Missing the mark! - Call for change to treatment of minority groups
Pursuing your passion can mean different things to different people, but for 23-year-old Gavane Ferguson, this meant withdrawing from the Hospitality & Tourism programme at the University of Technology (UTech) in 2014 and enrolling in the Gender and Development Studies programme at the University of the West Indies, Mona.
"While at UTech, my involvement in advocacy sparked my interest in offering service. While making the switch, I was offered the options of continuing in tourism management or gender and development studies.
"Throughout that period, I was confused as to what I wanted because, while I had a love for the service industry, I wanted to explore gender dynamics and how it is played out in society because of my experiences growing up. Nonetheless, I went for gender studies and management studies," said Gavane.
Now a final-year student, Gavane said the programme has been an eye-opener in terms of how gender dynamics operates and negatively influence the lives of minority groups.
He has also noted how the construction of masculinities and femininities influence most of the issues contemporary societies like Jamaica face, including gender-based violence, sexual reproductive health rights, HIV, and climate change.
It is issues like these that led him to start work with the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) where he serves as a peer link, working in HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care.
JASL is the oldest and largest AIDS-focused, human rights, non-governmental organisation in Jamaica. It is dedicated to preserving the dignity and rights of persons living with HIV and AIDS, and those vulnerable to HIV infection; and to help in the fight against the spread of the epidemic in Jamaica.
"I've worked with a lot of young people that are unattached, young people who don't have access to what a 'normal' person would have. They don't have education, healthy sexual lives; we live in a really unequal society. Issues like these have strengthened my passion in wanting to work in advocacy and policy development," said Gavane.
MINORITY GROUPS RARELY TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT
He argued that policies in Jamaica are set up in a way that they rarely take into account minority groups.
"I want to see how best I can change how we can construct and assess policies so that we can include and develop innovative strategies to really and truly include minority groups because they are part of society and we can't achieve any sustainability taking their lives into account also," said Gavane.
Although the basic service of HIV/AIDS education exists, Gavane said minority groups tend to shy away from accessing the services due to stigma and/or discrimination. This has shaped some unhealthy sexual lifestyles.
"The biggest reason for unequal access to proper health care is stigma, discrimination and gender based violence. For example, a young man or woman who visits a public clinic after being exposed to an STI or HIV would more than likely be frowned upon or ridiculed and stereotyped as 'having a disease'," said Gavane.
He charged that these issues arise because of a lack of equal inclusivity within policy development and analysis.
"I have taken it upon myself, being involved with JASL, to provide such services. I now provide healthcare services to young people at UWI, Mona, and other communities. These include HIV/STI education, HIV testing and conducting risk assessment."
He added that he encourages members of the minority groups to empower themselves and access the services.
"Persons are afraid of accessing these services at clinics, as a result of how the service providers react. For example, if a young person goes to the clinic with an infection or HIV, they probably frown upon them or judge them, and stereotype them into a certain group," said Gavane, who is adamant that a change is required in how we treat with minority groups.
"What can really change is if our government or Ministry of Health can really change the view of how we look at HIV or how we look at other STI and provide training and sensitisation for our service providers, so that we can have better access for young people and other minority groups.
"It is important that we show love for persons living with HIV/AIDS and join hands to end stigma, discrimination and gender-based violence," said Gavane.