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Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault: Towards a Safer Learning Environment for Colleges and Universities in Jamaica

Towards a Safer Learning Environment for Colleges and Universities in Jamaica

For the International Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW) 2019, The University of the West Indies and the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts along with four university-based student groups have co-organised a three-day programme of events that will centre concerns about increasing violence against women and girls on university and college campuses, and, by extension, the wider Jamaican society.

The programme, which takes place between November 25 and 30, is a collaboration between Mary Seacole Hall (MSH) and The Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Mona Campus Unit, The UWI Mona Guild of Students, The IGDS Guild Committee, and The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.  The activities are geared towards raising awareness about the need for educational institutions to adopt policies and procedures to create safe and enabling environments for students. Specifically, the activities aim to address issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

In other jurisdictions, national legislation holds tertiary institutions responsible by ensuring that they take the necessary steps to educate their populations about sexual assault and harassment. Universities are also obligated by law to disclose these incidents to their population, students and staff. In the absence of any legislative or policy prescriptions in Jamaica or the rest of the Caribbean, how do students and staff in universities and colleges protect themselves? What obligations do these institutions have to ensure that their students are safeguarded?

Previously, activities were organised independently and happened at different points during the yearly-allotted 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This time, together, they will host four activities that prioritise raising awareness, empowerment as well as sensitisation of students and personnel.

Nadeen Spence, Student Services and Development Manager for the Mary Seacole Hall at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus states that, “Universities and colleges have a responsibility to ensure that their students access to an education is not impeded. They therefore need to take special care to ensure that an enabling environment is created where their students access to an education is protected.” She goes on to say that, “Statistics from the United States of America (USA) indicate that over 60% of university women report being sexually harassed while on campus.”

Senior Lecturer, Owen Ellis, in the School of Arts Management & Humanities at the Edna Manley College states that, “Although it is largely symbolic, participation in this event is about emphatically communicating my position as a man who stands in solidarity and walks in empathy with women and girls who daily face rape, abuse, assault and other forms of gender-based violence.”

Globally, as many as seven in ten women report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, most of them at the hands of intimate partners (UNICEF). Meanwhile, locally, data from the 2016 Women’s Health Survey Jamaica show that intimate partner violence affects one in every four women in Jamaica, and one in four Jamaican women reported being sexually harassed during their lifetime.

The programme will open with a press launch on the 25th of November at 10am on The UWI Mona Campus, and will facilitate an open and frank conversation on what colleges and universities need to do to create safer environments for their students in respect of policy and programmatic interventions.This will be followed by the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®--The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence on November 28 at 11 a.m. This activity calls on men to become more than bystanders in the quest to create a world free from sexual assault and sexual harassment. Males will engage in activism by literally walking one mile in women’s shoes or high-heeled shoes to protest sexualized violence, educate their communities and raise funds in aid of the only women’s crisis center in Jamaica. More than anything else, the walk aims to demonstrate that men are equal partners in the quest to create a just and equitable world. The walk will cover The UWI, Mona Campus’ Ring Road.

The third activity will be the Mary Seacole Hall’s Clothesline Project which will be mounted on November 28th, 2019 during the walk. In its fifth year, the Clothesline Project gives women and men the opportunity to send messages of support to women and girls who have been impacted by gender based violence through the painting of messages on T-shirts. The finished shirts will then be hung for members of the wider community to honour victims and survivors of violence.

Finally, on November 30, the programme will close with the Seacole Safe Space event. The I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation implemented this activity at the Hall, which sees survivors sharing their diverse experiences of sexual abuse and sexual trauma through song, poetry, drama and other forms of art. The session will begin at 7 pm.

The initiatives precede the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 2020; a United Nations resolution that is governed by the principle of equitable sharing of power and responsibility at the national and international levels. It focuses on women’s empowerment and the removal of obstacles to their active participation in all spheres of public and private life.

For more information, interested parties may contact Mary Seacole Hall at maryseacolehall@gmail.com or call Nadeen Spence at 876-927-2540

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