TIB Aloun Ndombet Assamb

What has led you to become involved in efforts to overcome sexual and gender-based violence?

Ndombet-Assamba: I have had many roles in life. I'm an attorney at law by training. I have, therefore, practiced law. I have been a senator in the government of Jamaica, in the parliament of Jamaica. I have been a member of parliament. I have been a minister of government. I have been an ambassador. I'm retired from all of that now. I became involved in sexual and gender-based violence about eight years after I had personal experience during my marriage of my husband being abusive. It took me eight years to speak about it, and even members of my family were hearing it when I spoke publicly for the first time. I had to get counseling, and I remember asking my counselor: Why would God allow this?” My counselor said to me: Because God is going to use you to bring attention to this problem in our society, which nobody wants to talk about.”

When I spoke about it, I had absolutely no plan or intention to have spoken about it publicly as I did. I was in a room full of, well, I think it was over 250 persons because I was getting an award along with three other ladies, and I was asked to respond on behalf of everybody. 

And earlier on that week, there was a news report about a man discovering where a safe house was, and going to that location to beat up on the staff there, and to remove his partner from the location. It was in the news. I was incensed, but not just by his action. I was incensed by the fact that I did not see in our community the level of outrage that I felt should have been there as a result of this action.

And I just spoke about it. This was at one of the biggest hotels in Kingston, which had all the movers and shakers of Jamaican society there, including my mother, my sisters, and my aunts, and there were some of them hearing this for the first time. I stepped out from behind the podium and I said, Look at me. Do I look like a woman who has been abused?” And you could hear a pin drop in that room. I looked at my mother because shame and disgrace is something that we do not like for ourselves or for the people who are close to us. My mother, who knew what I was talking about, said, “speak”,and I did.

What is the most important change that needs to happen to make progress in ending gender-based violence?

Ndombet-Assamba: The truth is, I probably was the first person of my ilk in Jamaica to come out and publicly speak of my experience. I know it opened doors for many other persons to say, I do not have to sit quietly and take this. One, there is help available. Two, I am not alone— there are many persons who are suffering in this way. And three, let me see what I can do. So we've come a far way in Jamaica since 24 years ago when I first spoke about this. And  I'm very pleased that the World Council of Churches is taking this on.

How can Thursdays in Black contribute to positive change?

Ndombet-Assamba: It is very important that we change this perception that it is normal. When I was growing up in my own community, we knew that there were women and men suffering from intimate partner violence. And the attitude at the time was that it was a man-and-woman story, and nobody needed to get into that. Even the police took that position if persons went to police stations about this. Thank God that situation has changed, and police officers have now been trained as to how they are to deal with this particular scourge on our society. I see that Thursdays in Black can help us to put the story forward, can help us to make the change. But you know, change is very difficult, and it's not like snapping your fingers. It will not happen overnight.

Has the essence of your message changed over the years, from generation to generation?

Ndombet-Assamba: How I communicate the message is always dependent upon the persons to whom I am communicating. I have spoken to groups of lawyers. I have I have spoken to groups of police officers. I have spoken to groups of persons who are in this situation. I have spoken to young women and young men in school, in high school, and in colleges. So I change the way I deliver the message. But the essence is the same: You were never built by God, you were never created by God to suffer at the hands of another person. And there is help for you. Let me help you to find help. I am just trying to see how I can help women and men who find themselves victims of gender-based violence.

Learn more about Thursdays in Black

Thursdays in Black now has a Youth Edition (WCC news release, 21 December 2023)