November 25 to December 10 each year is observed as the 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence and is better known as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW). In this way, the United Nations, governments around the world, civil society, religious organizations, and all well thinking people stand in solidary with all victims of violence, and women and girls in particular, to affirm the values of equal rights and justice for all. Indeed, this affirmation of the value of the most vulnerable was highlighted in a report by the World Bank and Canadian Government which was published earlier this year. This report, entitled, Jamaica Gender Assessment, was released in March 2023. The document focuses on baseline data relating to gender issues in the country, economic opportunity for women and men, agency for women and girls, and the way forward for achieving gender equality.
Baseline data suggests that girls between the ages of 15 and 19 account for 49.9 per cent of births per 1,000 of women in Jamaica. This compares favourably with Latin American and other Caribbean countries, which have a higher percentage or 61.2 per cent and indicate that while our figures are high we can take comfort that progress, though seemingly slow, is being made towards gender equality. The report notes that the prevalence of teen pregnancy relates to generations of teen mothers, poverty, gender-based violence (GBV), intimate partner violence, single parent households, low income families and, more recently, the lockdown for two years as a result of the COVOD-19 Pandemic.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, figures for 2019 show fertility rates in Grenada at 27.2 per cent, Trinidad and Tobago at 28.6 per cent and other small island states at 48.9 per cent births per 1000 with contributing factors including sexual abuse, lack of youth friendly health services and where they exist, reproductive health information is not readily available island wide.
In order to reduce teen pregnancy and address GBV it is vital that states, civil society groups, and religious organizations adopt the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 5 addresses the issue of gender equality designed to ensure that girls and boys complete primary and secondary school by 2030 and anticipates the attainment of quality education in which graduates have equal access to vocational training as a step towards eliminating gender and wealth disparities and equal access to good quality and affordable higher education.
The gender assessment, mentioned earlier, highlights the disparities which exist in the Jamaican society and as a result there are accompanying maladies of violence, discrimination, injustices with high levels of cynicism, cronyism, and clientelism which advances the agenda, wealth and success of a few while undermining and devaluing the progress of the majority. Moreover, with women as heads of a number of households in Jamaica and already a step behind given that higher levels of unemployment exist among this group, it is vital that IDEVAW becomes another opportunity for us to address chronic gender inequality.
In the IDEVAM’s recommendation for addressing inequality generally and gender disparities, in particular, the gender assessment makes three recommendations as follows: (1) invest in building the human capital of women and (especially) young men; (2) expand, support and promote the productive role of women; and (3) increase women’s capacity to make decisions and act on them. This means that to address the things which will make us advance as a society in which Jamaicans are able to live, work, raise families and do business, all well-thinking Jamaicans must work together to ensure the achievement of these three worthwhile ideals.
A commitment to invest
This requires the application of the old saying “put your money where your mouth is”, that is, a commitment to invest capital and other resources to ensure women and young men have access to training and capacity development to increase knowledge, attitudes and skills which will enable them to work and where they so desire, establish their own businesses and thereby expand the number of entrepreneurs in the country. As a consequence, government policies must provide the framework for capacity building and a legal framework must be provided to ensure there are no obstacles for the empowerment of women and young men.
Women know what is best for their development and that of their children, if it does not already exist, it would be useful to create a window in institutions such as the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) and Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) to facilitate entrepreneurship among women. With development understood as addressing mind, body and spirit, it is vital that all obstacles are removed in order to foster and facilitate an enabling environment in which women are able to flourish, keeping in mind that the goal is to overcome chronic inequality and gender disparity in the country.
The agency of women is critical to the progress of any nation and Jamaica is no different. A good example of this agency is the Forum of Women Parliamentarians (FWP) as a subgroup of the global Inter-Parliamentary Union. With a mandate to facilitate women’s agency in Parliaments around the world, the FWP targets gender issues in policy making and strengthen women’s corporation and collaboration as they advocate for better living standard for women and girls around the world. Moreover, there is room for male parliamentarians to participate in the work of the FWP as a means to addressing gender inequality. Another good example of women’s agency is the Anglican organization the Mother’s Union (MU).
A worldwide organization with a mandate to advance the welfare and wellbeing of the family, the MU has branches all over the world and targets women and girls as key agents in national and community development. The local arm of the MU focuses on healthy family life, advocacy for teen moms, moral and spiritual education of its members and training and sensitization on effective parenting. As a contributor to the ideas which went into the establishment of the National Parenting Commission (NPC) and continues to provide critical support for its work, the MU is strategically positioned to address inequality generally and gender disparity in particular.
So, if GBV is to be significantly reduced or eliminated there must be a concerted effort to form partnerships between public and private sectors, to include civil societies and religious organizations. Government must ensure a forum is created and maintained, such as the Gender Advisory Council established in 2018, in which gender issues are kept at the forefront of policy development and the passage of legislations. In some ways this is already in progress with the large number of female parliamentarians present in the House of Representative and the Senate. This means, as a country, we have an opportunity to make a radical change to break the back of inequality and intentionally address gender-based violence.
Rev. Garth Minott is the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston.