Thu | Aug 5, 2021

Myth, women and economic power

Published:Sunday | June 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Imani Duncan-Price, Guest Columnist

Looking at facts can help dispel myths that hold back a nation. Evidence-based conversations and analyses lead to more accurate decision-making - whether in our homes, schools, government, businesses, churches. This final article looks at one myth - the marginalisation of men - and the reality as evidenced by data.

It is inspiring what individual women have achieved in high places. Our first female prime minister, among others, have set great examples. However, the achievement of individual women tends to mask the position of the majority of women in Jamaica. It seems that as individual women have become more visible in the public space, there is some kind of backlash. Perhaps it's patriarchal resistance, bearing in mind that both women and men were raised and continue to live in the system of patriarchy.

It is my hope that by presenting some of the facts, the discomfort eases, as our society undergoes changes in terms of the roles and expectations of women and men. Instead, we'll take deliberate actions in creating family structures with partnership roles for mothers and fathers at the level of the household. We could also begin to shape community and workplace structures that are most effective for the kind of Jamaica we envision with a thriving, inclusive economy.

An important frame for this analysis of facts is the definition of gender parity - a ratio of no more than 60:40 for women or men in a particular sector to enable more of a balance and partnership in society approximating to the actual percentage of women and men in a country, in the world - 50:50.

Myth: Marginalisation of Men

One of the data points behind this rallying cry regarding the marginalisation of men is the number of men and women in tertiary institutions. Yes, the University of the West Indies, Mona, has an approximate 80:20 ratio of women to men registered at the institution. However, the University of Technology operates in the realm of gender parity with an approximate ratio of 57:43 (women:men) registered. Indeed, the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica (ESSJ) 2012 indicates that the woman-to-man registered student ratio across all of Jamaica's universities is 62:38. This is close to the realm of gender parity. It should be noted, too, 55 per cent of the graduates of HEART Trust/NTA in 2012 were women.

Let's put even these numbers attending university in context. The fact is that gross tertiary enrolment rate for 2012 was 29.5 per cent. So even though you may have more women than men in university overall - this is less than one-third of the potential population aged 20-24 years. So what's happening to this 30 per cent and the other 70 per cent of women and men?

FACT 1: Majority of Women in Low-Wage Jobs

The most recent Labour Force Survey (2013) states that of the 1.1 million people employed in Jamaica, 57 per cent were men and 43 per cent were women. However, 62.3 per cent of those employed women are in low-wage jobs. The fact that in Jamaica, 59 per cent of the managers in the workforce are female (2014 Gender-Global Entrepreneurial Development Index) seems to obscure the important nuances of economic power and women. Yes, you have more women working in the public sector, and more women than men working in the legal field, among a few other areas. However, the majority of working women in Jamaica do not have economic power.

That 62.3 per cent working in low-wage jobs are primarily employed within private households as domestic workers, are hotel and restaurant workers, are employed within the education sector, as well within the wholesale and retail sector. Increasingly, we are seeing more and more female gas station attendants and security guards, as some men refuse to work for the small wages. The term that women use for this phenomenon is the 'feminisation of poverty'. This has serious ramifications for real options for women.

FACT 2: Women still earn less than men

A 2010 IDB study revealed that on average, women in Jamaica at all levels earn approximately 12.5 per cent less than males for the same jobs. Yes, this is the case almost 40 years after the Michael Manley-led government passed the Employment (Equal Pay for Men and Women) Act in 1975. It is said that women don't negotiate as effectively as men, women don't ask for increases in salary - all because of the ways in which women are raised. As this wage inequity persists, perhaps it is not surprising then, given how boards are typically selected, that the many educated women from our universities are not in the boardroom as decision-makers. Implicit bias in patriarchy, of which I spoke in the first article ('Not looking for a free pass', Sunday Gleaner, June 8, 2014), drives both realities.

FACT 3: Female-Headed Households More Vulnerable

Remember, too, 45 per cent of all households in Jamaica are female-headed households. In addition to having to carry the burden of parenting on their own, these households headed by women are larger than those headed by men, yet they consume nearly 20 per cent less than those headed by men. It's a negative spiral. Intergenerational poverty, especially where there is teenage pregnancy, is exacerbated by incomplete secondary education. Ultimately, many of these women face the availability only of poorly paid jobs without benefits.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The data above clearly indicate that men are not being marginalised across Jamaica. Applying a gender lens on the data gives a more thorough picture of where marginalisation is actually occurring and can inform well-designed policies and programmes to deal with the challenges Jamaica faces. Women, as a group, are more marginalised than men.

Without economic power, how do you even begin to consider leadership opportunities in politics or other spheres of decision-making? Remember the persistent reality - of the 362 persons elected to Parliament in the 70 years since 1944, only 35 have been female - 10 per cent. Economic barriers are one of the persistent issues.

Without access to affordable childcare or a shift in roles of mothers and fathers to become true partners in parenting, or without a shift in the structure of the workplace, where does a woman find the time to make strides in her work life while tending to her responsibilities as primary caregiver (to children, including the disabled and/or ageing parents)? Patriarchy's social construct is another barrier.

If we don't recalibrate how families raise boys and shape their views towards education; and if we don't expand the teaching modalities to better suit the educational needs of our boys, why would there be a change in the tertiary registration of men? Patriarchal system also limits the potential for boys and men defining masculinity and role models in some negative ways.

All these have policy implications. Today's knowledge-based global economy requires the talents, experience and insights of both women and men in the Parliament and in the Cabinet, as well as in the boardroom, to design the most creative and effective solutions to these and other policy questions.

Women and men can stand together, work together, in true partnership at all levels in society to the benefit of families, communities and businesses through inclusive economic development. Indeed, this is what Jamaica needs. Don't you think it's time for smart economics?

Imani Duncan-Price is a government senator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and imaniduncan@gmail.com.