Men and women equal but different
Paula Hagley, Guest Columnist
Jamaica has done well in respect of women's rights and gender equality. Unlike many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, women can achieve whatever they conceive. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and myriad women in senior positions in the public and private sectors attest to this.
There are no structural barriers - no laws preventing a woman from fulfilling her potential. We have equal access as men to the channels of success. I think the critical point often overlooked by gender-equality enthusiasts is that men and women are socialised differently, and are, indeed, inherently different, in some ways, from each other. In that difference largely lies what appears to be the persistent disparity between men and women in the workforce and other areas of endeavour. We are equal but different.
Thyra Thompson, former secretary of state for Wyoming, USA, as she addressed the same issue in America from as far back as the 1970s, said women needed to admit that they now had equal rights. The problem, she charged, was that they hadn't done much with it.
According to her, "Most women don't worry about equality with men when they are young. They're too wrapped up in the primeval desire to love, to marry and to nest." For example, at any given time, men may account for a larger percentage of the workforce than women. A number of women, despite being educated or skilled, opt to become stay-at-home mothers or housewives.
Still further, a woman may pack up job and home and travel to another part of the country to support her husband who has been relocated in his job. There are men, too, who insist their women stay home while they provide. Other women become "hustlers" to benefit from being close to their children while earning, and may not consider themselves 'employed', while others stay home to take care of incapacitated children.
Consider the young woman from the low socio-economic circumstance who believes a relationship is key to economic advancement. She becomes trapped in a cycle of unemployment as she conceives child after child. At least some of our activities and responsibilities as females, wives and mothers will always affect workforce figures.
Men more competitive
Women are generally not as competitive as men, and not as motivated by job prestige. We want to actualise but not necessarily in the same ways as men. While men may want to lead conglomerates, corporations and boards, women are generally content to have a good, secure job with an attractive salary. Some women do pursue power positions, but many are not interested. They don't want the hassle.
The salary differences between men and women will perhaps be successfully addressed when we alter our expectations of men in relationships and society. Currently, we expect the men to pay for dinner if we're invited out, Daddy is still generally expected to take care of the woman and kids, etc. Women do not ideally want to carry the heavier financial load in a relationship.
It is simply how we are socialised. Men believe they have a responsibility to take care and women acquiesce. Where this is not so, many women become unhappy, the man loses his sense of pride, and there is a breakdown in the relationship if nothing changes over the long term. This expectation of our men and the fact that men will aggressively buck for what they want help to perpetuate the practice of paying men more for the same job as a woman.
The issues need to be addressed at the psychological level. Women must be encouraged to want to be in the boardroom, in politics, leading corporations. We need, for example, to persistently disseminate messages that teach women from socially and economically deprived conditions to take pride in themselves, work hard and not look to a man as saviour - that this behaviour leads to multiple pregnancies and low skills which keep them out of the workforce.
The women who do educate themselves and are skilled may be encouraged to pursue senior leadership positions and become involved in politics. It is resetting the agenda for women at the psychological level that will be most beneficial and lasting. Change how women see themselves and their place in the world.