Eleven years of Eve for Life is a time of real reflection. When we started on this journey, my co-founder Pat Watson and I, we were giving up the comfort of our careers because we knew this work had to be done. We could never have known that we would reach this far.
We are at our Mentor Mom retreat as I write this, and on our special day I look around the room at these women who had joined as clients, as children, who came to us having suffered so much. Yet, who we see now are these bright, confident young women who have started families, gotten jobs – and are mentoring their younger selves!
This all goes back to that decision we made one night on Pat’s verandah and I am humbled and accomplished by that. I am thankful to the support we have had from UNICEF, the other donors and all the well-wishers. A lot of people have their dreams and we have seen ours happen, which gives Eve for Life heart for the next decade.
Growing awareness against sexual abuse
I do believe that we are making progress in Jamaica against sexual abuse. You still hear things being said like ‘women and girls causing rape by how they dress’, but it is the reaction that is heartening. You have more people who are saying you are wrong than I agree with you, so I think a shift is happening where more people are willing to say, ‘No, we must do better and protect our girls.’
There was a time when more people would avoid blaming the abuser, but now we have more people pointing out the wrong. Just four or five years ago the lack of support against sexual abuse was all too much to bear sometimes. Today, though, I see the girls in our programme, our partners and others all willing to stand up together and push back.
However, society sadly still fails our girls at family level. Many of their mothers were abused themselves and have no clue how to navigate their own vulnerability. They still see their abuse, their enabling of their partners who abuse their girls as survival, even though they know in the heart it’s wrong.
But problems remain within the home
A lot of their behaviour is criminal behaviour yet they do not realise that they can face charges, such as trafficking of their own children. But these conversations are not happening and they are unaware. Jamaica just cannot continue to ignore what is happening inside the home.
Our previous campaign “Nuh Guh Deh” will still continue. It remains a call for an end to an action, and an action starts in thought. We are going to keep targeting abusers with increased advocacy. Nuh Guh Deh will also come to cover all aspects of sexual abuse, whether that is an institution that is turning a blind eye, or a police officer who is stigmatising a victim.
There is constant encouragement. Our Mentor Mom for 2018, Sashay Samuels, was a part of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life’s anti-stigma campaign. Last year for her was a major milestone, that she was selected by her peers who witnessed her personal growth, and then the rest of Jamaica was seeing her as this young woman full of confidence, living with HIV and as a survivor.
Eve for Life plans for the future
In the last two years we have changed our mission to also include sexual and reproductive health of girls. Before we were about Care, Commitment and Creativity but to that we have added Empowerment – we want to create a space where everyone is onboard. We want to go large!
Most of all, we want all young women and girls in Jamaica to know that we are here for them. Even those who we cannot reach face-to-face, we have counselling available whether by phone or on our social media. For instance we have a private Facebook Group where girls and women in the Diaspora who are survivors can care for each other.
Once they connect with us Eve will provide as much support as we can. We are in this together.
UNICEF supports Eve for Life programmes in seven parishes with the highest prevalence of HIV on the island. Eve for Life supports and empowers survivors of sexual violence, providing mentoring programmes for young women and girls, some of whom are living with HIV/AIDS.