PNP’s Burchell insists women are worth more than their body parts

Burchell had no idea that she would have been verbally undressed on the political platform of her opponents and be compared with the wife of a sitting Member of Parliament and minister of state.

Neither did she expect that a member of Jamaica’s Upper House — the Senate — would join the activity and bring additional public attention her body.

The aspiring Member of Parliament for St James Southern in the next general election, who has been approved to represent the Opposition People’s National Party, has admitted to the Jamaica Observer that the two-pronged attack of verbal nakedness — launched by the Jamaica Labour Party’s Homer Davis, the incumbent MP for the area, and Senator Charles Sinclair, a former mayor of Montego Bay, who is deputy president of the Senate and a member of the St James Municipal Corporation — caught her off guard, and she felt even worse that it was greeted with laughter by Jamaica Labour Party officials, during a public meeting held by the ruling party in Montego Bay, the St James parish capital.

“It’s not something I ever wished for or expected, but I found myself at the centre of an incident that has left me feeling deeply ashamed and embarrassed. Charles Sinclair and Homer Davis, political figures in Jamaica, publicly objectified me by making explicit references to my body, particularly my breast and bottom. This incident serves as a stark reminder that, in 2023, sexism and misogyny continue to plague Jamaican politics. But my story is not just about me; it’s about the countless other women in Jamaica who lack a voice and a platform to defend themselves against such attacks,” Burchell told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last Friday.

Burchell argued that Jamaica has long struggled with a culture of male dominance, where some men feel entitled to approach women in a certain “brash” way. It is a sub-culture, she argued, that unfortunately bases a woman’s worth on how she dresses or carries herself, determining whether she deserves respect from men, something which she deemed an “unacceptable way for any society to operate”.

“Now, let’s examine the choices Charles Sinclair and Homer Davis made. They could have focused on discussing the critical issues affecting South St James, but instead, they chose to attack me, my character, and my body. They abandoned good judgement and common sense, prioritising my physical appearance over the pressing concerns of our constituency.

“But this issue is much larger than me, Nekeisha, as an individual. It’s about all the women in Jamaica who do not have the privilege of a platform to defend themselves against such attacks. There are women who have grown to accept this kind of judgement and reproach from men simply because they are men and we are women, and there’s a harmful belief that we are weaker, and of a lesser worth,” Burchell said.

“Over the last few days, women have been sharing their experiences with subtle biases in the workplace and in society generally. They’ve been told that they can’t wear a certain dress because of the shape of their bodies. I spoke to a victim of rape who said the police told her that the way she dressed had invited unwelcomed attention and rape. I am a firm advocate for self-expression, a person’s inalienable right to living their authentic selves,” she added.

“This incident not only affected me personally but also led to a profound sense of second-hand embarrassment and I cringe, particularly for Mrs Davis, the wife of Homer Davis. She is a professional, a doctor in her own right, and someone who should be respected for her accomplishments and capabilities. However, she was reduced to a prop by her husband, who chose to compare my body with hers, attempting to pit woman against woman,” Burchell said.

Although saying that she could not speak on Dr Davis’s behalf, Burchell suggested that the facial expression of the MP’s wife, who was seen being paraded like a model on a fashion show, had revealed a woman who was deeply troubled by the situation.

“She was faced with a difficult choice — either to appease her husband and his political ambitions or to defend herself and reject being used in such a derogatory manner,” Burchell continued. “As a mother, a professional, and a role model for other young girls, Mrs Davis’s predicament raises important questions with which we must contend.

“Does it matter how much women have achieved in their lifetimes — whether academically, professionally, or in managing their homes and households — if they are ultimately judged solely by their physical attributes? This incident forces us to ponder whether, in the eyes of some male leaders, our worth is reduced to the size of our bosoms or the shape of our posterior,” she argued.

The deputy general secretary of the PNP said that another significant arising issue is the kind of representatives who are chosen for the Parliament.

“Charles Sinclair, a senator in the Upper House, and Homer Davis, a member of the Lower House, have shown us their perspective on women. They’ve reduced women to mere props, asserting control over our rights and bodies. This is a grave concern, especially when we entrust them with making decisions on legislation and policies related to women’s issues,” Burchell went on.

“As the electorate, it’s imperative that we guard this awesome responsibility we bestow on our representatives zealously. We must ensure that those we vote for to hold such power are truly deserving, enlightened, and respectful of all individuals, regardless of their gender and make-up.

“Furthermore, the example set by these men raises concerns about the message they are sending to other men and boys in Jamaica; are they signalling that objectifying and demeaning women is acceptable behaviour? Are they contributing to the degradation of society by endorsing such attitudes?” she asked.

“The lack of sophistication in the way these men handled themselves during the incident is not only a matter of personal offence but also an indictment on the intellectual vigour of some political leaders in Jamaica. These attacks, though entirely unwelcomed and unprovoked, were marked by a stark lack of finesse. Instead of employing more sophisticated devices of expression, they chose crude and undignified descriptors. Their vulgar and unsophisticated approach to addressing me was quite juvenile. It betrayed an inability to engage in a mature, respectful, and civilised dialogue, even in the face of differing opinions or perspectives. To see such an utter lack of sophistication in the way they delivered their blows made me feel not only violated but also cheapened,” Burchell said.

She also told the Sunday Observer that the incident had raised “crucial questions” about the capacity of both men to represent the interests of the people, and called into question their ability to approach complex political issues with the depth and thoughtfulness that they require. It also highlights, she said, the need for a higher standard of discourse and leadership in the Jamaican political landscape.

“Ultimately, the incident serves as a powerful reminder of the imperative to address not only the broader issue of sexism and misogyny but also the need for more sophisticated and respectful political leadership. We must demand leaders who can engage in debates and discussions with maturity and decorum, upholding the dignity and integrity of all individuals, regardless of their gender or viewpoint. This incident, while deeply unsettling, can be a catalyst for positive change in the political climate of Jamaica, one that values the quality of discourse and the respect of all its citizens,” Burchell said.