KINGSTON, Jamaica – Leanna Brown*, a 49-year-old mother of three, has been volunteering with Woman Inc. since she was 17. The Spotlight Initiative-supported, non-government organization (NGO) brings together volunteers from all walks of life who are dedicated to assisting survivors of gender-based violence (GBV).

Ms. Brown first heard about the organization through a friend who was experiencing violence at home.

“I realized that we have to do something about this [gender-based violence], because it has so many far-reaching consequences,” says Ms. Brown. “I feel for people when they have [violent] situations.”

Woman Inc. manages a crisis centre with a 24-hour hotline that provides remote counselling and information. They also connect survivors with police; justice, health, and sexual and reproductive services; material and financial aid; and safe accommodation in high-risk situations.

According to the Women’s Health Survey (2016), more than one in four women in Jamaica aged 15 to 64 has experienced intimate physical and/or sexual violence in her lifetime. Of those, less than 40 per cent seek help. Lack of trust in the system, a lack of knowledge about their rights, fear and the normalization of violence can all discourage women and girls from contacting support services. This makes the work of organizations like Woman Inc. even more critical. In fact, Woman Inc. assisted over 400 women between October 2020 and March 2021.

“I realized that we have to do something about gender-based violence. It has so many far-reaching consequences." - Leanna Brown*, Woman Inc. volunteer

A universal issue

When Ms. Brown began working with Woman Inc., she never imagined that she might be in the same situation as the women she assisted on the hotline - but that’s exactly what happened. When her husband hit her during an argument, it was her work with Woman Inc. that gave her the courage to leave.

“[I thought,] If I let it slide, it might happen again and we are not going to let that happen,” she says. “I went to my husband and said we can’t do this, you need to go. I think if I were not more aware, I might have allowed it to slide and it would have happened again.”

The road to recovery

Serving women and girls throughout the pandemic means ensuring that survivors of violence can access to the services that they need, but also that they can become and stay financially independent from their abusers.

Marie Allen*, a 40-year-old mother of two and a survivor of domestic violence, is one of more than 100 women who recently received a Spotlight Initiative bag from Woman Inc. containing hand sanitizer, masks, soaps, sanitary pads and other essentials to get her through the pandemic. Woman Inc. has also ensured that Ms. Allen’s daughter has the tools she needs to continue remote learning at school.

"It wasn’t easy for me [to leave] but I have some good people around to help me." - Marie Allen, Woman Inc. client

After meeting her ex-husband at the age of 14, Ms. Allen became pregnant with his child at 16 and they decided to marry when she turned 18. That was when “all the abuse came down on me,” she says.

It was difficult to leave him because her husband was the main financial provider. But she says that counselling, family and friends, her faith and assistance from organizations like Woman Inc. have helped her rise to the challenges. Today, she sees a bright future for herself and her children

It wasn’t easy for me but I have some good people around to help me, like Woman Inc., the Bureau of Gender Affairs (BGA) and the Ministry of Labour. The counselling is the thing that helped me most of all,” she says.

The Spotlight Initiative has been working with Woman Inc., the Bureau of Gender Affairs, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other organizations to expand support and services to survivors of gender-based violence through a partnership that began in July 2020.

*Name changed to protect anonymity