The brutal death of 20-year-old Khanice Jackson, an accounts clerk from Portmore, St Catherine, has revulsed the nation with outpourings of sympathy and condolences for her family.
Once again, Jamaica holds a mirror up to itself and sees ugliness and hate staring back.
Can Jamaica truly become a developed nation where its citizens prosper when the society and the prevailing culture constantly gives a pass to rampant criminality and heinous brutality metered out to women?
Time and time again women are being abused in Jamaica and there is no censure for it because society feels it warrants nothing more than stirring opprobrium. How can any country prosper if it has no regard for its women?
WOMEN REMAIN BACKBONE OF JAMAICA
But let’s face it, women have and continue to be the backbone of Jamaica. More often than not they are the head of household. Over 70 per cent of graduates from university are women. Look around and one sees more women holding professional jobs and performing well in the workplace. Next time you go to church look around you and take note of the number of women there. At parent-teacher meetings, its women who are invariably in attendance.
Despite all this, they suffer domestic abuse, sexual harassment, pay inequality, lack of respect and are victims of the dastardliest violence. How long will this continue?
Right now, #StopViolenceAgainstWomen, #JusticeForKhanice and #ProtectOurWomen are trending. That will not be the case this time next week. By then, we would have forgotten about poor Khanice and moved on to the next social media hot topic.
It will be a case of a lot of words without actions.
Khanice by all accounts was a promising young woman with a bright future ahead of her. She was struck down before her life really got going and her potential fulfilled. One can only imagine the anguish her parents and family are going through. They have lost Khanice because Jamaica has no regard for its women with crime and violence being endemic.
Her life wasn’t taken by some fiendish miscreant; it was taken by the character and nature of her countrymen.
As a father to very young daughters it did cross my mind that I could some day face this prospect. By then I will practically be an old man and what will I be able to do? As it now stands, I will be unable to rely on the state and justice system for redress and will be inclined then to take matters into my own hands as I hear their mother grieving and I feel the vexation boiling within me.
I considered all the young women I knew when I was 20 and at university, taking public transport to campus, to jobs, to nights out and how back then, in one of the world’s largest metropolises, there was no fear, no need to second guess, no undue concern for their welfare.
I now face a future in Jamaica where, as an older man, I must worry anytime my daughters step outside the home unattended. Already defensive and protective by nature and getting mistrustful as the years go by, will I become the kind of man who makes his daughters lives unbearable. Will I – no, should I have to have them under constant surveillance in order to ensure they are not killed by bad-minded people?
JAMAICA NOT SAFE FOR WOMEN
It brings to time an incident where I had attended a pool party at a friend’s house and two of his daughters wanted to go out to carnival at Mas Camp. They pleaded with their father while he tended to the jerk chicken on the grill. His face was implacable, he turned around, went to the sound system and put on some Machel Montano then barked, “You can have carnival here. You have music, drink, food, your friends – and you will be safe.”
Needless to say, it didn’t go down too well with the girls. At the time I allowed myself a chuckle but, after what happened with young Khanice, I clearly see my friend’s point and support his position.
Jamaica is just not safe for women.
Beenie Man touched on the grief experienced at discovering Khanice’s decomposing body after she left home on Wednesday to go to work.
He wrote: “I am sending condolence to Khanice’s family. Me can’t imagine how I would feel if this was my daughter, but to how me feel hurt right now, imagine the pain this family going through.”
As a father to daughters, I too share those sentiments.
It was at the end of January this year that we were aghast at the murder of NCB banker Andrea Lowe-Garwood as she worshipped at her church. She was shot in the back and pronounced dead. Jamaica, it was said, had sunken to a new low.
The government and those who jumped on social media condemned it and then we all moved along until… .
A collective effort has to be made to change the behaviour that savages’ women. These incidents cannot be allowed to repeatedly happen again and again without measures put in place to prevent them or at the very least stem them.
Jamaica cannot be labelled a country that perpetrates violence against its women, where criminality and murder is part of the national psyche. Jamaica cannot be likened to Rwanda during its civil war and so be made an international pariah.
Kaci Fennell couldn’t have put it better when she said: “Being a woman is so scary sometimes. We are always targeted and in the same breath always labelled that we are overreacting, we’re overthinking. This is so sad.”
This shouldn’t be the plight of Jamaican women today, having to live in constant fear for their safety, always facing the prospect of being victims of abuse.
Notable women with platforms must play their part in calling out these misdeeds and demanding and getting justice. It is not enough to simply pose on social media and promote themselves.
The likes of Yendi Phillips, Lisa Hanna, Kamina Johnson-Smith, Miss Kitty, Shenseea, all have potent platforms and should now endeavour to drive home this message.
Measures can immediately be taken like female cab drivers who only have women as fares. Police personnel who are solely focused on women’s affairs. Ensuring aberrant fathers pay their fair share in support of children. More women on boards, starting with the public sector. The establishment of more vigilant community watches throughout the country. Teach men not to revert to violence against their women when they face challenges in their lives.
Both the government and society must face up to the reality that there is a problem and must look to take it on immediately. A failure to do so would be to the detriment to the country, rendering it a place unfit to live in that violates its women constantly. A country were woman are not simply made to feel vulnerable and prone to attacks but are indeed ready-made victims of the viciousness and cruelty of the national consciousness.
The minister of national security, Horace Chang, commenting on the death of Khanice Jackson, said: “ Recovering the soul of our nation requires that a strong message is sent to those who prey on our citizens, including women and children, that they will be met with the full force of the law and will be brought to justice.
“The Government will not be deterred by naysayers who attempt to impose stumbling blocks in the way of proven credible and strong measures intended to reduce murders in the island.”
Sensible and sobering utterances, but what actions are being taken to back them up? What happens after we bow our heads in shame and families comfort each other after a loved one is taken away from them? What now?
Is it just words without actions, the perpetration of violence against Jamaican women allowed to continue into another day, another week, another month, another year, another decade, another half century?
Earlier this year, the Institute for Gender & Development Studies at the University of the West Indies unveiled a study that revealed that one in four Jamaican women are victims of gender-based violence at the hands of men with the same number being sexually abused by men other than their intimate partner.
Now let that sink in.
Let it not be said of Jamaicans that “they are animals, so let them lose their souls”.
Let us protect, cherish and expose and punish those who abuse women, starting today.