Being a woman & gay in Jamaica

The double bind — being a woman and gay

Homosexual women are at increased risk of discrimination. Gay men in Jamaica are treated as criminals by the legal system thus promoting a climate of prejudice, discrimination, physical attacks and other abuses against people who are or are believed to be gay.

The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences has observed:
“Gender-based violence is also related to the social construct of what it means to be either male or female. When a person deviates from what is considered ‘normal’ behaviour they are targeted for violence. This is particularly acute when combined with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Several international human rights bodies have condemned persecution and violence that is inflicted on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health recently stated: “Sexual rights include the right of all persons to express their sexual orientation, with due regard for the well-being and rights of others, without fear of persecution, denial of liberty or social interference.”

Gay women in Jamaica have told Amnesty International that they do not disclose their sexuality to people they do not know, and are not openly affectionate in public. Many lesbian women report being beaten, and they also endure threatened and actual sexual violence, “to be taught a lesson”.

Amnesty International has also received reports of women fleeing the Caribbean due to attacks against them which they believed to be based on their sexuality.

“As a gay woman, my fear is not so much about anybody murdering me, but it is about somebody raping me … so I am really, really careful … people don’t ever ask me.”

Again, popular culture and some Jamaican music perpetuates this mindset:
“When yuh hear a Sodomite get raped/But a fi wi fault/It’s wrong/Two women gonna hock up inna bed/That’s two Sodomites dat fi dead.” (When you hear of a lesbian getting raped/It’s not our fault/It’s wrong/Two women in bed/That’s two Sodomites who should be dead.)

Some of the comments and concerns from women interviewed by AMNESTY USA and my coverage of the spectre of lesbian women being raped in this country has earned me some crticism so here are some of the facts then for us to look at.

“The lawyer made me feel like a slut in court. He tried to convince the court that I was guilty for them doing such a terrible thing to me,” recalls one Jamaican woman who was abducted from her workplace and gang-raped at gunpoint.
Violence against women in Jamaica persists because the state is failing to tackle discrimination against women, allowing social and cultural attitudes which encourage discrimination and violence. This violates the government’s most basic treaty obligations under the UN Convention for the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW), among others. Shortcomings in national legislation do not deal adequately with marital rape, incest or sexual harassment, thereby encouraging impunity and leaving women without the protection of the law. Discrimination is entrenched and often exacerbated in the police and criminal justice system. Women and adolescent girls are rarely believed by the police, so have little confidence in reporting crimes against them.

Evidence is often not sought effectively or professionally, and witnesses are rarely protected. In court, women’s testimony is explicitly given less weight than men’s, thereby depriving women of the right to equality before the law.In Jamaica, entrenched discrimination against women means many individuals fail to appreciate that forced sex carried out by an acquaintance or family member is a serious crime.The rate of sexual violence against women in Jamaica is very high and is accompanied by spiralling levels of community violence and homicide throughout the island. In 2005, the number of homicides in Jamaica, already high, increased to 1,669. At 0.55 – 0.62 per thousand people, this is one of the highest rates in the world.Sexual assault is the second-most-common cause of injury for women, after fights. Five per cent of all violent injuries seen in hospitals are caused by sexual assaults

Sexual violence against women and girls in Jamaica: “just a little sex”



Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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