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Editorial: Women must get their fair share

Published:Tuesday | December 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

PERHAPS PORTIA Simpson Miller, Jamaica's first female prime minister and current head of government, will claim distraction by the apparently imminent call for a general election and the associated cross-island drumming up of support in political rallies.

But we hope that Mrs Simpson Miller, who places much store in groundbreaking advances by women, would lend her voice in denouncing the discriminatory remuneration of women in Jamaica which has seen the country ranking poorly in global indices.

A recently published Global Gender Gap Report 2015 shows that women in Jamaica earn 60 per cent of their male counterparts. Or simpler, for every dollar men earn, women earn 60 cents, even if they have equal, or superior, competence.

Jamaica's ranking has also plummeted to the nadir of 65, out of 145 countries, having scored 52 in 2014. The island had achieved a summit of 25 in 2006. And to add insult to injury, other Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, at 24, and Cuba, at 29, are street and lane ahead of Jamaica.

What makes these statistics of even greater alarm is the fact that other indicators, in the Global Gender Gap Report and elsewhere, highlight advances by women which should contribute to a narrowing of gender pay parity. The report notes that Jamaica has the best-in-the-world subranking of the ratio of women having university education, information that would not be unfamiliar to even the most casual observer. Women have, for more than a decade, constituted the majority of tertiary students, hovering anywhere between 67 and 80 per cent of student populations on campuses.

Interestingly, an International Labour Organization study published in January reported that Jamaica had the highest percentage of women in management positions, at 59.3 per cent, outclassing First-World countries like the United States (42.7 per cent) and the United Kingdom (34.2 per cent).

Two things are apparent. First, in the absence of clarity on a disaggregation of data between highly educated and average or poorly educated women, we assume that the wider pay gap exists among women who earn the minimum wage, or just above it, and thus do not have the skills or knowledge to demand higher salaries. Such women, we surmise are at greater risk of labour manipulation and marginalisation, though women generally are at a disadvantage, proven by Jamaica's perennial disparity in which women are disproportionately jobless.

Second, although more women are climbing the corporate ladder in management, a significant number - maybe even the majority - might not be compensated fairly on strict gender grounds, which runs contrary to Jamaican law.

This is a matter which we expected to have triggered clamour - and more - from the minister of labour, Fenton Ferguson, Mrs Simpson Miller and the few women in the Lower House of Parliament, who ought to recognise that such disparities undercut progress on the labour front. If legislation has failed to stem the tide of gender inequity, the Government should consider whether strengthened laws and intensified monitoring and outing of offenders would reinforce moral suasion.

Archaic patriarchy

It should also concern business groups like the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, as well as the Jamaica Employers' Federation, which should impress upon their membership, and those beyond the periphery, to abandon the archaic patriarchy which marginalises competent women and undermines a fair wage.

There is usually little reticence to criticise the political administrations on iniquitous and inequitable policies, and we urge them to raise the decibel level on systemic discrimination.

We would have expected, also, that trade unionists, some of whom are lawmakers and who have operated too frequently as cheerleaders of unproductivity, would have seized upon an opportunity of relevance and social justice.

The voices of state and private-sector actors, we believe, would have a cogent influence on a culture that too often undervalues the worth and work of women. Women are equal partners in the workforce and should get their fair share.