“There’s a new army in Jamaica and they are recruiting,” wrote former Jamaican senator and self-described changemaker Imani Duncan-Price in a recent op-ed in the island’s The Gleaner newspaper.
“This is not an army that fights with guns and M16s — though they are militant about their cause,” she continued. “The aim: to finally make Jamaica safer for women and girls, to deal systematically with the scourge of violence against children and women.”
Jamaica’s new militant force Duncan-Price wrote about is the rising Tambourine Army, a recently-founded organization leading a fight against gender violence in the Caribbean nation.
The Tambourine Army made its protest debut Saturday with a Survivor Empowerment March in Kingston in solidarity with a series of women-led marches across the Caribbean — in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Dominica, Guayana and Trinidad and Tobago — sparked by the #LifeInLeggings movement to protest violence against women. During the march, organizers presented a 20-point platform for change that highlighted the need to combat rape culture.
The call to action invited women and allies to bring tambourines, whistles and pots and pans to the march to make noise to protest gender violence and the normalization of rape culture and victim blaming in the wake of a recent wave of femicides and other attacks against women and girls in the country. The tipping point came when allegations surfaced that a church pastor had raped a 15-year-old girl — just one example of more cases of church leaders abusing their power and trust in the community to prey on and rape girls.
The group describes itself as “survivor-centred, action-based” and “committed to justice, healing and empowerment for survivors, changing cultural attitudes towards sexual violence, and removing the scourge of sexual abuse, rape and all other forms of violence against women and girls.”
During Saturday’s march, demonstrators carried signs blasting rape culture, while speakers read out the names of women who were killed by their intimate partners last year.
While the women-led march also garnered support from men, women reported on social media that some men harassed demonstrators as they passed and threatened to rape women in the march.
“Their behaviour isn't surprising. In fact it's the norm. Our society has tolerated disrespect esp(ecially) against women,” tweeted TV personality Terri-Karelle Reid after other tweets detailing some of the insults and threats she heard at the march.
“Their behaviour is why we marched today and will continue to march,” she continued. “We will get louder, we will get more intolerant and we will fight.”
At least eight women have been killed by their partners in Jamaica in the past few months. According to Duncan-Price’s op-ed, a total of 134 women and girls were killed in the country in 2016, up from 116 the year before.
The Caribbean overall is home to soaring levels of violence against women, and Jamaica — along with Barbados and Bahamas — is among the 10 countries with the highest rates of rape in the world, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes. Nearly one third of all women in the Caribbean have suffered domestic abuse.
Facing those levels of violence and daily harassment, women are taking a stand, and Saturday’s Survivor’s Empowerment March in Kingston and similar demonstrations across the region are just the beginning of a budding movement.