WHILE 2018 was a year which saw moves being made on behalf of Jamaican women, there are still some legal and other frustrations which continue to stymie women's development. Some of these have been on and off the books for years with no real action; others are sluggishly moving through the system, and others haven't seen the light of day, as some women's issues aren' t seen as priority by lawmakers.
Below we explore some frustrating issues that continue to affect women, for which there has been little or no movement, even as every year there's public relations-type emphasis on women's rights issues on key international days.
No vote on abortion
Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert Flynn opened the debate to her motion to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences against the Persons Act, which make abortion illegal, in October of last year. The parliamentary committee refused to make a recommendation on the matter, effectively quieting the issue for 2018. The Human Resource and Social Development Committee have, however, since invited public comments and views on the issue on the Parliament's website, as they are now reviewing Flynn's motion.
No law against sexual harassment
Though there was a lot of talk about the Sexual Harassment Bill before Parliament in 2018, a law is still to be passed on the matter. Last November, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, disclosed that the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Bill was being finalised by the Government, and would have been brought before the House of Representatives soon, and tabled by the end of last year. We hope that, for the sake of the most vulnerable, it will be made into law soon.
Sexual Offences Act still to be updated
With the dissolution of the Joint Select Parliamentary Committee in December came at least one fruitful recommendation — to strike out section 5 of the Sexual Offences Act, which contends that rape could not occur within the context of a marriage, unless conditions set out in the provision were met. But even with this recommendation, among others, it will still be some time before this will be translated into enforceable law.
Divorces still taking too long to be granted
Following news in 2017 that persons were going as far as purchasing bogus divorce documents because legitimate papers were taking too long to be processed, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes pledged that the backlog at the Supreme Court will be cleared by the end of 2019. He stated that a divorce could be granted in as soon as 16 weeks, as long as the documents are submitted without errors by the attorneys. According to the Chief Justice's report that was tabled in Parliament last November, however, for every 100 petitions for dissolution of marriage there were approximately 51 amended petitions. This means that over half of submitted applications for divorce are returned for correction at least once; lengthening the time it takes for the divorce to be granted.