Abuse concerns mount - Deaf women at high risk of experiencing GBV


Monday, December 17, 2018

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WHILE the recently published Jamaican Women's Health Survey gives statistical data to analyse the level and impact of violence against women in Jamaica, it does not take into account the extent to which disabled women, including the deaf, are more susceptible to violence and abuse.

Chantell Robinson, project manager of the Signing Safe Futures Jamaica Project, noted that deaf women are at a higher risk of experiencing gender-based violence because of two main factors — one, because they are women, and two, because they are deaf.

“Deaf women are not privy to hearing the typical sounds of an impending attack such as whispers, footsteps, and the sound of vehicles or rustlings in the trees. Any sound that could assist with creating an alert, they are not privy to. This fact significantly increases their vulnerability,” she said.

“Also there are deaf women with other disabilities such as being deaf and blind, deaf women with autism, and deaf women with physical disabilities. When the vulnerabilities of deaf women are further reduced, it's easy to evaluate the extent to which deaf women are further susceptible to gender-based violence,” she added.

Robinson said that much more needs to be done to help to protect deaf women from violence and abuse, such as having an emergency text line for them to make reports, sensitising public service agencies in deaf culture and language, and increasing the number of interpreters to assist in making reports and providing counselling.

“Some deaf women have reported being turned away from particular agencies because of their inability to accommodate and cater to them,” she lamented. “The labels of discrimination we place on the deaf — referring to them as 'dumb' or 'dummy' or insinuating that deafness is a result of some “evil spirit” threatens the help they receive and also affects their interaction with the hearing community.”

Robinson said, too, that the exclusion of the deaf from some national reports affects them negatively.

“While this is in part due to the sensitive nature of the topic, it also speaks to the level of inclusivity of the deaf in generating national reports. Consequently the lack of data affects the level of service and assistance given to the community.”

Despite the challenges, however, members of the deaf community have still joined in the fight against gender-based violence. The Jamaica Association for the Deaf has partnered with DeafKidz International, with funding from the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation, to implement Signing Safe Futures Jamaica. This project, which is now in its second of three years, aims to reduce the threat of gender-based violence within the deaf community.

“The project has designed a comprehensive safeguarding initiative that includes an awareness of gender-based violence through discussion based workshops, learning positive self-expression through dance, and learning self-defence strategies through martial arts,” Robinson said.

In those three areas, 15 young women have been trained as coaches, and are now training other women in workshops across the island.

Yakera James, a newly trained coach, shared her experience.

“My experience involves coaching women in a tailor-made process that helps them to focus on their potential, improved productivity, relationship building and setting goals, knowing how to protect themselves, and improving their confidence in life and work,” she said.

Robinson said that the project now aims to include boys and men.

“A mandate of this year is to develop a campaign to have deaf boys and young men versed on sexual behaviours and values. Our leadership and advocacy programme will see the recruitment of 20 deaf young men and women trained in leadership and advocacy skills, presentation skills, disability laws and an awareness of gender based violence. All topics will be delivered both in the general and deaf context.”

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