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  • Tyranny of Words

    September 5, 2013

    by Jaevion Nelson

    The media across the world has a knack for framing narratives in a way that perpetuates the status quo. This is true whether the subject is the rich, the poor, gays, lesbians, Africans, Americans, or Muslims.

    I was yet again reminded of the power of the media to influence public opinion as I flipped through the Evening Standard and Metro (two dailies published in the United Kingdom) and read headlines about bombings and other acts of terrorism. From these, it was clear that the Western media treats Muslims in a particular way—the very same way the Jamaican media treats people who are poor, from marginalized communities or are homosexual.

    As a result of their portrayal in the media, Muslims, lesbians and gays are often defined by their wrongdoing. Headlines often read “Muslim Terrorist” or “Muslim Extremist” just as Jamaicans are used to reading headlines such as “Gay Miscreant” or “Gays Wreak Havoc.”

    During a recent visit to Washington DC, I spoke with a Muslim friend who is distressed by the fear and hysteria on people’s faces when they see people thought to be Muslim. The Boston Marathon bombing in April heightened this fear. Although she does not wear a hijab, my friend is still frightened by these incidents and the treatment that follows them. What is ironic is that the same media that generates anti-Muslim sentiment then goes ahead and criticizes the media in places like Jamaica for similarly biased treatment toward gays and lesbians.

    The result is a contradiction in what is permissible in the media. Christians, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their faith. Heterosexuals, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their sexuality. The rich, whatever their crimes, are rarely identified by their socioeconomic status.

    It is also a fact that people from the lowest income quintile struggle academically and that people of color are more likely to be unemployed. But that does not mean poor people and minorities lack interest in educating themselves.

    We must begin to question our privileges and freedoms if we want to make our communities more hospitable. Be reminded that prejudice is interconnected and serves only one purpose: to maintain a status quo.

    Tags: Jamaica, discrimination, LGBT Rights

  • Shaming Victims of Sexual Violence

    April 24, 2013

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Every so often, the media incites some outrage over sexual violence within the relatively apathetic Jamaican population. Regrettably, our outrage is too often confined to the comfort of conversations with friends and family and many of us shame and blame rape victims rather than cultivating a constructive conversation on how to end sexual violence.

    Women and girls who are raped are often asked: What were you doing? What were you wearing? Did you provoke him? Many of us do not even realize that men can also be raped, and very few report and provide information to security forces about sexual violence. We know of cases of rape and abuse and do nothing about it. Many Jamaicans also know that unscrupulous men and women target sex workers and that adult women target underage boys. Still, cases are not reported and inadequate laws that limit the pursuit of justice are not challenged.

    So hopeless is our situation that even people who are affected by sexual violence remain silent. There is a general hopelessness—justice is often too slow, and survivors are too often blamed and stigmatized with their lives becoming a public spectacle.

    Recently, a lesbian couple was raped by a man who apparently wanted to “make them straight.” When they reported the incident, police allegedly told the women that they had gotten just what they deserved. Wide-spread and well-known homophobia in Jamaica breeds such prejudiced comments, but heterosexual victims of sexual violence also receive similar comments.

    Read More

    Tags: Homosexuality in Latin America, Sexual Abuse

  • “Keeping it to Themselves” and the Defense of Homophobia

    April 5, 2013

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Jamaicans often purport, in defense of their homophobia, that as long as gays and lesbians keep “it” to themselves, they have no problem with homosexuality. According to this logic, if a gay person affirms and accepts his or her sexual orientation, he or she is forcing “it” on others. What exactly constitutes “forcing” is quite subjective, and barely anything can be deemed as such.

    As a consequence, the vast majority of gays and lesbians in Jamaica live their lives in secret for reasons that include fear of discrimination, violence or harassment, fear of unemployment or eviction from their homes, or even the fear of simply  “offending” someone with their homosexuality.

    The ironic thing is that these gays and lesbians (many of whom finally decide that being open about their sexuality is not necessarily important) are routinely scrutinized and policed as they go about their daily lives—by the very same people who asked them to keep “it” to themselves.

    Tags: Jamaica, LGBT Rights

  • International Women’s Day: Progress in the Caribbean

    March 8, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Today is the 101st observation of International Women’s Day, a time to shine the global spotlight on the economic, political and social achievements of women. From my perspective, although Caribbean women are still victims of sexism, machismo and other forms of discrimination—unfortunately as in every other region in the world—their successes have been remarkably profound. The right of a woman to education and political participation is hardly denied. A number of Caribbean women are parliamentarians and ministers; the current prime ministers of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are female.

    International media are beginning to notice. The Independent (UK), in a ranking of “The Best and Worst Place to Be a Woman,” announced that the Caribbean is the best place for women to be a journalist and that the region has the highest percentage of women—almost 60 percent—working in high-skilled jobs. The Bahamas is ranked the highest for economic participation and opportunity for women. This progress shows that more people are finally divorcing from their prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about the societal status of women. However, as we rejoice in this euphoria it is crucial to issue a clarion call for change in areas where basic female rights are still violated, the most glaring of which is reproductive health.

    Women and girls must have access to all options of modern contraception to make informed and responsible decisions about the size of their families. But this is not so. Women and girls in the Caribbean are still marginalized and negatively impacted by antiquated laws such as Sections 56 and 57 of Trinidad & Tobago’s Offences Against the Person Act, which fail to account for their sexual and reproductive rights. When I asked on Twitter about which reproductive rights matter most to women in the Caribbean, one follower noted the “need [for] access to affordable, safe and legal abortions for the pregnant poor teenagers as well as the 'successful' married women.”

    Tags: Caribbean, Social inclusion, Jamaica, Women's rights

  • UN Report Highlights Crime Problem in the Caribbean

    February 29, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Two regrettable constants throughout the Caribbean region are that insecurity threatens human development and that crime and violence stymie economic prosperity. Research has upheld the latter; violence discourages tourism, foreign direct investment and business expansion. Crime has negative impacts on people’s livelihoods, mental wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and political freedom.

    In 2010, the Caribbean had an intentional homicide rate of 21 percent per 100,000 people, a three-percentage-point increase from 2004. Barbados and Suriname have shown relatively low homicide rates over a 20-year timeframe, from 1990 to 2010. The World Bank reported in 2007 that crime is so costly, that if it were to be controlled in Jamaica alone, Jamaica’s gross domestic product would increase by 5.4 percent annually.

    The UN Development Program (UNDP) is doing a commendable job of highlighting these devastating effects, in part through its recent publication of “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security.” This is the UNDP’s first-ever Caribbean-specific report on human development, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Trinidad & Tobago earlier this month to launch it. The report provides an assessment on the state of crime in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago—and gives space to the national and regional policies and programs that these countries are enacting to address it. It ultimately states: “the Caribbean cannot achieve sustainable well-being and enjoy the fruits of its efforts toward progress unless its people can be secure in their daily lives.”

    Tags: Barbados, Crime, violence, Jamaica, United Nations, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, Suriname

  • AQ Video: Stories of Inclusion from Caribbean Women

    February 8, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Learn more about opportunities and challenges for women in the CARICOM region, featuring Kerlin Charles from Grenada and Michelle Summer Williams from Guyana.

    Tags: Women in Latin America, Social inclusion, Guyana, Grenada

  • Can Caribbean Regional Integration Facilitate Economic Growth?

    February 7, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Over 50 years of work have gone into facilitating and promoting regional integration in the Caribbean, but the 15-member regional bloc known as CARICOM (Caribbean Community) appears to be floundering.

    Regional integration has long been seen as a response to protect the small, vulnerable economies of the Caribbean from the effects of globalization and the emergence of trade blocs. In 1989, regional heads of government adopted the Grand Anse Declaration, which was designed to facilitate the launch of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). The CSME was established in 2006 after 13 years of deliberation, and had several intentions: to enable free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor; to increase intra-regional, cross-border trade and investment; and to improve the region’s international competitiveness.

    Yet, thinkers such as the University of West Indies’ Norman Girvan lament that very little progress has been demonstrably achieved since the CSME was launched; others cite a variety of other problems. For example, intra-regional travel is still very difficult for both business and leisure purposes; crime and violence as well as unfair trade competition continue to stymie progress; entrepreneurship continues to suffer; and exports are low despite much assistance from the U.S. through the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

    Some critics have also blamed opposition and “nationalistic loathing” to the CSME as hindrances to effective and efficient regional integration.


  • Caribbean Lags Behind U.S. in Broadening Sexual Rights

    January 24, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Any piece of legislation that addresses the issue of sex is bound to be met with controversy. This is only magnified in countries that promote policies that run against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members of their population. Stakeholders like the Church, for instance, police morality by prohibiting any form of same-sex intimacy.

    Today, terms like “sex” and “rape” are only viewed in the heterosexual prism—that is, only men and women legally engage in sexual activity. When these definitions were conceptualized, our awareness of the many ways in which people exercise their sexual freedom was perhaps very limited. But in 2012, despite cultural awareness to the contrary, much legislation does not deviate from conventional paradigms.

    Rape Definitions in the Caribbean

    Beginning in 1927 in the United States, rape was defined as the “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.” The Obama administration, however, expanded that definition to include more forms of sexual assault such as rape of men and oral or anal sex. According to Vice President Biden, "this long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years."

    Tags: Barbados, Antigua, LGBT, Jamaica, Gay Rights, Trinidad & Tobago

  • Jamaica’s New Prime Minister Brings Hope for the LGBT Agenda

    January 6, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    This was a historic week in Jamaica. On Thursday, Portia Simpson-Miller was sworn in as prime minister following the victory of her People’s National Party (PNP) in the December 2011 parliamentary election. If the campaign is any indication of the policies that are to come, the new prime minister may be a much-needed advocate for bringing greater equality to Jamaica’s advancing LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community.

    During the campaign, PNP pushed back against homophobic sentiments and accusations doubting Simpson-Miller’s intellect. Many of these charges were levied by the outgoing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and its young-professional arm, Generation 2000 (G2K), which in the end lost the election by a two-to-one margin.

    Some LGBT advocates feared that PNP’s pro-gay stance and openness to revisit the “anti-buggery law”—which criminalizes acts of homosexuality or bisexuality—would reduce its prospects for victory. In Jamaica, pro-gay support, although never uttered in a political campaign, has been seen as tantamount to political suicide, especially given Jamaica’s traditional exclusion of homosexuals. However, the PNP's victory could quite possibly silence this marginalization. In Jamaica’s criminal code, for example, Article 76—the Offences against the Person Act—equates homosexual sex with bestiality: “Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years.”

    Tags: Jamaica, Gay Rights, Portia Simpson-Miller

  • AQ Video: Gay Rights Activism in the Caribbean

    December 22, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Gay rights activist Colin Robinson, from the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) in Trinidad & Tobago, talks about advocating for greater lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the Caribbean.

    Tags: Trinidad and Tobago, Social inclusion, LGBT, Gay Rights

  • Education and Opportunities for the Caribbean’s Disabled Youth

    December 21, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    People living with disabilities represent one of the most marginalized groups in the world. Unknown to many, the Caribbean is home to a relatively large population with the disabled accounting for approximately 10 percent of the region’s population, according to the World Bank’s Disability in Latin America & the Caribbean fact sheet. Globally, the United Nations estimates that between 180 and 220 million disabled youth live across the world—with 80 percent of this population in developing countries. 

    The disabled live in extreme poverty and hunger and are often at serious risk of discrimination and violence.

    Policymakers are taking action. In 1997, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) modified The Charter of Civil Society—the governing document adopted of the 15 member nations and dependencies—to address the issue of disability. This was done through Article XIV on the Rights of Disabled Persons. This article says:

    “Every disabled person has, in particular, the right: (a) not to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her disability; (b) to equal opportunities in all fields of endeavor and to be allowed to develop his or her full potential; and (c) to respect his or her human dignity so as to enjoy a life as normal and full as possible.”

    Tags: Barbados, Education, Social inclusion, Jamaica

  • In Jamaica, Educational Expectations for a Young Prime Minister

    December 8, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    In October, Andrew Holness became the ninth prime minister of Jamaica, but also the youngest in its history and the first prime minister born post-1962 independence. Holness, a three-term member of parliament, was formerly the minister of education and the leader of government business in Jamaica’s House of Representatives.

    Speculation about a change in leadership first emerged in late September when reports surfaced that Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Holness’ predecessor, had tendered his resignation. Many Jamaicans have offered their individual speculations for the move; while Golding hasn’t addressed any of these directly, he did say in an address to the nation that the challenges of the last four years had taken a toll on him.

    The task of prime minister is a daunting one, especially in a nation like Jamaica—a developing country in a global recession. The premier must combat the unacceptable level of crime and violence, the increase in poverty, a high debt-to-GDP ratio, food insecurity, human rights issues—including extrajudicial matters and summary killings—and the state of the education system.

    All of these issues are important, but education is a key concern. How will Prime Minister Holness strengthen the education system? Indeed, it is a cornerstone of Jamaica’s national development plan, known as Vision 2030.

    Tags: Education, Social inclusion, Jamaica, Andrew Holness

  • Children’s Rights in Jamaica, Part III

    November 15, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    This post is the final entry in a three-part series on children’s rights in Jamaica. It builds on the first and second entries on the topic.

    There are several inefficiencies in Jamaica’s child care system, and our government is not doing enough to eradicate the problem.

    The event in contemporary Jamaican history that brought the glaring inequality of the state child care system into attention was the May 2009 fire at the Armadale juvenile facility in St. Ann. Armadale was home to 62 girls—or “wards,” some of whom committed crimes as juveniles—who lived in substandard conditions in violation of the national building code. When a section of the facility was engulfed in flames in 2009, seven girls died due to insufficient safety measures.

    An investigative commission found that the girls had been on lockdown since the week before the fire because one had tried to escape. Some of the girls alleged that the fire resulted from a police officer throwing tear gas into the room.

    The nongovernmental organization Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) issued several demands to fix the system’s problems in a 2010 letter to then-Prime Minister Bruce Golding (2007–2011). These included:

    •    Direct the Department of Correctional Services to immediately cease the practice of lockdown in juvenile correctional facilities;
    •    Instruct the Child Development Agency (CDA), Jamaica’s children’s homes agency, to immediately remove all children in lockups and redirect them to appropriate places of safety;
    •    Provide a timeline for the construction of new juvenile facilities; and
    •    Instruct the minister of health to outline the steps that will ensure the longevity of the CDA so that it operates well and also does its job adequately.

    Tags: Social inclusion, Jamaica, Children

  • AQ Video: Market Access in the Caribbean Community

    October 24, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Listen to a series of interviews with stakeholders in three countries of the CARICOM economic zone: Guyana, Jamaica and St. Kitts & Nevis.

    Tags: Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana, Market Access, CARICOM, St. Kitts & Nevis

  • Children’s Rights in Jamaica, Part II

    October 4, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    This post builds on my first entry, which looks at the pressing issue of children’s rights in Jamaica through the case of the 2009 Armadale fire in St Ann, Jamaica.

    Far-reaching political declarations come by all too often. But witnessing the societal application of a specific public policy is an entirely different thing. A case in point is the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004, which came about as a result of Jamaican ratification of the 1991 Convention of the Rights of the Child.

    Certain obligations of CCPA included: establishing new organizations like the Office of the Children’s Registry to monitor the care and protection of children; providing special help to children to children who need it; and protecting all children from abuse and neglect.

    With little background knowledge of CCPA and other regulations on children’s state homes in Jamaica, I was grateful to receive a grant to work with empowering youth at a state-run home in the town of St. Elizabeth. The grant was awarded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and was given to the Caribbean Youth Summit Association (CYSA)—an organization where I served as chairman at the time. With 27 boys at this St. Elizabeth facility, the goal was to increase awareness of the unique circumstances that each boy faced within the state child protection system.

    Tags: Social inclusion, Jamaica

  • Children’s Rights in Jamaica

    September 7, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    On May 22, 2009 in St. Ann, Jamaica, seven girls died in a fire at the Armadale facility, which was a state-run juvenile center that housed girls exposed to crime and violence. Those that made it out of Armadale alive suffered severe injuries as a result of the blaze.

    While the fire has long been put out in St. Ann, the apathy surrounding the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Jamaica is not yet extinguished. In fact, it has been burning for decades. The underlying problems continue: weak governing policies, lack of accountability for responsible adults, inherent flaws in the child protection system, and lack of training and capacity building for those in charge of children in juvenile facilities.

    The Armadale tragedy is testament to the pervasiveness of these problems, which impede important steps in appreciating and fulfilling human rights as we seek to build a more advanced country in Jamaica. The roadmap for Vision 2030, the National Development Plan, seems clear and exhaustive. But the rights of our children are not adequately taken into account; if they are not addressed, Vision 2030 will be a useless blueprint and will fail to take Jamaica forward. 

    Jamaica ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991 and has legislated the obligations of this international treaty into the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004. But arguably, there have been few changes on this front since the CCPA. Teachers still practice capital punishment, parents continue to neglect their child rearing responsibilities, older men and women continue to use power and influence to engage in human trafficking, and even religious leaders sexually exploit our children while pretending to offer guidance and emotional support. Additionally, those who must take action and make a difference ignore the immediate and long-term implications until these situations escalate and draw the attention of the media.

    Tags: Jamaica, Youth

  • Caribbean Women in Political Decision Making

    August 4, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    On a global scale, very few women hold leadership roles in decision-making processes. This unfortunate reality holds true especially at the regional and national levels. Didier Ruedin, a scholar on population studies, notes that “in free and partly free countries, the proportion of women in parliament is closely associated with other measures of women’s status in society.” As the argument goes, if more women are integrated into society—and are viewed as respectable and capable leaders, equal to the social standing of men—then their participation in the political system is more likely.

    Gender Equality

    And since 1945, when the United Nations Charter was adopted, equal opportunity for men and women has become a fundamental principle of human rights. In the gender equality movement, there have been significant changes over the years—particularly in the areas of entitlements and women’s roles in certain activities including decision making. In fact, the 1975 genesis of International Year for Women spawned international agreements benefiting women. Some such declarations include the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, and the Millennium Development Goals, and they have been enacted to highlight the need for countries to act against discriminatory practices. 

    Yet many inequalities remain. Statistics show that:

    •    Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are female.
    •    Nearly 70 percent of the world's poorest people are female.
    •    Women represent a growing proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS.
    •    In only 16 countries in the world does female representation in national legislatures amount to larger than 25 percent.

    Tags: Caribbean, Jamaica, Gender Equality

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