Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Dalea Bean | Still trodding on the wine press - Jamaican women made gains in 2016, but much more needs to be done

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Dr Dalea Bean
File Three of the women who made it into Parliament following the February general election, Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, Fayval Williams and Juliet Holness, who all contested on a Jamaica Labour Party ticket. Twenty-four women contested the election.
Gender Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange has vowed that the government will remain steadfast in the implementation of legal frameworks and policies that will support and facilitate the advancement of girls
Former prime minister and outgoing PNP president Portia Simpson Miller (left) moved Jamaican women to another level by becoming the first female leader of one of the two major political parties in the island.
1
2
3
4

With just a few days remaining in 2016, it is an apt juncture at which to reflect on the year's highs and lows in relation to Jamaican women.

Indeed, 2016 saw the woman card being played unsuccessfully in the controversial United States election, which resulted in now-President-elect Donald Trump defeating Secretary Hillary Clinton in electoral college votes.

Similarly, the United Nations exhibited gender divides when it elected former prime minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres, as secretary general from a field that included seven female candidates. If these elections are any indication, it is still a man's world, and gender remains one of the key determinants of a person's lived experiences.

 

WOMEN AND LEADERSHIP

 

Before the drama of the US election, Jamaica held its own general election in February, which resulted in the ousting of the Portia Simpson Miller-led People's National Party (PNP) and a victory for the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Despite the defeat of the country's first female prime minister and her subsequent announcement that she will not seek re-election as the president of the PNP, there was a victory for the women's movement on the political scene as 16 women were among the 84 persons sworn in as members of the Houses of Parliament.

This reflected an increase of two over the previous parliament and included four first-timers - Juliet Holness, Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, Marlene Malahoo Forte, and Fayval Williams.

Twenty-four women contested the polls (13 for the PNP and 11 for the JLP) and represented one of the largest contingents of female candidates in a Jamaican general election.

I am cautiously optimistic that more women are expressing interest in representational politics, despite the country falling short of the 30 per cent target relating to the political representation of women set out in the 2011 National Policy for Gender Equality.

Efforts by the Women's Leadership Initiative, Jamaica Women's Political Caucus, ElectHer at the University of the West Indies, and other NGO's must be encouraged to ensure higher representation of women in decision-making bodies.

 

THE GENDER PAY GAP

 

Many women around the world continue to see limitations in their ability to achieve economic change in their lives, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

In many ways, Jamaica is marked by gendered contradictions. The country has among the highest proportion of women managers (60 per cent) globally, while women earn about 61 per cent of their male counterparts' pay. The average annual pay for women in Jamaica is US$6,720 compared to US$11,044 earned by men, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016.

Our leading tertiary educational institutions have a majority of women, but women consistently experience vulnerable positions in the labour market, and men have greater chances of earning higher pay, even with lower qualifications. This is quite alarming in a country with strong matrifocal tradition and where single women head many households.

 

VIOLENCE AGAINST

 

 

WOMEN AND GIRLS

 

The year 2016 witnessed rising incidents of violence against women and girls. The World Bank estimates that violence against women cost countries an average 1.2 to 3.7 per cent of GDP, or J$57 billion in our case.

In addition, 30 per cent of the homicides in Jamaica are from domestic violence. However, some key initiatives were flagged in 2016, which signal the Government's commitment to eradicating gender-based violence (GBV).

The National Strategic Action Plan to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence in Jamaica (NSAP-GBV), which was on the table since the PNP administration, was revived and a draft completed.

The NSAP-GBV should serve as a monitoring and enforcement mechanism and is designed to prevent GBV and improve the implementation of laws and services aimed at protecting survivors.

Collaboration among the British High Commission, the United States Embassy in Jamaica, and Woman Inc, led to the launch of the Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence Project in April.

Under the project, 300 police personnel will benefit from training to recognise and respond to victims of sexual harassment and domestic violence.

This campaign is particularly important as Jamaica grapples with more alleged incidents of policemen and soldiers killing their partners and themselves in 2016. One such case occurred in March in Manchester, taking the life of 42-year-old Gayle Anderson, the principal at the Hope Demonstration Basic School, and Jamaica Defence Force member John Williams.

In June, in Short Hill, St Elizabeth, a similar incident left 41-year-old nail technician Tamara McIntosh and her partner, 59-year-old Easton Douglas, a retired police inspector, dead.

Later in August, HeForShe, UN Women's Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality, was launched in Jamaica. Collaboration among UN Women, the United Nations, Respect Jamaica, the United States Embassy, the British High Commission, and the Canadian High Commission, the movement is aimed at encouraging men and boys to become change agents for gender equality.

The Jamaican campaign has been characterised by public commitments from recording artiste Beenie Man; Jamaican activists Michael Abrahams, Owen 'Blakka' Ellis, and Mutabaruka; as well as sporting legend Usain Bolt.

 

HEALTH CARE

 

The harrowing image of the sidewalk where a woman was forced to give birth shortly after being turned away from the Chapelton Hospital haunted Jamaica's media in November.

News also broke of more dead babies from bacterial infections in leading public hospitals; a lethal throwback to the dead babies scandal of 2015, and further indication of the grim state of our health care system in relation to maternal health and infant mortality.

But perhaps the most pressing health scare for 2016 was the Zika virus. While not a sex-specific disease, pregnant women were encouraged to stay mosquito bite-free, given the birth defect associated with the virus, microcephaly.

While the Ministry of Health should be commended for its public-education campaign, aspects of the message were troubling, as women were disproportionately burdened with the responsibility of restoring public health. Campaigns strongly advocated that women hold off having babies for two years, with some doctors publicly chiding those who became pregnant.

Not only was the recommendation an impossible expectation, it completely overlooked the male role in conception, and more important, the fact that many women and girls who live in oppressive situations have very little autonomy over their bodies.

Gender-insensitive rhetoric from the highest levels signals a lack of appreciation for the lived experiences of many Jamaican women and continues to absolve men of their responsibility in reproductive health.

 

MOVES TOWARDS EMPOWERMENT:

 

 

2016 AND BEYOND

 

In November 2016, encouraging words came from Gender Affairs Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange regarding the Government's commitment to the empowerment of children, particularly girls.

Grange said: "We will remain steadfast in the implementation of legal frameworks and policies that will support and facilitate the advancement of girls. These include trafficking in persons and child pornography laws, the Child Care and Protection Act, and the impending Sexual Harassment Act."

Grange also flagged the importance of providing safe shelters for survivors of GBV. At the same time, the Government moved to change the name of the Bureau of Women's Affairs to Gender Affairs.

Although a commendable move in theory (since gender is an all-inclusive term that acknowledges the importance of the multiplicative effects of social forces on our daily lives), it is with some caution that women's groups view the shift.

What is particularly concerning is the notion that the original name embodied a microcosm of the marginal-isation of men and boys taking place in our society - a view fraught with controversy.

The year 2016 had many challenges for women and girls, but there were a few notable bright spots. For instance, the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympics saw stellar performances from our female athletes, including Elaine Thompson, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Alia Atkinson, and Toni-Ann Williams, among others.

However, many will say we have been trodding on the wine press too long, waiting indefinitely for genuine restorative social and legislative frameworks to tackle gender inequities.

The challenges faced by many Jamaican women, because they are women, need immediate attention if we are to make real strides towards sustainable development.

As Patricia Scotland, secretary general of the Commonwealth, said at the Commonwealth 11th triennial meeting held this year, "an increased empowerment and inclusion of women is not just about fairness, it's about huge economic opportunity that is otherwise simply missed."

As another year approaches, ripe with possibilities for women's empowerment, we must continue to hold the Government accountable for its promises to us as a people and to the international community, to ensure the improvement of the lives of women and girls.

In addition, we must also engage in rigorous introspection and address the ways in which we, in our private lives, may undermine moves towards parity. The Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) continues to do its part through scholarship, research and public service to support mainstreaming gender in all policies and structures.

We have spearheaded UWI's gender policy to address gender inequities at the university and through the sponsorship of UNESCO, we are engaged in research on crime and security issues affecting men and boys with implications for women.

Finally, 2016 saw the commencement of the regional IGDS lecture series to ensure that relevant gender issues get national and regional attention. What will you do in 2017 to bring an end to gender injustice?

- Dr Dalea Bean is a lecturer in the Regional Coordinating Office of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, UWI. Send feedback to editorial@gleanerjm.com or dalea.bean02@uwimona.edu.jm.