Recently while trying to find a job for a young mother with small children, I was surprisingly asked the following questions by two employers, “Does she have children? How old are they?” After honestly responding in the affirmative, that Yes, she had children and that they were infants, I was shockingly advised the following by said employers, “I really do not like to hire women with small children” and “I prefer not to hire women with young children”.
I was even more taken aback when the female employer remarked, “I believe women with small children should stay at home and care for their own children.” Even after trying to discuss with these employers that the young mother was desperately in search of a job, to be in a better position to provide for her children, the employers were not willing to change their positions, but were more than willing to share that “generally women with small children are likely to be late or absent from work because their children are sick and that sometimes they have to take them to the doctor or to the Health Centre.”
Although I did indicate to these employers that to some degree I do understand their reservations, as these things are somewhat inevitable with small children, I had to remind them, that this justification was insufficient to deprive a woman of a job and that this situation further amounted to Gender-Based Employment Discrimination, because when asked, they both agreed men were not asked similar questions and even if they did disclose they were fathers of young children, their chances of gaining the employment were not hampered.
Feeling very disturbed about the outcome of the discussions, I decided to share the experience with a few persons, who also indicated that they had heard similar stories, and that in one case an employer grilled the young female job applicant about the whereabouts of the child’s grandmother and also who would be responsible for collecting the child from daycare, and who would be responsible for taking the child for the required visits to the Health Centre.
Having heard the level of scrutiny and discrimination to which women with young children are exposed to when in search of a job, I was literally moved to tears. However, I immediately recognized that tears would not resolve this situation, but that there is a greater need for advocacy on these issues. These are modern times, this is the year 2016, and women should not be subjected to these archaic policies that seek to disenfranchise them and leave them even more vulnerable economically. The discussions about Gender Equality must not be a big “song and dance” for a season, the issues confronting us women are many, varied, discriminatory and hurtful, and need to be consistently championed to improve our lives and allow us to make more meaningful contributions to our country’s development. Employers must be made aware that these practices are discriminatory and all others who treat women unfairly should swiftly move to halt such unfortunate practices.
Goal number 5 of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognizes the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women to the development of countries and therefore beckons countries to and I quote, “Achieve Gender Quality and Empower All Girls and Women”. We in St. Kitts and Nevis must play our part to ensure that this is done, as this is a critically important yardstick by which our development will be judged internationally over the next 15 years. Women have a vital and pivotal role to play in this new era of sustainable development, and we must not be limited or shortchanged in our quest to fulfill our roles and make a difference, we have lots to bring to the table.
Although it is evident that more must and should be done on the national front, to facilitate the progress of women, I do acknowledge that sometimes we women are our very own worst enemies. Therefore, to the women who may be presently abusing the excuse, that “me child sick”, or “I got to carry me child clinic”, when sometimes this is not the case, or who when actually have these responsibilities to conduct, do not efficiently use the time allotted but rather “diddly daddle about”, taking into no consideration the reduction in productivity at their workplaces while they are away, and those who may deliberately go to work late or frequently absent themselves from work without cause, I encourage you to desist from these practices. These behaviors, leave a bad taste in the mouth of employers, and therefore make it extremely difficult for employers to consider hiring other women with young children for employment.
I also encourage fathers to help shoulder the responsibility of caring for their children more as well. I am certain the nurses at the Health Centres would be happy to see more men bringing their babies for their necessary shots and checkups. Also, men I encourage you to also share the responsibility of staying home with a sick child. Therefore, if the child has to stay at home for two days because he or she is ill, I suggest you allow your child’s mother to go to work on one of those days while you take care of the infant. Ladies do not be afraid to have these discussions with fathers. Remember, at the end of the day if we do not encourage or allow them to undertake their fair share of childcare responsibilities, we would be the ones left with the bad record of attendance and punctuality at work.
I therefore wish to applaud the Government through the Departments of Gender Affairs for the work they have been doing in their efforts to empower women, through various programmes, but also wish to encourage them to take the women empowerment initiatives up a notch, and ensure that women issues are at the forefront of national discussions, which could create spin-off benefits for women and the entire country. To the companies who continue to wholeheartedly create a space for women to serve in your institutions, I want to thank you for believing in our abilities and capabilities and for giving us a springboard to leap to economic prosperity. We are truly grateful.
To the wider St. Kitts and Nevis society, I say, let us work collectively to change the way women are viewed and treated, and let us be advocates for the creation of more platforms of growth and development for women.
Lastly, to the women who are working and excelling and making great strides in this country, I congratulate you, but I caution you to never become so selfish in your pursuits, that you forget the sister who is struggling and or not working, who needs your voice and energies to defy the odds and uplift her successfully. The writing is on the wall, it cannot be business as usual, women empowerment is a must and it must begin with us.
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