By Jaevion Nelson
THERE IS a great deal of fuss about males - young and old - and their contribution and lack thereof in the Jamaican society. A number of scholars have uncannily produced academic papers to provide some amount of clarity and evidence into the situation to suggest that males are being marginalised. To scare us even more and monopolise development priorities for males, some academics go as far as implying that this 'crisis' is the fault of females.
Evidently, women and girls, who continue to beg for some of the scarce resources, have caused many males not to know how to be 'decent-productive' persons and good fathers, and make use of the privilege of living in a patriarchal society. They argue that the commendable invest-ments in girls by successive governments - however meagre they may be - are to the detriment of males. This is most pathetic and absurd if you think about the vast number of programmes that are designed primarily for males.
NOT THE FAULT OF FEMALES
Are females really emasculating men in their pursuit of empowerment to the extent that they are being marginalised? Are females being targeted enough in development? Are they even benefiting as much as they should? I highly doubt it. Look at the number of women compared to men in Jamaica who are living in poverty; the percentage of women and men who are unemployed (despite women have higher levels of qualification); the percentage of women who constitute public and private sector boards; the disparity in allocation to male and female PATH beneficiaries; the high incidence of sexual harassment and violence perpetrated against them; and the number of archaic and equally discriminatory laws that continue to limit women's economic empowerment and deny them their full citizenship.
According to The Girl Effect, a movement championing the potential of and investing in adolescent girls to end global poverty, they are too often overlooked in development policy and programmes. The movement argues that "people take advantage of their lack of power and political voice, their isolation amid restrictive social norms, and their limited access to financial assets and protection under law".
You may be wondering why is this necessary as you scoff at the idea that we are not doing enough for our women and girls. To understand the issue, let us look at teenage pregnancy - something we can all relate to and we talk about impassionately every so often. According to UNICEF Jamaica, "a child gives birth to a child in one out of five births", making up about 20 per cent of births. It is estimated that this rate would be higher if all pregnancies were being brought to term. I know you are about to refute that these girls are just careless and deserved to be punished, so let's look at the reasons why this is happening: "high rate of forced sex, transactional sex, low rate of contraceptive use, early sexual initiation, and poor access to information and skills on safe and responsible sex". To add salt to the wound, "only 34 per cent of adolescent mothers return to school after giving birth". To our merit, this is a significant increase from 16 per cent in 1993.
Do you know what happens afterwards? "Once they leave school, they are not prepared for parenting, and poverty often pushes young mothers into transactional sexual relationships with multiple partners to obtain the resources necessary to support their children and themselves. This further increases the mother's vulnerability to exploitation and domestic violence, as well as child abuse." Many of us have seen this happening in our communities, but pretend this is not the case and that the resources are there to support the reintegration of these teens in the society. The situation is compounded by the fact that "almost one of every two (44.5 per cent) Jamaicans who lives in poverty is a child" (UNICEF Jamaica). Regardless of how they came to be pregnant - consent or not- we have to recognise that it cost far more to cast our girls aside than it would to give them second chances. And it costs far less if we mainstream gender equality and demolish the patriarchy hovers our progress and development.
KUDOS FOR GIVING GIRLS A CHANCE
The Girl Effect says: "Now is the moment. Real things need to change for girls and for the world. Adolescent girls are not part of just one issue, they are key to every sustainable solution" (The Girl Declaration, 2013). I couldn't agree more. I commend all the gender justice advocates, feminists and organisations such as the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), 51% Coalition, I'm Glad I'm A Girl Foundation and Eve for Life that have been giving girls a chance, empowering them, believing in their potential and working tirelessly to influence policy and decision making which support the rights, equality and full development of women and girls.
The Girl Declaration has five goals: education, health, safety, economic security and citizenship. The declaration was developed because girls were reportedly left out of the Millennium Development Goals and people are working to ensure this does not happen again. I encourage to read the declaration here http://www.girleffect.org/2015-beyond/the-declaration/ and encourage your pastor, principal, member of parliament, councillor, and favourite artiste to help in championing the cause for the upliftment of our girls.
Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.