The month of March marks the global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world.
As a fervent women’s rights advocate, I always look for information on the status of women in the country where I live/work. I usually observe women interacting on the streets, at the grocery store, at the university and in my workplace. I meet with locals, ask questions and do some research.
Before I left Canada, many told me, “you’ll see, in the Caribbean women’s rights are violated in many ways”. I was looking forward to learning and discovering for myself what the situation was like. In such a short period of time (1 month into my journey), I’ve met numerous women and the conclusion has been the same: “Jamaica is so behind, gender based violence, sexual abuse, and the glass ceiling in the workplace are a part of the daily life of too many women”.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day (IWD), several events took place in Kingston and I must say they were great and insightful. IWD is a great occasion to celebrate women’s achievement and to recognize their contributions to economics, and social and political change, but it is also a chance to increase awareness on the many violations that persist. Jamaica is not a special case of its own. Women’s rights are violated around the world, at different levels and on different aspects.
Women in the Workplace
So I looked deeper and found out that Jamaica has the highest proportion of women managers (60%) globally. The ILOreport Women in Business and Management: Gaining momentum also found that while women are still under-represented in top management, the number of women in senior and middle management positions has increased over the last 20 years. An increasing number of studies are also demonstrating positive links between women’s participation in top decision making teams and structures and business performance. But there is a long way to go before Jamaica achieves true gender equality in the workplace, especially when it comes to top management positions.
Women’s Political Representation
I attended the UNDP launch event of the publication entitled Where Are the Women? The report is the product of a regional analysis examining the presence of women in decision-making positions of CARICOM countries and the relationship between their presence in politics and institutions and national advances on gender equality.
Women represent 51% of the world population; 50,24% in Jamaica. You can see them everywhere, in every aspect of the country life. However, women make up only 20% of cabinet ministers, senators and mayors, and women’s average representation in all parliamentary committees combined is a mere 10.3%. Jamaica has a national gender policy that lay down a desired target of 30% women in decision-making positions, but I am not sure if efforts have been made towards its implementation. Jessica Faieta stated that, “the importance of equal participation of women in politics, and especially in decision-making positions, is not simply about equal numbers; it’s about cultivating an environment that values women’s perspectives, recognizes women as change-makers and leverages differences to improve democratic governance.” And she is right; we must see women as cultivator of change and trust in their capacities to alleviate a country. The most difficult thing to do is not to appoint women in government, but to recognize and acknowledge their full potential.
Even so, I feel that I’ve witnessed a new page in Jamaican history as the newly elected federal government has the largest number of women appointed to any cabinet. Five women have been sworn in as part of Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ cabinet: Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade; Fayval Williams, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Public Service; Shahine Robinson, Minister of Labour and Social Security; Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte; and Olivia Babsy Grange, Minister of Entertainment, Sport, Culture and Gender Affairs. A note regarding this particular appointment: When looking at the title of this mega ministry, you instantly understand that gender affairs are not a priority, not even something that worth to be dealt with separately from sports and entertainment.
So yes, Jamaica is behind, but some progress has been made. In this country like in any other, women have begun – decades ago – a long, slow march toward gender equality.
“We are not aggressive but we are assertive” – The Honourable Minister Grange
Jamaican proverb – “Every tub affi sit on it own bottom” (Every person will have to take responsibility for his own life and actions)
Take care – DBA
 International Labour Organization
 Jessica Faieta is the UNDP regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean