In Dania’s native Jamaica, domestic violence is a ‘hidden epidemic’ that has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. One in every four women in Jamaica has been physically abused by a male partner, and 25% of Jamaican women have been sexually abused by men who are not their intimate partners. As the National Campaign Manager at the Regional Coordinating Office of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies in Jamaica, Dania is determined to create a safer society for women and girls. After a twenty-year career as one of only a handful of female sports journalists in Jamaica, Dania went on to a research masters programme to help realise her dream of working in advocacy in an international organisation.
Through the Spotlight Initiative Jamaica to strengthen national legislation to prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG), Dania has seen firsthand the power of combining statistical knowledge with a human interest angle. She credits the free online course on Communicating Gender Statistics for Gender Equality, developed by the Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21) and UN Women, with helping to broaden her skill set and sharpening her insights into audience perceptions. These, in turn, provided new impetus to this important campaign to improve the lives of women and girls in Jamaica.
“Taking the course helped me to develop a new perspective. As a journalist by training, I wanted to understand better how to report on statistics as opposed to how to use them as a researcher. It has helped me to take into account other perspectives, be less judgemental, and go deeper in the research.”
The Spotlight Initiative is an international campaign, supported by the European Union and United Nations, to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls. In Jamaica, the initiative has specifically set its sights on breaking down the normalization of violence and toxic masculinity in society. Dania recognises that addressing cultural and societal norms can have a huge impact on reducing domestic violence.
To reach isolated communities or women who may not be aware of their rights, Dania edited and produced a radio drama infomercial that explains Jamaica’s laws and the recourses that are open to women suffering violence. Applying the new perspective she developed through the course, she says she was able to “to understand some of the other factors that can play a role in my writing. For example, how the gender of the author or the gender of the reader can influence people’s perceptions of what they read.” She hopes that this will empower women to escape violent situations.
In January 2021, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies joined forces with the United Nations Development Programme to table the ‘Legislative Reform to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls’. Acknowledging the collaborative function civil society plays, Dania worked as part of a team to unite over 100 organisations to gather recommendations for the planned amendments to the Domestic Violence Act, such as a much broader definition of domestic violence beyond physical violence and including psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse.
The Institute for Gender and Development Studies, an inter-disciplinary institute at the University of the West Indies, recently also took part in the “Thursday in Black” march, alongside churches and civil society organisations in Jamaica, to bring awareness of the problem of gender-based violence and to remember women who have been killed by their partners. Dania hopes that putting the issue at the forefront of public attention will increase the chance of legislation passing later this year.
This is a critical time for those campaigning to improve the lives of women and girls. Like Jamaica, many countries around the world have experienced a rise in VAWG throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As Dania’s experience has shown, one of the first steps to creating effective, inclusive policies to address the issue is to ensure that accurate, timely and representative data are collected to describe the extent of the issue. By communicating those data persuasively to the public, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies is helping to shift public opinion on this critical topic. This is a battle that must be won on both fronts – policy and culture – if Jamaica and other countries are to improve the lives of women and girls, while advancing national and international development objectives including Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender equality).
Explore the partner stories series to learn more about the PARIS21 network and its impact:
- Inclusive livelihoods for all: why subnational gender statistics in the Philippines matter (PARIS21, Philippine Statistics Authority, Philippine Statistical Research and Training Institute)
- Planning ahead with statistics to leave no one behind in Trinidad and Tobago (PARIS21, UN Women)
Joining forces to fight domestic violence through stories and gender statistics (PARIS21, UN Women)