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Balancing act - MP Holness confident that Jamaican woman can juggle a career and a family

Published:Friday | November 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

More Jamaican women are choosing profession over procreation, with Jamaica falling to two children per woman, down from three per woman in 1994.

But Member of Parliament for St Andrew East Rural Juliet Holness is adamant that Jamaican women can have a family and a successful career.

"It can be done, many women have done it successfully and I would encourage more and more women to do so if it is their choice," Holness, wife of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, told The Sunday Gleaner following the launch of the State of the World Population 2018 report last Thursday.

"As a woman myself with two children, I have found that I am getting up earlier, I am having to exercise because it makes me mentally much sharper, and I think it actually makes us very productive," said Holness.

"We have to be able to be efficient and balanced in our approach if we would like the choice of having a family and still having the opportunity to have a career," added Holness.

Jamaica's current fertility rate, while commendable, has sparked concerns that any further decline could create economic and social issues in the future.

"When I was growing up, a regular working-class family boasted some six to eight children, and that was the norm. My mom had six of us. That has now been reduced in many cases; for me (it is) two, for many more (it is) none," Holness noted during the launch of the report last Thursday.

"Partners have sought to advance their careers, they have sought to delay child-bearing for financial stability, or education, or career advancement. This choice of a different approach is, therefore, resulting in a change in fertility rates which are falling and falling and falling," she said.


Total Fertility Rate


A total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is needed for a country to replace each generation.

For Holness, while there are organisations which have a nursery where parents can leave their children and focus on work, more needs to be done.

"If you know you don't have to worry about where your child is, if they have eaten, if they need to take a nap, that they are in a place of safety, and you can have that at work, it makes for a much more productive woman at work," she said.

According to the State of the World Population 2018 report, low fertility suggests that women, men, and couples have become effective in preventing pregnancies and spacing births, but it is also the manifestation of difficulties women and men face when starting a family or planning their next child.

"Women in low-fertility countries often report that they do not have as many children as they would like," the report stated.

Economic hardship, a lack of housing and job instability are some of the factors that have deterred many from procreating.

"Real incomes have declined. Short-term or contractual arrangements have replaced stable employment with long-term prospects. In some countries, workplace cultures remain rigid and demanding, requiring long hours. Where labour markets are particularly inadequate, people turn to migration, which accelerates population and productivity losses," said the report.

Added to this is the fact that, "Balancing family life and careers has been a challenge for women who have limited or no access to affordable childcare, and whose employers or governments have no provision for paid parental leave or for flexible work schedules and arrangements."

Director General of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, Dr Wayne Henry, believes a better work-life balance will enable couples to have the number of children they desire. This can be achieved with the implementation of measures such as affordable childcare.

"We have seen where countries have put in place policies to facilitate better work-life balance," said Henry.

"We speak of things like maternity leave (and) paternity leave," said Henry.

"We think of just general leave where people are accumulating leave and they tell you, bwoy, even though it is granted to us on paper, because of the conditions of work, we don't feel like we can take it," added Henry.