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Jamaica: Fighting for rights

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Denham Town, Kingston - Photo: Scott NelsonIn this exclusive recorded interview with LAB, Carolyn Gomes of Christian Aid partner Jamaicans for Justice explains how colonial history still holds Jamaicans down, especially by dividing them.

‘The police operate in very different ways. If you live in the ghetto, they will come into your home without a warrant, something they wouldn’t dare to do in a richer community.’

So much depends on ‘where you’re born, who you know, which school you go to’. Even today, colour plays a role. Even though there are black professionals, ‘the fairer skinned tend to be from the upper classes’.

Education is a crucial issue. ‘If you come from the ghetto, you go to a school with 50 children in a class.’ You need to be an ‘exceptional and singular person’ to succeed with that background. Improving the educational system is one of the two key reforms Carolyn Gomes regards as vital to transforming the situation of inequality.

The other key issue is regularising land tenure. So many people don’t have titles, or are squatting. Until their land rights are recognised, they can’t go on and make a living. ‘It’s a real serious problem in all the communities’.

The basis of Jamaicans for Justice’ strategy for change is educating people about their rights and training them in advocacy. Here, interestingly, says Gomes, Jamaicans returning after living in Britain make a contribution because they have a greater understanding of equality and government responsibility. They may have better pensions, but ‘they are wealthier in their understanding of rights and advocacy.’