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Posted: Thursday 24 March, 2016 at 12:56 AM

A look at Gender Inequality in the English Caribbean

By: LifeLines, Commentary

    Gender inequality in the English Caribbean refers to gaps between individuals based on gender in the Anglophone countries of the Caribbean. 


    Caribbean countries have been moving toward compliance with the United Nation's Convention on the Elimination on Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), but according to the UN Women’s Caribbean department, there is still work to be done to achieve gender equality in the region. With the exception of education, women bear most of the negative impacts that occur as a result of gender inequality in the Caribbean region, as outlined in the areas below:

    Women in the Caribbean make up a significant amount of the labour force but still earn significantly less than their male counterparts. On average, 50 percent of women are part of the formal sector as compared to more than 75 percent of men.

    Unemployment rates are high throughout the region, and are especially high for women despite their higher educational attainment. For example, According to the 2007/2008 World Development Report, the female unemployment rate in Jamaica is 207 percent of the male unemployment rate, in Guyana that number is 240 percent, in St. Lucia 164 percent, and 190 percent in Trinidad and Tobago.
    Informal work 
    Informal work is work that may be unpaid or work that is simply not a part of the formal legal structure. Within the informal sector however, there is earning discrimination. Men tend to do the work that earns high wages, such as construction, whereas women do the work that is considered domestic, such as cleaning or shopkeeping. Within the informal sector, women earn less wages than men. This has important implications for the region because most households are headed by women who are the sole breadwinners. Informal work does not provide benefits such as healthcare, and maternity/sick leave, and are especially vulnerable to economic shifts and natural disasters. Women may also have less access to credit and other avenues that would allow them to enter the formal sector. 
    Formal work
    Moves have been made to decrease the gender bias in labor. However, The Inter-American Development Bank reports that at every educational level, men earn higher wages than women. The wage levels for women with none, primary, and secondary education are similar. Women only see significant changes in their wages with tertiary education. This is not the case for men. 
    The burden of care work and lack of opportunity in the labour market translates into poverty having a very gendered impact in the region, i.e women in the region are likely to be poorer than men. Women have limited access to resources, such as land and credit. Like the other factors, this is significant in a region where a majority of the households are headed solely by women. 
    Family life
    The burden of care work (childcare, elderly care, and care for the sick) and housework falls disproportionately on women in the Caribbean. Social norms permit women to work for the sustainment of their families, but also carries the expectation of men as breadwinners, and women as homemakers.  The weight of family life, child care, and elderly care often shapes women's wage work, constraining them to places near the home. 
    Within the region, marriage rates are low. Common-law relationships are common, as well as visiting relationships, where one partner lives or works in another country or at another primary residence. The general expectation throughout the region is that women are toremain monogamous, whereas it is acceptable for men to have multiple partners and/or families.
    Domestic violence 
    Violence against women is widespread throughout the region. According to UN Women Caribbean, 1 in 3 women in the Caribbean will experience domestic violence. Three Caribbean countries are among the top 10 for reported incidence of rape, and all Caribbean countries have higher than the world average for rape. The devaluation of women's work, decreases their bargaining power within the home and this leads to widespread partner violence. Both women and girls are affected by violence, and a large percentage of girls report forced sexual initiation.

    The countries of the Caribbean have a history of universal access to primary education and widely available secondary schooling. The Caribbean however, paints a different picture of gender and education than most of the other places in the world. Throughout the entire Caribbean, girls outperform boys during primary school, specifically in the areas of mathematics, English and reading. On the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exam, taken near the end of secondary school, girls were both more likely to score better than boys as well as outperform them across all subject areas. 
    Boys were more likely than girls to drop out before and during secondary school. Boys also had higher repetition rates. Women completed on average 13.3 years of schooling whereas their male counterparts completed 12.7 years. Women are enrolled in secondary and tertiary levels in greater numbers than men. 

    Women in the English speaking Caribbean gained the right to vote in their independent legislatures at the same time as men. The percentage of women who turn out to vote is similar to that of men however, women are significantly underrepresented in the island legislatures, at only 15% on average. 

    Female ministers are more likely to head ministries traditionally associated with women, such as Education, Tourism, Social Development, Housing and Culture.  However, the islands of Dominica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica have all seen women Prime Ministers or Heads of State. 

    Over the past decade, the English speaking Caribbean, under the lead of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), has made significant strides in improving gender equality. 

    Moves are also being made within the entire region to improve education for young men, to increase representation of women in the legislature, to enhance conditions in the workforce and to relieve the burden of care work on women. 

    (Adapted from “Gender Equality in the Caribbean”, Wikipedia)

    "LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine".


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