This is a contribution submitted by the 51% Coalition, a women's rights lobby.
The Jamaica National Policy for Gender Equality (NPGE) was approved by the Government of Jamaica for International Women's Day 2011. The policy seeks to "reduce all forms of gendered discrimination and promote greater gender equality and social justice".
It is aligned to Vision 2030, whose motto, 'Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business', is one that we all can fully embrace.
The objectives of the NPGE are reflected in Vision 2030, which summons us to realise "a society marked by sustainable and humane development processes in which the rights of all persons are guaranteed and protected, and where men and women enjoy equal access to opportunities, resources and rewards, and where women are empowered to share equally in governance structures and decision-making at the micro and macro levels of society". (Vision 2030 Gender Sector Plan, p. 70)
Our nation's Independence held a promise of relations of justice and respect for all; it challenged us to build on the lessons of our legacy, rooted in a painful past of colonial exploitation benefiting the few.
National Independence in 1962 held a promise that we would confront the contradictions of our past and blend our courage, creativity, resourcefulness and generosity of spirit to craft a nation that could work for all of us.
Today, as we reflect on the past 50 years of Independence, we can list our many achievements even amid varied challenges - our confidence and domination in sports and culture; excellence in areas of education and training; the stability of our institutions and governance arrangements, among others.
Sadly, however, we continue to suffer from our weaknesses and failures - the sluggishness in wealth creation over the many years;
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
The exclusion of women from meaningful participation in leadership and decision-making at all levels of our national life is one of the most shameful and wasteful aspects of our life and culture.
This is rooted in the gender system, that from the home, the school, the Church, the media, in popular culture, etc., shape the identity, behaviour, roles, responsibilities and expectations of women and men. The gender system teaches and influences us about what being a man or a woman means; how men and women should behave; and how men and women should relate to each other.
For example, being masculine is associated with being 'naturally' aggressive, rough, unemotional, born to rule, and being in control in the economy, politics and society. Being feminine means being submissive, subordinate, passive, emotional, born to be led.
These cultural ideas of what it means to be a man makes it difficult for men, in general, to accept and to adapt to gentle, caring, nurturing habits in their homes and families. They also make it challenging for women to step forward in leadership, for this is going against the norm, even by women ourselves.
This is part of why so many women too easily make the unsubstantiated claim that 'we are our own worst enemies', even though women comprise 51 per cent of the Jamaican population.
Some of the critical gender issues facing women, in particular, include:
Across all social groups, violence and various forms of abuse are part of the daily experience of many women and girls.
At the higher income levels, women, although having a comparable or higher level of education, earn less than their male counterparts and are scarcely represented on boards.
Women have lower levels of access to productive resources than men. For example, they occupy only 20 per cent of agricultural lands and continue to face more challenges with accessing credit.
The infection ratio for HIV/AIDS in the 10-19 age group is 1 male to 2.84 females; women are not sufficiently empowered to negotiate safe sex.
Some 35.3 per cent of rural households use only untreated water sources (JSLC, 2009), experience poor sanitation, and spend long hours and walk long distances to secure potable water.
Despite universal adult suffrage in 1944, women today account for only 13.3 per cent of the members of Parliament (MPs), 20 per cent of Cabinet ministers; 24 per cent of senators; 17 per cent of local government councillors; and 30.7 per cent of mayors.
Research by the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian International Development Agency, showed that while women have made significant strides in educational and professional development, they are only 16 per cent of members of private-sector boards and 33 per cent on public-sector boards.
Today, 50 years after Independence, the Constitution of Jamaica still does not stipulate that discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited.
These issues are particularly challenging for women with disabilities and women who face other forms of exclusion, for example as persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Who best can lead the transformation of gender relations than us as women in collaboration with progressive men?
CHANGE IS COMING
In Jamaica, there is growing consensus that building a culture and practice of transformational leadership and increasing women's participation in governance are among the fundamental items for the national agenda to move our country forward.
Since launching in November 2011, the 51% Coalition has undertaken the following activities:
The 51% Coalition is committed to ensuring that the NPGE is effectively implemented and stands ready to partner with other organisations, men and women to encourage a more gendered approach to all aspects of public and private life. The Coalition will continue to raise awareness of gender equality and women's rights as fundamental indicators of good governance and sustainable development.
Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information, email email@example.com.