The Year 2020 will mark 25 years since the United Nations’ 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. The Platform for Action detailing Twelve (12) Critical Areas of Concern was adopted. The PFA is still hailed by many as the most comprehensive commitments made by States towards the advancement and achievement of women’s rights.
It was a more hopeful time for Caribbean women given the mainly positive role and leadership demonstrated by Caribbean governments. However, somewhere along the journey between the commitments in Beijing and CARICOM Country ‘Capitals’, the women’s rights agenda in the region has stalled, stumbled and stopped. Our governments seemed to have left the little Blue Book somewhere en route. A cursory look at some key areas of concern, indicate that women’s lives may even have worsened since then!
If you ‘flip’ through successive UN reports on the “Progress of the World’s Women”, or the “Human Development Report, there are some fundamental themes that one could call the “Non-negotiables” for women’s quality. These include: women’s economic autonomy; women’s participation in power and decision-making; the elimination of violence against women; and women’s sexual and reproductive health.
What does a snapshot of the situation in Jamaica look like?
What ails us?
If you speak with any Jamaican on the Rock or in the Diaspora there are 2 issues most persons believe must be addressed: Violence & Corruption. More recently, we’ve been reminded of the lack of our women’s sexual and reproductive rights and our stubbornly low numbers of women in Parliament!
Violence against women is ubiquitous! It affects and infects every sphere of the lives of women and girls in Jamaica! Yet where is the public emergency or urgency to implement the National Strategy that has broad multi-sector agreement? In 2 weeks two young girls were abducted, raped and killed. Since year, there have been at least 4 publicly known murder suicides, essentially femicides.
The Bertelsman Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) 2012 Jamaica Country Report on the treatment of women in Jamaica’s court system made the following observation:
“…as a result of the highly sexualized environment and culture in Jamaica in which a woman’s body is seen primarily as a sex object- Incidencies of sexual harassment and abuse, rape and incest are frequently treated lightly and not as serious offences.” 
In 2019, many women and girls do not feel safe in their homes, schools, workplaces, places of worship or on the streets.
Connecting the Dots: Women and Corruption
Further, after 20 years of research by the World Bank, The UN, Transparency International and others, there are agreements on many “undisputed truths”. There is a connection between corruption and gender inequality. Women and their dependent children are more adversely affected by government corruption. They already comprise 70% of the poor [UNDP]. Therefore, they are majority users of public services e.g. education, health, housing, water works, etc. Funds stolen, wasted or misused by government, mean less spent on development. Loss of resources have been connected directly to the deaths of women and children globally.
The World Bank research showed “Women are socially excluded from the all-male spaces [networks, forums, socials] that corruption functions through.” This is how corruption flourishes. Governments with more female representatives, tend to have: more liberal democratic institutions; more effective checks on corruption; as well as ‘fairer systems’ that promote gender equality. This has been tested multiple times!
Interestingly, the other key finding is that the MORE women in elected Parliaments the LESS the levels of corruption and the more likely that women’s voices, life experiences and solutions will inform the legislative agenda. For example, women positive laws and actions on issues such as VAW and Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights [SRHR] are more likely to be in place.
In 1994 in Cairo, Egypt, the GOJ committed to ensuring women’s sexual and reproductive health, including a progressive sexual and reproductive health education programme. UN commissioned studies [UNFPA-UNDP, 2014] have shown this to be the cornerstone of reducing unintended pregnancies especially among adolescents. Others show that access to free birth control causes dramatic cuts to both teenage pregnancy and abortion rates compared to the national. A US study of 9,000 women aged 15-45 showed a difference of: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women, compared with the national average of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women. The 15 to 19 years group had a birth rate of 6.3 per 1,000 girls, far below the U.S. national rate of 34.3 per 1,000 for girls of 15-19.
The Guttmacher Research Institute on Sexual & Reproductive Health has reported that despite efforts of church hierarchy, 91%-99% of sexually active women of Catholic, Evangelical and Traditional Protestant background use artificial birth control. Some have had abortions.
Sadly, the Caribbean has the highest abortion rate of 116/1000. The larger LAC region is at 96/1000, the highest of all the major regions. The region has the most restrictive abortion laws!!
“A Woman’s Place Is in the House!”
Finally, a few weeks ago, Jamaica elected its 12th Female Member of Parliament. 12 of 63 or 19% of MPs are women. Jamaica ranked 119th of 193 as of January 2019 (IPU, 2019) in terms of females in Parliament. With 19% we may go up a notch. Rwanda ranks #1 with a 61% female Parliament. Cuba is #2 with 53% and Grenada the highest ranking CARICOM State 6th with 47%.
In September 2016, for the first time, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), with the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) released information on the voter turnout at the 2016 General Elections, in relation to gender and age. This data confirms that:
- The percentage of women (51%) and men (49%) on the November 30, 2015 voters’ list equals the gender composition of Jamaica’s population.
- Women’s participation [as voters] in this last election was (52.6%) while that of men was 47.4%, while over 70% of party workers and/or election day workers are women
The lack of female candidates is due to how our Political Parties are structured, not to women’s participation. This is so despite Jamaica’s commitment in support of Temporary Special Measures (TSM) to accelerate ‘de facto’ equality of women under Article 4(1) of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW). The TSM calls for at least 30% representation by women.
HEROES, HYPERBOLE & HYPOCRISY
Our country, owes a debt to MP Juliet Cuthbert Flynn for the resuscitation of the Abortion reform process! She has also spoken truth to power about her own experience. Shameful religious hyperbole which serves to further stigmatize and devalue girls and women are neither God -based nor rights- based.
Lest we forget: Some Christians are born women!
We are born with the same inherent right to bodily integrity that boys and men enjoy. The right to have full control over our bodies. We need to liberate our mind, body and soul from the current slavery-positive inspired law!!
Whether there is a restrictive law or not, there are going to be abortions. Unintended pregnancies occur due to choice, failing contraceptives and significantly due to forced sex- rape and incest. The issue is supporting women’s and girls’ choices with safe, legal services, and fact based Sexual & Reproductive Health education.
As a ‘free’ nation we are being complicit in continuing the history of oppression of women and girls the offensive sections 72 & 73 of current law.
Integrity, Equality, Development & Peace
This year, our country will achieve 57 years of self-government – “Big Ooman and Big Man” age! Yet, we lack credibility when we sign every international human rights agreement and deny people’s access to its benefits.
We become complicit in women’s and girls’ violations when we cannot pass a Sexual Harassment Bill that languishes on a desk, as does the implementation of the Strategy against VAW!
Our low ambition politic characterized by tribalism, patronage, nepotism, patriarchal norms, sexism and which excludes the participation of the majority of us in not sustainable. It excludes from meaningful participation in key decision-making processes: Women, LGBTQ Jamaicans, people living with disabilities, rural dwellers, the elderly, people of different health status and the homeless.
Billions of dollars are being lost due to corruption – this translates into real consequences for those of us excluded from the decision-making process!
The major Political Parties at this point, have moved backward and in so doing are failing women, especially women living in poverty and their dependent children. Who advocates in Government for them? How can our middle class pitched budget serve them? Whither hope?
Right now: ‘Every whey wi tun macca jook wi!”
- Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI), Jamaica Country Report 2012.
- International(2014) “Gender Equality and Corruption, What are the Linkages” Working Brief, 01/2014
- World Bank (1999) “Are Women Really the Fairer Sex?” Corruption and Women in Government” World Bank Working Paper Series 4.
- Washington University School of Medicine -St. Louis (2016), “Contraceptive Choice Project- CHOICE”
- Inter-Parliamentary Union(2019) global organization of Parliaments