Why was there no women’s march in Jamaica?

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An Op-Ed piece by Donovan Watkis for Jamaica’s Observer.

On Saturday, January 21, 2017 it was reported that over three million women took to the streets worldwide in a massive outcry. In the #womansmarch movement co-chaired by acclaimed activist and singer born to Jamaican parents, Harry Belafonte, women from all over the world took to the streets peacefully, with placards, to express their intolerance for institutional hegemony. I noted with keen observation the absence of any such march in Jamaica or the Caribbean, although in recent times there has been heightened disrespect and murder committed against our women.

The most disrespected in Jamaica are the women. The most marginalised in Jamaica are the women. There is an unbearable amount of shame brought upon women in Jamaica and Caribbean societies, especially to the black women. How then were the women of Jamaica demonstrably invisible as the marches took place around the world?

I hope the absence of Jamaican women joining in solidarity in the streets, towns and cities is not an indication of comfort, or even worst they have been shamed into silence by the current treatment by men and the patriarchal institutions.

We continue to see where they are given the roles in society that require them to do the most work with the least reward. In the high school mottos, many of us were told that if we worked hard we would be able to overcome all difficulties and live the good and prosperous life. If that were true, my mother and grandmother would both be billionaires.

I grew up around women who were miracle makers. My mother, a career postal worker, by herself raised my sister and me. So it was always evident to me that women are very effective at organising, protecting, making well of their circumstances, and making society a much better place to live.

The female principle of the universe is indeed the God principle, because it exudes the loving, kind, creative, and nurturing qualities that provide harmony. It is through harmony that society flourishes and we become more prosperous. Without the women, we would all be dead.

Yet, women are pressured and shamefully programmed into inferiority as accepted behaviour and are held to a different standard than their male counterparts from an early age. Girls continue to be suspended or expelled from school for engaging in sexual activity if they become pregnant; while the boy with whom she engaged is allowed to continue his studies, although he was an equal participant in the reproductive process.

Last year, there was a situation involving a boy and a girl. The girl was shamed and dragged in a video on social media and the story was carried in the daily papers highlighting the deeds of the girl child. The school’s principal said he wouldn’t expel the child from the school, but he suggested that the girl needed counselling for her actions. There was, however, no mention of the boy needing the same counselling for his actions. There was no mention of or public video showing the boy involved. Still the girl was held up to scrutiny and disparaging comments on social media and in the daily papers followed. The lesson given to society there was that boys are entitled to second chances but girls must pay the consequence of bringing shame to her community.

I saw on the news, recently, where a woman in modern-day Jamaica was denied access to a hospital to have her baby. That should be seen as a collective social failure. If women are not able to get the urgent and proper medical care during maternity, we cannot expect to grow as a country. Women have an invisible ceiling that has prevented the convoy of society from progressing as it should. This is not an isolated situation so it is fair to assert that gender discrimination and female shaming exists in every field of service in Jamaica. This must stop.

CALL TO ACTION

Women should come together and renounce the locker-room culture in which boys are initiated into liking the way women make them feel, without the need to love and care for the complete woman. The demeaning, quasi-colonial, patriarchal teachings absorbed through the music, schooling and the Church fuels the machismo-entitlement behaviour that stagnates society.

To send a clear message it is not enough to discuss the issue on social media or attend a women’s empowerment conference. The women of Jamaica must find their greatest powers among themselves to organise civil disobedience against the uneasiness of toxic masculinity because power concedes nothing, it must be taken.

I do hope I will raise my daughter in a society where institutions, including the media, the Church, schools, medical institutions, the Government and legislative bodies ensure that the women are well protected, cared for, and given fair access to the same opportunities as men.

It is a disservice to all of society when women are not defended, protected and meritoriously rewarded when they play such an important role in the development of Jamaica and the Caribbean.

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