Looking back, looking forward | Are we there yet? Public policy advocate explores question of gender equality in Jamaica
Typically, when we speak to issues of gender equality and women's rights in Jamaica the usual response is that Jamaican women are doing well and are empowered, are perhaps a little greedy and are asking for too much.
Very often when I raise questions as to some of the challenges that women are facing across Jamaica the responses are impatient and would suggest that women in Jamaica want too much and are asking for too much.
In fact, on one occasion a minister of government sighed deeply when I raised what I thought were pertinent issues to the nation regarding women's rights and well- being. When I later engaged him, and asked what led to his response he told me honestly that he was tired of the arguments of advocates like myself. In his opinion, Jamaican women's rights advocates and activists were overdoing it, asking for too much. He, of course went on to cite two powerful statistics: firstly, he pointed out that "Jamaica has the highest percentage of women managers globally above the United States, Britain and Canada."
WOMEN OUTPERFORMING MEN
He was emphatic that women in Jamaica had no need to complain, they were doing well. He bolstered his argument by pointing to the fact that more women are registered in tertiary education institutions than men. He was in fact telling the truth, that Jamaican women are outperforming men in education and at the level of middle management in the workplace.
He could very well point to other sectors of Jamaican society where women are doing extremely well, for example, women are doing well in the judiciary. The truth is Jamaican women have made significant strides through the years. Their accomplishments in certain critical areas should be celebrated, not used to undermine their achievements or to hinder their progress in other areas.
But how do we measure gender equality? And if it is that we are on a scale moving towards the achievement of this most important milestone, how will we know when we have arrived? I would imagine that we would have to ensure that we work at fixing some critical areas of concern for women, after all, it was only last week that The Gleaner reported concerning new findings that Jamaican men are killing their spouses and then themselves at a higher rate than men in the United States, South Africa and most other countries in the world. We can also agree that the matter of violence against women and the victimisation of women because they are women is a stubborn and persistent problem that we have not yet managed to substantially address. The typical response from sectors of the society that Jamaican women are responsible for the violence because they are poor mothers, or because they leave the men who sent them to university to get degrees when they have finished their education is nothing but victim blaming.
But there are other issues that must be addressed because the truth is while women are making positive strides in some sectors, they have stalled in others and would appear to be moving backwards in some. On the matter of political leadership, it is fair to conclude as the UN Women did in 2015, that Jamaican women are largely cut off from positions of political power and need affirmative action as well as commitment from political parties to boost opportunities and train women for leadership.
And while we have had equal pay legislation for more than 40 years with the Equal Pay Act of 1975, the Global Gender Gap report in 2015 noted that Jamaican women earned 60 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts' pay. Clearly, we are lagging behind in this respect but there is no political will to understand the cultural and systemic barriers which stand in the way of women's progress in the workplace. Other issues of importance for women's equality beyond the gender wage gap include the startling fact that women have sole ownership of only two per cent of the land in Jamaica. Despite this, the myth of male marginalization dominates public discourse and the persistent and false belief that Jamaican women are outperforming their male counterpart in every sphere continues to persist even in the face of knowledge that this is nothing short of a false narrative.
- Nadeen Spence, Public Policy Advocate.