Sun | Apr 30, 2017

Imani Duncan-Price | It’s not women vs men!

Published:Sunday | March 12, 2017 | 3:00 AM

"Why does it seem that so many programmes are geared towards women and girls and none towards men and boys in Jamaica when that is where the real problem lies?" said a girlfriend of mine recently. I went on to explain that in fundamental areas, there is still a real and systemic problem for women and girls in Jamaica - like in overall employment, in positions of decision-making as political representatives, as CEOs and board directors - people who set the rules of the game.

Systemic issues of inequality persist for women as a group, especially in the areas of money, sex, and leadership. However, the overall situation is nuanced, and understanding the dynamics is important in resolving the different issues for women and men.

 

MORE MEN EMPLOYED

 

People are often surprised by the fact that even though women make up 69 per cent of tertiary graduates, overall in Jamaica, more men are employed than women (664,300 men and 516,500 women as of October 2016). And where women are employed in Jamaica, 66 per cent are in low-paying jobs. Yes, Jamaica has the highest percentage of female managers in the world, but that flips when you look at the executive level of leadership in the companies and with boards. And this is where the decisions on policies are made on things like daycare centres at work, health-care policies, and salary levels.

On top of all of that, the 2015 World Economic Forum survey found that the gender pay gap worsened for women in Jamaica - on average, women get 60 cents for every dollar a man gets paid for the same job. That means that after August 6, Independence Day, of each year women work for free, while men continue to earn a salary!

Tracy Robinson articulated some critical issues at the recent teach-in on the Sexual Offences Act, held by We-Change and UN Women. Can you imagine Jamaica once followed progressive common law where rape was not defined within marriage? However, in 2009, parliamentarians put in place a retrograde definition where marital rape could only occur in some circumstances of marriage. This is an example where the male-majority Parliament made a decision for the entire country (51 per cent women) out of their own unconscious or conscious bias. It substantiates why we need gender balance in perspectives for the design of appropriate laws and policies that work for women and men. That rape clause in the Sexual Offences Act must be changed!

Now, while all the above is true, there are disturbing facts about the situation of some boys and men in Jamaica as well. The underperformance of boys in education does not start at the university level. The Grade Four Literacy and GSAT examinations in 2013 show that as with previous years, girls outperformed boys in all subject areas.

This is compounded by the fact that secondary departments in all-age and primary and junior high schools, which account for nearly 16 per cent of secondary-school enrolment, do not currently go beyond grade nine - contributing to the high dropout rates for boys. All in all, we have a rigid educational system that does not teach in flexible, creative, or tactile ways suited to how boys learn best. It is set up for a significant number of our boys to fail.

Pair that reality with some of the insights recently shared by Herbert Gayle. Boys, he reported, are three times more likely than girls to be consistently undernourished, and if you live in an inner-city community as a man, you're more likely to be murdered than if you lived in war-torn Afghanistan.

 

Leadership

 

Jamaica is a country that warrants development funding based on true gender analysis (women and men, women in relation to men, and vice versa) and programmes designed as such. In Jamaica, women and girls, men and boys are at risk in different ways, even though the status quo is set in favour of the male.

It behoves the Government, local NGOs, and local offices of international financial institutions to communicate this to overseas funders so that relevant programmes for women AND men may be implemented.

If you're an upper-class Jamaican male, you're golden, as you would have been fed well, encouraged to go to school, and may likely be CEO or certainly top management. The next in line is the middle- and upper-class girl - also fed well, encouraged to go to school, and will likely reach senior management or maybe HR or marketing at the vice-president level.

 

CRAP SHOOT

 

For the working-class Jamaican male or female, it's a crap shoot. They may get ahead if they work hard, or they may not. Perhaps that's why more than 80 per cent of our university graduates migrate each year to countries that reward hard work and not promote you based on who you know or who knows you.

For the 1.3 million lower-working class and poor Jamaicans, men and women, PLUS their children, this country simply does not work. Most of the citizens in these groups are unfairly locked in for life, unless they are extraordinarily bright and determined - and even then, it's not a guarantee to break out. What about the hundreds of thousands who are just good human beings that work hard every day, show up for work on time, and do their best to support their children having a better life? They have no social protection - that is no pension, no health insurance, no life insurance. The majority have no job security as most work on contract.

I don't have all the answers to Jamaica's challenges, but I know the solutions lie in women and men working together in creative and respectful ways, understanding our nuances, and focusing on the implementation of relevant solutions.

- Imani Duncan-Price is co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and a former senator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and fullticipation@gmail.com.