MAY PEN, Clarendon — Domestic abuse survivor Samantha Ackes got a lot more than she bargained for when she joined 19 other women for a five-month programme aimed at giving them business skills needed to thrive.
“A lot of ladies are experiencing some form of violence but they are sometimes unaware. Beating is not the only form of violence. Sometimes it’s the mental level and the withdrawal of money from you. It may be verbal abuse. I believe that this programme brought that across so persons can realise when something is happening to them,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
Ackes is among a group of women from Clarendon who proudly completed the Vulnerable Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme. Funded by the European Union under the Spotlight Initiative, the programme included key partners such as the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Clarendon Municipal Corporation and the Clarendon Parish Development Committee Benevolent Society. It began in January and a graduation ceremony was held at the Wembley Auditorium in Clarendon in late May.
Ackes was heartened by the camaraderie experienced throughout the training.
“Being in this environment was good…It created a bond where people could call you if they were going through certain things. You can give them some advice; you can sit down and talk about certain things. Sometimes persons just want a listening ear,” she told the Observer during the ceremony to mark the culmination of all she and her new-found support system have learnt.
Ackes, who plans to go into business involving household chemicals, said she found the sessions helpful.
“The training was very impactful in the sense that they went through all the levels that you would need to operate your business. They help us to outline the goals that we would want to aim to reach. So they gave us the opportunity to think about a short, medium, and long-term goals and that will help to foster each step that we take,” she noted.
Fashion designer and seamstress Avorina Hall also expressed gratitude for the impact the programme has had on her life.
“In my situation, I often felt alone, but this programme has helped me to realise the different abuse I was going through. It also teaches us how to identify them and get out of them. I really appreciate that. Today, I can stand strong and say enough is enough,” she told the Observer.
“It also empowers us as women. The initiative has helped me to continue my business that I am doing because, at first, I used to work alone, but now I am able to employ persons, and also teaching young persons about the business that I am doing because I want to help others the same way how the Spotlight Initiative has helped me to grow our business,” said the owner of Emily’s Collection.
Among the topics covered during the sessions, Hall said, was the strategy of how to maintain a business, with specific tips on what to do and pitfalls to avoid.
“The training that we got is business. How to budget, how to look around for our competitors, what to do to draw customers to our business, and what not to do,” she explained.
“It helps me to become a better boss; it helps me to become a better person so that I can live and also shine bright so that other females can see what I’m doing and help to motivate to be successful as a young woman,” she added.
Hall currently has one employee and two trainees and is looking forward to owning her own factory and providing jobs for more than “15 to 20 young persons” in the fashion industry.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative Denise Antonio congratulated the women and encouraged them not to limit themselves.
“You are now equipped with skills to build and grow a business that will serve your communities and support your families. More importantly, the path has been paved for your economic independence, free from abusive control. Graduates, this is your time to celebrate and toast to a future filled with excellent possibilities. Set no limits on your vision,” she charged during her address at the ceremony.
“You are the inspiration we need today. You send a powerful message to women in abusive situations that their circumstances do not define their lives; that there is hope, life and personal satisfaction in creatively monetising your God-given skills,” Antonio emphasised.
Mayor of May Pen Winston Maragh encouraged the women to boldly embrace this life-changing opportunity and be agents of change.
“All 20 women who received personal development and business training, I am saying to you, grasp this opportunity with both hands. You have been empowered to undertake your various entrepreneurial ventures. Serve as the champions of change within your respective communities and shine your spotlight on your continued contribution toward national development and Vision 2030,” said the mayor.
“As you leave today’s function, be mindful of your duties to prevent and reduce family violence, which mostly affects girl and women. You must not be afraid to raise your voices in unity and with a committed objective to stop these atrocities from spreading like a viral disease,” he maintained.
Mayor Maragh also urged the graduates to strive towards gender equality.
“I look forward to hearing your success stories long after today’s closing ceremony and being able to boast about those women here today who are a full crop of women advocacy in Clarendon. Maintain your zeal; be purposeful in your strides toward sustainable growth and development. And always be ambassadors of gender equality,” he said.
The Spotlight Initiative is guided by six essentials pillars: developing and implementing relevant legislation and policies; strengthening national and sub-national institutions; preventing violence through evidence-based programmes and campaigns; establishing and strengthening essential services for victims and survivors; ensuring the collection and use of prevalence and incidence data; and partnering directly with women’s movements and civil society.
To date, the $17.1-million investment in the programme has benefited 60 women and 10 girls, most of whom have already established their micro enterprises. The project runs up to December 2023.
According to data cited by the UNDP’s Antonio, one in every four Jamaican women between the ages of 15 and 64 experiences intimate partner, physical or sexual violence over their lifetime, especially those from low income and rural communities.