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Although women are accessing higher education than their male counterparts, there are fewer women in the labour force, which means that women as a group, are underemployed.
This is among the findings of the ‘The Status of Men and Women in Jamaica,’ Desk Review, which was done by the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and was revealed at the final in the series of gender workshops hosted by the Bureau recently, at the Terra Nova Hotel.
Similar workshops have been held in St. Ann, St. Mary, Portland, St. James, Hanover, Trelawny, Manchester, Clarendon, St. Thomas and St. Elizabeth to share the findings of the research and to garner public feedback for the formulation of a National Gender Policy.
Consultant in Gender Studies, Dr. Imani Tafari Ama, who led the Kingston consultation, explained that National Gender Policy would help to place gender and gender equality in the mainstream of major sectors of society.
Meanwhile, the research revealed, that while females were outperforming their male counterparts and were better at attending educational institutions, there was a tendency for them to choose the ‘soft’ subjects.
Dr. Ama noted, “even though women and girls are outperforming their male counterparts in the educational system, they tend to do so in the traditional so-called feminized lines as they mainly dominate in the humanities and arts. This needs to be looked at critically in terms of re-evaluating the education system.”
Another finding she highlighted, was that boys tended to drop out of school at a higher rate than girls and the literacy level among men and boys was much lower than it was for women. In fact, studies show that men in the 75 and over age group were mostly functionally illiterate in relation to their female counterparts.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ama said that women do not command lucrative positions in the labour market. In 2004, males continued to represent the majority of the employed labour force at 57.9 per cent.
When the differential between women and men in the labour force is examined, it shows that the male unemployment rate was 7.9 per cent whilst the female unemployment rate in 2004 was 16.4 per cent.
“When we look at occupational segregation, there is a differential of 35.8 per cent between men and women meaning that there are many more unemployed women than men and also the sectors and levels at which they are employed is at a lower level than their male counterparts,” Dr. Ama said. The research also suggests that women tend to be employed in the low wage earning sectors.
In terms of decision-making, women tend not to be as represented as their male counterparts whether it is in the corporate sector or in government.
Dr. Ama suggested that more women needed to counteract the gender stereotypes of power when it comes to what positions they actually go for in the education system, noting that women tend to lack confidence when accessing power at the highest level of labour.
She noted that the occupations in which women dominated tend to be un-unionized and this resulted in less representation for them to get the best benefits.
On another matter, Dr. Ama pointed out that, “the issue of sexual harassment has still not gone on our legislative instruments,” adding that as a result, women were exposed to sexual harassment at the workplace without having legal recourse for that kind of offence.
In terms of discrimination at the workplace, she said there was also no legislative instrument in place and as such, people with HIV or those of a cultural minority are not protected.
Turning to gender and labour, Dr. Ama said that there were no flexible hours for both men and women to work. One issue that is being debated is whether flexi-time or paternity leave should be introduced. Another area that the Bureau is contemplating is whether persons, who adopt children, should also be awarded maternity and paternity leave.
The broad areas that will be considered in the formulation of the National Gender Policy for Jamaica are: Economy and Social Security; Education and Culture; Violence and Psychosocial Health; Agriculture and Trade; Human Rights, Labour and Legislation; and Reproduction, Health and Reproductive Rights and HIV/AIDS.