GW in JA: Gender Violence

From Amnesty International

(New York) -- Deficient national legislation and deeply entrenched social and cultural attitudes in Jamaica encourage gender discrimination and violence against women, said Amnesty International in a report released today. The organization said that Jamaican authorities should fully implement recommendations developed by women's organizations and amend public policy to address the problem.

"Determination, political will and decisive action can put an end to gender-based violence in Jamaica," said Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "It isn't an impossible task to end violence against women in Jamaica, and authorities must demonstrate their commitment to upholding and protecting the dignity of all people."

The 39-page report, Sexual violence against women and girls in Jamaica: 'just a little sex,' finds that gender violence persists because the state is failing to tackle discrimination against women, allowing social and cultural attitudes which encourage discrimination and violence.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said on International Women's Day of 2006 that she will be "demanding justice and gender justice too." Amnesty International welcomes Miller's statement and hopes that the Jamaican government will implement recommendations from women's organizations and Amnesty International's new report as soon as possible.

Amnesty International calls on Jamaican authorities to fully implement a 15-point Action Plan developed by Jamaican women's and non-profit organizations, entitled the Women's Manifesto (2002), to fight discrimination and sexual violence against women and girls.

The Women's Manifesto includes recommendations such as the development of a public education program aimed at preventing rape and sexual crimes, the introduction of a national campaign against discrimination and sexual violence, and the establishment of more shelters to provide support and refuge for victims of sexual violence.

According to Amnesty International's findings, widespread discrimination against women in Jamaica makes them targets of sexual violence and exposes them to serious health risks -- including sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Girls are particular targets of sexual violence; according to one study published by UNICEF, in 2004 alone, 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults were against girls.

Women also face strong barriers and discrimination when they decide to report sexual violence. The sexual assault investigations unit in Jamaica estimates that only 25 percent of sexual violence is reported.

"I didn't tell anyone for six months; then I told my parents. I asked dad not to do anything about it; that's one thing I insisted on. I didn't want anyone to know because even at that age I knew they would say it was my fault [and] I thought no one would believe me. I blamed myself and I thought I was foolish and so naive," said Mary (not her real name), who was raped when she was 13 years old.

Sadly, women have good reason to think that they will not be believed, the report finds. Juries, the police, families and sometimes women themselves often believe that they are partially responsible for the attacks on them.

Bringing cases of sexual violence to court is extremely difficult. Witnesses or victims are often threatened or even killed. Enid Gordon was 15 years old when she was raped by two men. She and her family filed a complaint against the men, who were arrested, charged and released on bail. On October 12, 2005, one week before she was due to testify against the two men in court, Enid was found dead in the same place that she had been raped a year earlier. She had been strangled with her school tie. Results of the investigation are pending.

Amnesty International also found that the Jamaican government has consistently failed to deal with the issue effectively.

Amnesty International calls for legislative reforms -- particularly to the Offenses Against the Person Act, the Sexual Harassment Bill, and the Incest (Punishment) Act -- for improvement of investigation techniques and for the establishment of gender-based training for police and judicial officials dealing with cases of sexual violence against women and girls.

"Jamaican society as a whole is paying the price of discrimination against women and girls. They pay a high price when their mothers, sisters and friends are injured, when diseases such as HIV/AIDS are spread and when poverty increases," said Michael Kuelker, AIUSA's Country Specialist on Jamaica. "The new prime minister seems to have the determination and respect for the human rights of women needed to complete the task of ending violence against women in Jamaica. Let's see her administration take action."


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