Girls Who Know Ja came from being in school where sexual and reproductive health was something to be tiptoed around and could not be openly discussed in class.
As an adolescent, there is such a short list of people who you can go for information and an even shorter list for safe and reliable information. What is being taught in schools lacks Jamaican context and is always taught from the abstinence point of view and that this is your choice – this is the choice you should make and will make.
Eventually it reached a point within me where I realised that this was a cause greater than me, and I could not sit back and say nothing. Before, maybe I felt it was not in me or I was not capable, and I lacked that confidence. But I just wanted something to be done about the issues that I was seeing – about girls not being listened to when they say “No” and when they speak out against abuse; and teenagers and young adults making uninformed decisions due to lack of knowledge about their bodies.
Started to fill gap in sex education
Girls Who Know Ja started when I sent the idea in a group chat with a logo that I made. I did not know what I was going to do at the time, but there was an instant reaction in the chat. I have to tell you that the power of momentum is something!
Definitely, I knew that the first step in us advocating for ourselves is knowing our worth and what our rights are – and what information we should know at this age. Because without information then how can we know as girls if we are being taken advantage of?
We started in 2017 to address this gap. So far, we have impacted 200 adolescents face-to-face at two forums we held at my old school of Campion College. During the forums we were able to create a safe space with professionals where we could have an open conversation about different myths and assumptions around sexual health that we never got to talk about.
Creating a safe space for girls
Before the last forum, we collaborated with UNICEF on a U-Report poll about street harassment. When the poll presented the statement “girls and women invite sexual assault and rape by how they dress”, 47 per cent of respondents agreed.
This shows that the situation is worse than we thought, because these are Jamaicans aged 13-29. When you look at the results by gender– that 40 per cent of females and 58 per cent of males agreed – then it shows that this problem is not gender-specific. Rather, we as adolescents are not educated about ourselves and the other gender; and when we aren’t educated this is what leads to poor decisions, which then leads to things like abusive relationships and gender-based violence.
I am writing this as a freshman at Kettering University in Michigan, United States where I am studying industrial engineering and business. Leaving Jamaica I felt like a mother saying goodbye to a child, but Girls Who Know Ja vice-president Antonette Hines and 45 volunteers who are really committed to this community and sustaining the work on the ground are collaborating remotely with me.
When @GirlsWhoKnowJa collaborated with us for Women’s Day, 1,551 responded to our poll. DM us if you’re an organisation which serves youth and wants to ask their views / learn how to serve them better. #VoiceMatters pic.twitter.com/hByFJoM8Gk
— U-Report Jamaica (@UReportJamaica) April 9, 2019
Must do more for boys too
Yes, Girls Who Know Who Ja was formed to address a female need, but we try to speak to males also. It really pains my heart because we know society is very patriarchal, but the toxic masculinity damages our boys. Without comprehensive sexual education inequality will keep being perpetrated; and there are no organisations out there to empower males or to educate them from a male perspective.
We need to be able to go to our bearers of tradition, especially males, and appeal to their sense of humanity. We need to break down the gender divide and start having these conversations together to achieve a gender equal world.
Fulfilling children’s rights is at the heart of what we do at UNICEF. This year, as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, we feature a special ’30 under 30’ series, highlighting amazing Jamaican children and youth like Chelsea who are using their voices and talents to help protect and realise the rights of other young citizens. The focus of the series is on efforts to protect children from violence.