbudgets.net/covid-19/)

An emergency budget is a budget that you set up when you need to cut out ALL unnecessary expenses in order to survive. 

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HOW TO CREATE AN EMERGENCY BUDGET.

Here are some general rules to follow when creating your emergency budget:

  1. HIT “PAUSE” ON YOUR GOALS

If you are currently paying off debt, or saving toward other big purchases, you need to hit the “pause” button on those goals.  For debt, simply pay the minimum payments. Don’t use your credit cards unless you absolutely have to. 

At this time you need to focus on preserving your cash so it lasts a longer time. It’s better to have cash on hand and delay your goals slightly for peace of mind.

  1. CONVERT SAVINGS TO EMERGENCY FUNDS

If you currently have savings for things like vacation, Christmas, purchasing a motor vehicle and home repair, we suggest removing those as well. You can live without them while you are in emergency mode.

All the money saved for those things is now part of your Emergency Fund to help get you through the next few months.

  1. CANCEL (OR PAUSE) YOUR SUBSCRIPTIONS

Cancel any monthly subscriptions that you can live without (we know Netflix will be a stretch but other subscriptions like music that you can get from youtube is not a necessity). 

  1. LOWER YOUR “FIXED” EXPENSES

There are certain things you NEED-the necessities. Namely, food, shelter (and utilities), and transportation. You can’t avoid paying for these, but you can work on lowering them. 

For utilities, things like turning off the lights, unplugging unused appliances and devices, stop watering the lawn and washing cars, using less water when showering or washing, can help lower your bills.

This is not only a way to save some money, but is an AWESOME way to help lower your consumption, give the Earth the love she deserves and learn how to live on less (a minimalist lifestyle is the way to go!).

  1. TALK WITH YOUR BANKER/INVESTMENT ADVISOR

Financial institutions are offering personal loans to help clients with weathering this rough patch. Reach out to them and see if there is any that can suit your situation (and pocket). Ask your banker about delaying loan repayments (if you don’t ask you won’t know, some banks are offering loan holidays). Talk with your financial advisors as well about your investment portfolios. Don’t be quick to sell what you have. In this period re-assess your investment plans and ask for advice on where to invest for the long term.

  1. REDUCE YOUR FOOD BUDGET

We know this is not easy at all. But if you lost your job or income for a while, you WILL find a way to remove $500 or $5000 (or more) from your food budget, even if you don’t eat quite as healthy while you are dealing with this emergency. Also, cook ah yuh yawd. 

  1. CUT OUT ALL UNNECESSARY SPENDING

Things like Online Shopping, Clothing, Entertainment and Going Out (because, let’s be real, it’s #NetflixAndChill and #Onlinepartying for the next month or two) can go away for a while.

The goal here isn’t to STOP HAVING FUN, but to simply stop spending money to have fun, make sense? 

While you’re home, here are some tips on things to do: Read a book, learn a second language, join an online book club (@RebelWomenLit), start a blog, learn a skill (you have the time so make good use of it).  Here are some places you can access books and journals or free online courses:

Cambridge University Press- https://www.cambridge.org

JSTOR- https://www.jstor.org

Oxford University Press- https://global.oup.com/?cc=jm

Open Learn- https://www.open.edu/openlearn/free-courses/full-catalogue

Coursera- https://www.coursera.org/

Alison University- alison.com 

Amazon Audibles

WE-CHANGE’S Submission to the Joint Select Committee on the matter of the Sexual Harassment Act.

Madam Chair, members of this Committee, fellow presenters and onlookers, good afternoon. We are here today representing Women’s Empowerment for Change (WE -Change) which is a women-led, women’s rights organization committed to increasing the participation of lesbian, bisexual, queer and ally women in social justice advocacy. Our advocacy, actions and projects are aimed at bringing attention to societal issues that impact the quality of life of all  women across Jamaica as well as educating women on their fundamental rights and equipping them with the tools and information needed to advocate within their own spaces. 

If we may, we would like to present to this house a few short stories before we commence with our recommendations. 

“I remember one morning, walking along the sidewalk in Half Way Tree (St Andrew), minding my own business when a man riding on a bicycle reached out his hand and grabbed my breast then rode off.” 

“I was walking towards Half Way Tree from work. Several men were calling me but I ignored them and proceeded on my route. They caught up with me, one said hello, I ignored him and continued on. A couple minutes later, I had turned off the route I looked around and noticed they were driving slowly a few cars behind me. One man shouted, “you feel wi doe, yuh know seh we deh here”. I made another turn and they turned as well, commenting that “if yuh did ansa we, we woulda gi u a ride”. I quickly picked up the pace towards Winchester Road and turned onto the next road before I was able to lose them. I was terrified, completely terrified.”

Beyond the Headlines (BTHPsst) produced a docu-series on catcalling in Jamaica in 2019. Here are a few tweets shared online:

  • #BTHPsst #BTHCatcalling driving home at 2am and got pulled over by police. As I handed him my licence he grabs my hand and starts feeling it up talking bout how my hands don’t look like I do housework and asking for my number.
  • #BTHPsst #BTHCatcalling walking with my uncle past Pablo’s in my school uniform and a man grabbed my arm and tried pulling me towards him with the usual “wah gwan babes.” I was 13 
  • I was dressed in a hoodie and pants walking through Mandeville and the male vendors kept calling me “sadamite.” When I was at UWI my wardrobe was fitted caps, t-shirts, sweats and sneakers and I got abused by taxi men every day.

Anecdotal as these stories are, due to the absence of research and data on street harassment in Jamaica or the wider Caribbean, they reflect a shared experience that most, if not all, Jamaican women endure as an unwarranted and undesired rite of passage from the first sign of puberty. In one of the largest studies ever conducted on street harassment, Cornell University and Hollaback International discovered that the majority of women across the world are street harassed before the age of 17 – for a bit of specificity, 95% of women in Argentina and 81.7% of European women. Can you imagine the local statistics?

The onus to address Sexual Harassment has always fallen on women. The narrative surrounding the issue is deeply entrenched in Jamaica’s Rape Culture which facilitates the harassment of women without legal reprimand. When these issues are brought to the forefront of conversations we are met with the assumption that women are their own harbingers of harassment. We allude to her dress, question her presence in the location and require her to explain how she could allow this to happen. In order to adequately serve women, who are equal citizens, we are in dire need of legislation which will then inform policies that protect women across different spheres. 

Here are our proposed amendments and recommendations:

RECOMMENDATION 1 : INCLUSION OF STREET HARASSMENT IN THE ACT

Our current sexual harassment act pays heavy attention to sexual harassment in the workplace. While necessary, our Act must also reflect the cultural context in which it operates and subsequently provide the requisite protection, and guidance on how to enact a needed shift in this society’s paradigm of the treatment of women. WE-Change, therefore, echoes the sentiments of our colleagues at last week’s hearing to include “street harassment” in this legislation’s definition of sexual harassment, where “street” is an umbrella term for public spaces – transportations/stores/roadways. The Act in its current state elucidates the inappropriateness of sexual harassment within the confines of a workplace and institutions, the process and mechanisms for seeking redress and  the duty-bearers with responsibility to respond to offences. But what of our lives outside of these particular confines? As illustrated in the anecdotes at the start of this presentation, sexual harassment for a majority of Jamaican women is prevalent in public spaces. There remains a void in the legislation that allows for accountability within these spaces, which inevitably ignores the scores of people who are victims of sexual harassment who exist outside of the parameters defined by law. WE understand the difficulty in creating legislation that addresses every possible instance of harassment. However, as legislators, you must strive to design an Act that is comprehensive and in keeping with the realities of those it seeks to govern.  

Further south, the Chilean government in 2019 passed a law that has made “street sexual harassment” a punishable crime with fines and prison terms after recognizing its impact on the lives of women and girls – based on research provided by the Observatory Against Harassment in Chile (2015). On the same continent, Peru recently reformed their sexual harassment legislation by first recognizing sexual harassment as a form of violence, expanding its definition to include behaviours of a sexist nature as well as criminalises “groping and physical contact” in public spaces once done through threat or violence. Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2016 moved to criminalise catcalling with a fine of $1000 pesos. Their law reform has outlawed “direct or indirect comments referring to a person’s body” and “non-consensual physical contact, indecent exposure, public masturbation and pursuing and cornering” and will embark on public education campaigns to sensitise the public on sexual harassment’s dangerous impact. On that note, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in 2019 initiated a public education campaign in Trinidad and Tobago aimed at exposing street harassment as a form of violence against women in the hopes of reducing its prevalence. WE recommend that this committee look to the above mentioned countries for guidance on how to specifically outlaw and criminalise street harassment.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The Act must explicitly state how to treat with harassment by a ‘third party’. A ‘third party’ can be persons who interact with institutions and businesses such as vendors, clients, and business partners. 

In an increasingly digital world where freelancers are becoming a part of the labour force and non-traditional and working set-ups (such as cafes, videoconferencing and other digital means of communicating) and dynamics are being created, our legislation has to graduate to accompany this rapid change. Additionally, while we are cognizant of the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 and its stipulations, that Act does not make specific references to harassment and further, cyberharassment in a working relationship. Can the committee provide clarification on whether section 2, definition of “worker” subsection C covers this kind of work arrangement – short term worker or consultants? If not, how will the law treat with these kinds of work dynamics?

We need to consider sexual harassment outside of the colleagues/supervisor relationship that the present Act mentions. Employees will have to work closely with clients, customers and partners in and outside the ‘physical’ workplace. A Workplace Sexual Harassment Policy should reflect this and should make sure the reporting channels are known by all staff members. Having regular sexual harassment training with staff members and HR personnels will reassure employees that they should feel comfortable making a complaint about harassment by a third party. Employers can also disseminate the information periodically via their internal communications channel. Statements about not tolerating abuse and harassment of staff should be visibly displayed, using clear language, so third-parties can understand what action the employer will take if they breach it.  

We urge this Committee to move swiftly to include a definition in Section 2 that clearly states who may be classified as a “harasser”. This definition would include third parties. One such definition used by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says “the harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer”. 

SHANTAE: RECOMMENDATION 3: The state must design a sexual harassment workplace policy guide or template and mandate that all businesses and institutions utilise this guide to design their policies.

A major issue that has prevented adequate redress for sexual harassment and its eventual elimination in the workplace is understanding what behaviours constitute harassment within the workplace and as such, businesses should be mandated by the government to have a policy in place for workers to reference. The International Labour Organization has sample sexual harassment policies and several “Code of Conduct and Guidelines to Prevent and Address Sexual Harassment in the workplace” that can be enlisted to aid in the creation of a template. While these guides are country specific, the content of the guides can be easily translated to the Jamaican context. It is necessary that the government leads the charge in what a comprehensive sexual harassment policy for the workplace looks like as it will ensure that these policies are harmonious across the board and align with the existing legislation.

In his research “Sexual Harassment and Sexual Harassment Policy in Jamaica: The Absence of a National Sexual Harassment Policy, and the Way Forward”, Paul Bourne found several themes, two of which  spoke to the role of culture on policy, and perception of harassment. The research highlighted that due to the lack of a clear definition of harassment, there is difficulty in implementing frameworks that address the issue. The study also highlighted that in Jamaica’s social context, sexual harassment is difficult to identify because of societal attitute towards women and women’s bodies. In its summary the research postulates that policy surrounding sexual harassment are not effective as a deterrent but rather serve as a back up in the eventuality that sexual harassment occurs. 

In an aim to address Sexual Harassment, The Equal Opportunity Commission of Trinidad and Tobago, created the Guidelines on Sexual Harassment in the workplace publication  in 2018, which serves as a guidebook for employers. The publication dedicates an entire section to mechanisms to prevent sexual harassment and mechanisms that respond to cases of sexual harassment which includes:- grievance procedures, procedures to solve complaints, disciplinary action and protective and remedial action. This publication promotes the use of mechanisms such as communication, training, education, commitment,  and dissemination of information, as the means to introducing and enforcing sexual harassment within the workplace. 

RECOMMENDATION 4:  Consider the inclusion of a section that speaks to stalking with an online sexual harassment component, that complements but is separate from the Cybercrimes Act, 2015. 

Stalking has become more widespread in our culture and many Jamaicans don’t know what to do in the event they are being stalked. Eg One woman on a popular social media site detailed being stalked by a man. When she went to the authorities they expressed that they 

We urge the committee to include a section in the Sexual Harassment Act that defines stalking and outline actions to be taken if one believes they are being stalked. 

Additionally, WE suggest that there also be included in the bill, a category that speaks to cyber/online harassment. According to an EU Wide Survey examining Violence Against Women, 11 % of women have received unwanted, offensive sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, or offending, inappropriate advances on social networking sites (referring to experiences since the age of 15). 

In Section (2) of the Act, while there is mention of a statement being made orally or in writing, there needs to be explicit references which identify the use of technology as a medium for sending unrequested pornographic, sexually suggestive or unwanted lewd material whether graphic or written. The European Institute for Gender Equality establishes that one in ten women have already experienced a form of cyber violence since the age of 15. In their assessment, cyber harassment can take many forms, including but not limited to:

  • Unwanted sexually explicit emails, text (or online) messages;
  • Inappropriate or offensive advances on social networking websites or internet chat rooms;
  • Threats of physical and/or sexual violence by email, text (or online) messages;
  • Hate speech, meaning language that denigrates, insults, threatens or targets an individual based on her identity (gender) and other traits (such as sexual orientation or disability).

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects personal information that individuals justifiably expect not to be published without their consent. Legislation needs to represent the reality of this social landscape and by including in our legal framework laws that consider online presence and use of online spaces and electronic communication, we provide protection across a myriad of spaces. 

CONCLUSION

It is time that Jamaica upgrades its current legislation to reflect the changing realities of its society. WE urge this Committee to include robust data collection after the Act is passed to determine the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment in an effort to evaluate the measures presented and an action plan to respond to the findings. Let’s hold successive governments accountable to ensure the Act serves the people. Your responsibility as legislators, which you are acknowledging by being here today, is to respond to the needs of your population, the people you promise to serve . Sexual Harassment in Jamaica is as common as ‘the cold’. This does not mean we accept it as inevitable. This does not mean that we cannot engage in action to create deliberate cultural change. This does not mean that women have to learn to navigate a culture that is toxic and which forces them to navigate their daily lives in fear. We must ensure we are taking precautions to remove this stain from our culture if we intend to follow through on our 2030 Vision of making Jamaica “the place of choice to live, work and raise families”. 

I encourage you to  not be a House with only beautiful speaking but let our actions walk before us. 

WE thank you. 

Feminism is for men too!

“So what about the men?!” Is a sentiment that plagues every contemporary feminist who is actively advocating for the dismantlement of patriarchal constructs. Typically it’s said in response to any miniscule advancement that women have made (after centuries of women being subordinated or being shut out of economic and educational opportunities) and typically said by someone who’s not paying attention. This week, WE are looking at how feminism impacts men and boys.

 

The ultimate goal of a feminist mandate is to uproot the violent system of patriarchy. In advancement of that goal, feminists have done extensive work and research to investigate social norms and to expose them for how detrimental they are for our societies, including men. It was through feminism that we started to question the notion of masculinity and how we constructed it in such a rigid fashion that created emotionally stunted men and, in worse case scenario, violence perpetrators that are incapable of resolving conflict in a healthy way. Feminism has, at the very base of it, advocated that it’s okay for men to cry. Even further, it was feminist activists that fought for men’s right to paternity leaves and for men to be more involved in the lives of their children and their domestic affairs. Now WE won’t labour on how patriarchy relegated women to the home, but WE will point out that women carry the burden of care work ( meaning they wash, cook, clean, feed the children and any elderly relatives that may reside with or is dependent on them, provide emotional support) in the home than men in addition to their income earning jobs. Through the work of feminists, the family dynamic and division of labour in the home is (slowly but surely) being shifted as more and more questions about the harmfulness of genderizing care and domestic work arose.

 

More importantly, what feminism has done is hold men accountable in a system that praises men for their wrongdoing, rather than punishing them. Now, some men view this is a threat rather than a benefit. However, by critiquing harmful behaviours perpetrated by men, feminists are setting of the next generation of men to be more self-critical and reflective in their actions and stamping out misogyny one generation at a time.

Riding the New Wave.

Social Media has become a powerful tool for activism and advocacy for marginalised groups. Both LGBTQ+ and women of colour, more specifically black women, have found strength in numbers and a community that shares their struggle. As a result, they have been able to cause a change in narratives about women and LGBTQ+ people and demand recourse and justice. Welcome to episode 7! We’re talking “New Wave Feminism”.

 

Look around you. In the news, social media, television programmes, there’s been overwhelming messages about women’s empowerment, the elevation of women into positions of power, women’s reproductive and sexual rights and, perhaps more ubiquitous, sexual harassment. This wave of feminism focuses on these particular topics but enlists the use of media to push these ideas with a particular goal in mind: justice for women. Women holding people who abuse power accountable as well as demanding tangible redress for this abuse. 

 

As mentioned in the episode, a prominent feature of this wave of feminism is the use of hashtags as an avenue for storytelling, experience sharing and way of demonstrating how exactly long standing systems of oppression affect women’s daily lives. #MeToo, #LifeInLeggings, #SayTheirNames and #YouOkaySis (to name a few) were hashtags used to bring awareness around sexual harassment (including street harassment) but also as a way of demanding justice, starting conversations about bodily autonomy and the tenets of patriarchy that allow men to get away with harassment. Under new wave feminism, digital media has been harnessed and shaped to be a field in which this generation of feminists ideate – basically taking school out of the classroom. 

 

Also important to new wave feminism is the insistence and re-energization of intersectionality as a way of critiquing. While not new (as you would have noticed from previous episodes), intersectionality has seen an uptick in usage throughout this wave.

 

Like its predecessors, new wave isn’t without its fair share of critique. It has been criticised for being “slacktivism” which is to say that it exists only in the virtual world as the users who are active online don’t exercise this activism in the real world. Others have blamed it for not having much teeth as it tends to “villainize” individuals rather than conceptualising solutions for overarching systems. It has also been labeled as a predominantly Western and global north iteration that hasn’t created space for the global south.

 

What do you think about new wave feminism? Has it been useful? Does it need improvement? Share with us! 

 

Our next episode will look at how feminism helps/impacts men and boys.