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Gender policy seeks to link growth TO equality

Sunday, May 27, 2012
These women take their protest to the streets as they make a case for equality.

This is the first of a series of columns on the national gender policy.


Equality between men and women affects every aspect of national life, whether political, economic, social, cultural or personal. In this column, I focus on key economic aspects of having a national gender policy. A simple definition of economics is the field related to the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in the society.



The building blocks of the economy include households and firms (as buyers and sellers), the market and its interactions. The macro-economy is overseen by the Ministry of Finance and includes elements of economic growth, monetary and fiscal policy, inflation and unemployment.


What does economics have to do with gender equality?
The economy is not a value-neutral, objective entity that is separate from the society. Instead, the economy is deeply connected to gender and other forms of discrimination and inequality in society. The national gender policy seeks to link economic growth with gender equality and human development.


The labour market
If we take a close look at the labour market, we’ll see that men and women are positioned very differently, linked to traditional notions about masculine and feminine roles and responsibilities. Men occupy most of the high-paid jobs, eg government ministers, parliamentarians, CEOs of companies, doctors, construction workers, tradesmen and chefs. Women, on the other hand, form the majority in the low-paid occupations, eg domestic workers, hairdressers, market vendors, small business owners, nurses and teachers. This is not to say that all men are in well-paid jobs, and all women are in low-paid jobs.


A 2010 Inter-American Bank report shows that women in Jamaica are concentrated in four sectors: commerce (30.7 per cent), education and health (22.6 per cent), domestic service (15.3 per cent), and primary activities (12.1 per cent). So even though women are entering new sectors, they still comprise the majority of traditionally female occupations. They are also the first to be fired—two-thirds of persons laid off in 2001 were women.


Thus, despite the fact that Caribbean women have been economically active since African slavery and Indian indentureship, and currently show relatively high rates of participation in the labour force, male/female occupational segregation continues to exist.


Domestic work undervalued
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that “domestic work is undervalued, underpaid, unprotected and poorly regulated” due to its similarity to women’s work in the home which receives no monetary compensation. At a recent forum, Ida Le Blanc of the National Union of Domestic Workers (Nude) asked, “Are domestic workers full citizens and workers, and how can they access their rights?”



Her question refers to the plight of the 10,000 or so members of Nude whose place of employment (the home) still bears traces of the colonial mistress/servant relationship, and whose labour rights are not included in the collective bargaining process. Despite Nude’s leading role internationally in lobbying for the ILO’s 2011 Domestic Workers Convention, Trinidad and Tobago has not yet ratified it.


Not only is the labour force segregated by gender, but studies show that women are paid between 60-80 per cent of male earnings for the same work across the world, particularly in the private sector. When negotiating their terms and conditions of employment in a company, men often argue that their experience qualifies them to start at the middle or higher end of the salary scale.


Women, who have only begun to enter these professions in recent decades, are not as savvy. A woman may be the first in her family to have achieved a high school or university education, and she may accept the job without question and be placed at the bottom of the scale. Since private-sector companies don’t tend to publish their salary scales, she is none the wiser that the man in the office next door who began working at the same time, is earning more than her.


When we add women’s unequal position in the labour market to the fact that over a third of households in Trinidad and Tobago are headed by women who may be the sole income earner, it becomes possible to grasp the UN statistic that women represent “70 per cent of the world’s poor.”


Macroeconomic and trade policy
A key area of macroeconomic policy is the Government’s annual budget. In bringing together public revenue and expenditure, it reflects the economic and social priorities of the Government. The Commonwealth Secretariat points out that although the provisions in a budget may appear to be gender neutral, they, in fact, affect men and women differently due to their male/female roles and responsibilities.


Thus, through its provisions on income, health, education, nutrition, etc, the budget can either improve or worsen the living standards of men and women and the most vulnerable in the society. The national gender policy would promote gender-responsive budgeting in the budgeting and planning process managed by the Ministries of Finance and Planning. This has the potential to ensure that the budget prioritises not only economic growth, but also gender equality and social justice.
Some women have forged spaces in the retail, agricultural, petroleum and tourism sectors, and a few are CEOs of large companies.


However, compared to men who dominate the top positions in the major economic sectors, women are largely silent on issues of trade policy. It is an increasingly well-known fact that developed and developing countries that actively support women-owned businesses are showing higher levels of economic growth. The World Bank describes this as “smart economics” for if a country takes full advantage of its human resources, it is bound to reap economic and social dividends.


The national gender policy would encourage both the private and public sectors to stimulate and support women, and youth entrepreneurship.


Male gender gaps

We know that boys are dropping out of school at higher rates than girls, and young women represent 65 per cent of university entrants and graduates. As a result, we are beginning to see male gender gaps in the economic sphere. While young women are breaking with traditional notions of womanhood, and are taking advantage of opportunities for employment in the public and private sectors, a growing number of male drop-outs are turning to theft, dealing in drugs and small arms, and other illegal forms of livelihood.


The national gender policy would promote equal employment opportunities for men and women in the public and private sectors, as well as monitor salaries, hiring, promotion, conditions of work, and so on. If approved by the Government, the national gender policy would be an important tool for Trinidad and Tobago’s economic and social development.


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