We, the 51% Coalition,wholeheartedly welcome the Ministry of Education’s new policy which permits girls who leave school for reasons of pregnancy to return to class after the birth of their child.
The 51% Coalition -Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment through Equity –recognizes that Jamaican citizens are fully aware of the right to education of every child, girl and boy. In amending outdated discriminatory regulations, the new policy is an important step in removing a form of gender discrimination which could deny a girl’s right to equal access to education.
We commend Opposition Senator Kamina Johnson Smith for her consistent advocacy on this matter, and congratulate the Ministry of Education for responding positively toSenator Johnson Smith’s parliamentary motion. The Ministry proposes that school places assigned to pregnant adolescents must now be retained during their absence,for them to take up after the birth of their baby.
Research has shown that investing in a young woman’s education is absolutely critical to ensuring the positive development of both mother and child. Follow up studies at the Women’s Centre, where pregnant girls receive comprehensive educational and counseling support, show that most girls are able to avoid another unwanted pregnancy during their teen years, and many become effective peer counsellors. We therefore sincerely hope that the “Re-integration Program” newly established in the Ministry of Education’s Guidance and Counseling Unit will be properly resourced so that it can provide the necessary sensitive support to the student-mother and her family.
The second item of good news that the 51% Coalition applauds is the recent appointment of Ms. Sophia Frazer-Binns to the Senate. This brings to 5 (of 21) the number of women in the Senate (23.8%).
We welcome this progress, as we inchforward towards gender balance in the high-level arenas of decision-making. Ms. Frazer-Binns is one of the many very well qualified women in Jamaica whose expertise can enhance the process of policy making.
In fact, the 51% Coalition has proposed a ‘gender landscape’ in high-level decision making that would see Public or Private sector Boards comprising no more than 60%, and no less than40%, of either sex. This move towards gender balance can be achieved partly through the use of gender quotas.
In a population of 51% females and 49% males, it is a matter of equity, justice and human rights that both genders should be fairly represented in the areas where decisions are made about policies that affect the daily lives ofwomen and men right across the society.
For further information, please contact the 51 % Coalition Media Team:
Ms. Hilary Nicholson, Tel: 467-9906
Ms. Anna-Kaye Rowe, Tel: 929-8873, 487-8268
Dr. Marcia Forbes, Tel: 361-1643
- Gender-Based Quotas: “A step forward” towards a more equitable society for all Jamaicans (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Gender equality must be a development priority in its own right | Naila Kabeer and Jessica Woodroffe (guardian.co.uk)
- Gender balancing – quotas or social pressure? (skillssource.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/this-is-how-change-happens/ ”This is how change happens” (petchary.wordpress.com)
Money is very much on our minds these days, isn’t it?
It certainly is in Jamaica, where the Minister of Finance recently tabled the first Supplementary Estimates (a reduction of J$9.89 billion). The House of Representatives approved them, and we now move on, with some trepidation, towards the Budget. With the visit of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team last week, the “prior actions,” the huge new taxation package and other developments are weighing on our minds.
So in the midst of all this, how are we to ensure that gender issues are taken seriously into consideration in every single aspect of the budget process? This is a topic under consideration in a series of seminars for Jamaica’s civil society, as Budget Day (April 1) approaches. Last week I attended the first seminar, coordinated by the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre as part of its Economic Literacy Program, in collaboration with its partners, the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition. The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) provided funding, with the support of UN Women. Ms. Marsha Caddle, from the UN Development Program‘s Barbados and Eastern Caribbean (OECS) office, guided us through the morning, bringing clarity and reasoned thinking to the topic. We all thought hard, took note, and later put our heads together to come up with strategies for, specifically, the education sector. We also looked at opportunities for introducing gender thinking into the process, or the “system.”
Let’s get something clear – the term “gender” does not mean simply “women.” In this context especially, it is important to note that gender-responsive budgeting is about priorities and strategies for women and men, and different groups of women and men, and their unique and different needs. Nor is gender budgeting about separate budgets for men and women. It is about always taking gender into account in the planning and implementation of economic strategies – including the rigorous process that Jamaica is currently engaged in with the IMF. In some countries, gender budget analysis is called equity analysis. Once the word “gender” is introduced, it raises visions of “feminism” (I am not sure how this became a scary word for some, but that is another question).
There are obvious and glaring imbalances in the current Caribbean (and Jamaican) socio-economic landscape. There is the gender wage gap – men still earn more than women, while still underperforming educationally. But then, overall, sixty per cent of students in Jamaica leave school without formal certification. There is low economic growth (or none at all) leading to stagnation. Productivity is low, resulting in low returns on the government’s investment in education. There were major spending cuts throughout the structural adjustment period of the eighties and nineties in various sectors. The staggering burden of debt threatens to overwhelm us. Crime and violence place a huge social and economic cost on society.
So, gender inequality is costly to all – not only to women. It affects the man, children, the family, society. We must keep this in mind at all times.
And how are women doing? The traditional view of the economy in the Caribbean, Ms. Caddle noted, includes some built-in attitudes – the “male breadwinner bias,” for example. The working woman is mostly in the lower-paying sectors of the economy; or she is performing domestic or agricultural work, which is neither recognized, nor supported; neither rewarded nor supported (for example, by pensions or other social support). I myself know some women whom I consider the “working poor.” Young women in particular are more likely to be unemployed than men. While more than two-thirds of Caribbean people living alone are men, over four-fifths of single parent households in the Caribbean are headed by women (there are even “child-dependent” households by the way – that is, an older child supports the family). In Jamaica, 47 per cent of urban households are headed by single women; of these, thirty per cent live below the poverty line. Female-headed households tend to be larger. But women have limited access to land and credit, for example – two means of increasing production. They also have less access to wellbeing and leisure activities than men. In short, many Caribbean women - and their families – are disempowered and vulnerable.
But hold on a minute – isn’t the domestic sector also a producer? Of course it is. Projects such as the Glass of Milk program to fight child malnutrition in Peru are often largely supported by unpaid labor in communities. This production capacity must be supported. When more resources are provided to women, evidence shows that they put it to good, productive use compared to men. But even some aid programs are still skewed in a way that does not benefit women and children; a banana industry support program, for example, targeted male banana farm owners and actually resulted in increased female poverty.
Now let’s look at what one hopes to achieve in terms of human development through gender budgeting. How can working gender considerations into the mainstream positively impact men, women and children? Governments need to target their spending much more carefully, spending their money more efficiently. It is all about “governance for development” – whether it is in health or education, agriculture or housing. Gender budgeting will help governments to do this, while improving family welfare and reducing poverty. And that critical element (which often eludes us in the Caribbean) – productivity - will be increased.
Governments’ relationships with aid agencies (and international financial institutions such as the IMF) are also critical in the Caribbean. Like its neighbors, Jamaica is working towards achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG); we are only two years away from the MDG deadline. I would like to take a good hard look at how Jamaica is progressing towards those goals (and by the way, Jamaica has its own “Vision 2030″ to keep in mind). After that, how is a post-2015 sustainable development agenda looking? Perhaps Caribbean governments and their international partners need to re-examine their programs to ensure that gender equity is always an important component. And when looking at budgets from a gender perspective, one may wish to reorient programs in different sectors, accordingly – not necessarily change the amount of funding allocated, but perhaps the timing of a project needs to be revised.
The discussion was wide-ranging. Many of the conclusions that seminar participants reached extended beyond gender considerations, embracing issues of governance and leadership, accountability and transparency (words that we like to use, but which really are important words). Governments must focus more on economic policy in the medium term, it was agreed. One participant raised the issue of class bias – another factor that cannot be ignored in Jamaican society. Taking the education sector as an example, participants wanted to explore the gender implications of investment in early childhood education, the school feeding program and other government programs. There needed to be a better gender balance on public school boards – an issue that the 51% Coalition is very much focused on (see my earlier blog posts, links below). It was generally agreed that a stronger emphasis on civic education in schools would provide a clear framework for young Jamaicans, both male and female. There should be a much stronger emphasis on rights-based pedagogy, on critical thinking – even on the redesign of classrooms to reflect changing approaches to gender.
Some of us addressed broader issues. The aim, after all, of a balanced and equitable society must be that all groups benefit; that there is real and sustainable development; that our leaders serve a more satisfied constituency; and that all sectors of society understand and “buy into” the vision. People need details, and certainties – the clear framework for progress mentioned above. You only have to watch or listen to a “man/woman on the street” interview to realize this. And everyone must have a say. Partners in this process must include youth; faith-based institutions (in particular those influential conservative religious elements that ascribe traditional roles to men and women); politicians (of course); schools and academia; the media; the private sector; community-based organizations; party workers at the grassroots level; and of course, families. Government initiatives such as public-private partnerships, local government reform, conflict resolution, technology policy and legislation, and others should provide opportunities to mainstream gender considerations.
Where do we go from here? Well, WROC aims to roll the findings of these discussions into a project, as part of its Economic Literacy Program. This should not, and will not, be just another set of workshops with breakout sessions that produce interesting ideas that are not followed up.
“We have to value the under-valued,” someone commented. Giving value to each and every citizen’s role in society must be a crucial element in budgeting – including women whose role in the economy is often largely ignored. And this also includes consideration for marginalized groups, such as the large numbers of young, “unattached” males (this is a huge problem in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we learnt – but also in Jamaica). It is not OK to have a large percentage of the population unengaged – unemployed and not interested in becoming productive members of society.
Gender equity is about equity. And equity implicitly means equality for all. So let us turn our thoughts towards practical, sensible ways in which we can ensure that our (increasingly scarce) resources are used in the right way, to benefit every member of society.
Related articles and websites:
http://www.who.int/topics/gender/en/ Gender: definition: World Health Organization
http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTGENDER/0,,menuPK:336874~pagePK:149018~piPK:149093~theSitePK:336868,00.html Gender and development: World Bank
http://www.wrocjamaica.org Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre website
http://www.wrocjamaica.org/partners WROC partners: wrocjamaica.org
http://www.unwomen.org UN Women website
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/we-are-the-51-per-cent/ We are the 51 percent: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/madam-director-madam-chair/ Madam director, madam chair: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/we-are-family-on-blog-action-day-2012/ We are family: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/many-happy-returns/ Many happy returns: petchary.wordpress.com
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-104/32979 House approves first Supplementary Estimates: Jamaica Information Service
Last month, around the time of National Heroes Day in Jamaica, I was turning the concept of “heroes” around in my head. I had some conversations with a few young Jamaicans in the social media. Two things occurred to me: firstly, that Jamaica seems to be badly in need of heroes. And secondly, that a hero is not someone who has simply done well in his/her field of influence. Winning elections, or selling millions of records, is praiseworthy; but not heroic.
I also do believe, in an old-fashioned way, that a hero must have the following qualities: strength, resilience, vision, determination, courage, seeking always to do better in his/her life. This spills over into the lives of others. He/she inspires others. And that inspiration may come from someone who, at some point, seemed weak, helpless, a victim of fate. The most unlikely hero or SHEro.
So where do we find our 21st century (s)heroes, here in Jamaica? Why, they are all around us, living among us.
Keisha* never saw herself as a SHEro. She still doesn’t. But I think she is.
Keisha loved the father of her youngest child; but he did not disclose his HIV status to her. After she was diagnosed in 2009, she was shocked, depressed, stressed - and very angry. She felt betrayed, and also broken-hearted; she loved her son’s father. The hurt was unbearable. Her hopes of a stable home life and a happy and loving relationship broke into small pieces, like shards of glass. “I neglected myself,” says Keisha. Why should she care? A young woman in her twenties has powerful dreams of the future. But her own future had disappeared – she could not imagine it. Depression, by the way, is twice as common among people living with HIV as it is in the general public.
Keisha stumbled through life.“I was like a walking zombie,” she says. And she told no one about her status. She did not even tell her mother, who could not understand the dramatic change in her daughter. “She wanted to send me to Bellevue,” Keisha says with a wry laugh. (Bellevue is Kingston‘s hospital for the mentally ill).
And still Keisha fought on, alone, without telling anyone her status. Then,the clinic she attended after the birth of her son in 2010 referred her to a Kingston-based non-governmental organisation called Eve for Life.
You will find many smiling faces on the pages of Eve for Life’s website. No sob stories. And this was the point in our story where Keisha’s life began to return to love – that little thing that seemed to have gone from her young life. Talking to Keisha, you are struck by a sense that this was the beginning of her spiritual transformation. It started with the need to disclose her status, and her preparing to do so. This was the first step. “They told us what to say, how to respond,” Keisha tells me. “We used role play for this.” With her mother, the revelation came in stages. “First of all, I told her my boyfriend ‘did something bad,’” she said. Her mother responded, “Did he hit you?” No, she said, but it was something very, very bad. In the end, she told her mother everything. She understood. “She has been very supportive up to this day,” says Keisha.
Keisha is not someone who goes to church every Sunday, but she does go. And she knows the power of forgiveness. She has forgiven her boyfriend. She still loves him, but she has let go. “Life does go on,” she says. Forgiving was a very important part of her healing. And it takes great courage to forgive, to release that bitterness.
And so, Keisha’s positive status has not condemned her to a life of despair; in fact, it has opened up possibilities that she never knew existed. Her diagnosis was “not the end of the world”; far from it. Attending an event at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston was an extraordinary experience for her. And so is her ongoing and growing involvement with Eve for Life. She is now a trainee facilitator and peer educator for newly diagnosed HIV-positive mothers. She is giving of herself to other young Jamaican women who are struggling to overcome her challenges. She is helping to lift them up out of that dark despair she herself once felt.
Keisha sees something now evolving from her weakness: it is strength, it is empowerment. “Everything happens for a reason… Down the line you will see a purpose,” she observes quietly. She now believes that her HIV status has turned her life around in the most unexpected way: “It has given me opportunities…The opportunity to help others.”
Now she is training for a diploma in Practical Nursing at the Garmex HEART Academy. She has two more tests this week. It is a challenge, but she is determined to see it through. She will graduate in 2014, and she has already obtained high marks in her core subject as well as in Language and Communications. The only tricky one is Mathematics, but she is confident she will pass that too. While she is studying, her mother looks after her children.
Keisha believes – she knows – she will be a better mother. She looks forward to her children growing up. She wants them to be anything they want to be – a doctor, a lawyer. She has hope, she has plans for them. A good education, university. “I will guide them,” she says. She will talk to them in a way that her mother never spoke to her – about relationships, about sex, about love, about life. She will hide nothing from them. She hopes to be a grandmother, one day. She giggles.
How does Keisha see her own future? “It gets better and better each day,” she says. She and her peer group at Eve for Life have their “ups and downs,” like any family. And they are family to her. They encourage and motivate each other, and help each other solve “everyday life problems.”
Because that is what it is all about. Heroism is not just about the limelight, the dramatic gesture, the applause, the awards. Our Jamaican SHEroes are here, with us. They are HIV positive; they get up and they carry on, every day.
And they are looking to the future, and to creating a stronger, more resilient, AIDS-free generation.
The future looks bright.
* not her real name
This blog post is dedicated to little Hope Divine. She is four years old, she is feisty, she has loving adoptive parents, she is going to school.
“Let’s find a ‘win-win’ solution to the issue of diversity on public sector boards,” urged Judith Wedderburn, Director of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), at the cozy Alhambra Inn in Kingston on Wednesday night (June 20, 2012).
I had the honor of joining a high-powered group of Jamaican women for a “Conversation,” a sharing of views and experiences on good governance and women on public sector boards. The meeting was organized by the 51% Coalition: Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment through Equity, a recently formed alliance of women, women’s organizations and partners with the aim of “Promoting Gender Diversity in Leadership.” The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) and the FES collaborated with the Coalition for the three-hour discussion. (Oh yes, why 51%, you may ask? Because statistically women make up 51% of the Jamaican population).
The gathering of about fifty women had one thing in common: They are all directors of various Jamaican government agencies – the Child Development Agency, the Housing Agency of Jamaica, the Rural Electrification Program, school boards, health boards, local government entities and so on. There were also two or three board chairs. One group from Mandeville was headed by Mayor Brenda Ramsay; another had traveled from Montego Bay. Some had only recently joined boards; others were more seasoned. There was “diversity and power in the room,” Ms. Wedderburn noted. They were at the Alhambra Inn not only to share and learn from each other, but also to discuss the benefits of, and guiding principles for women serving on public sector boards. They were also meeting to discuss the issue of good governance. For example, what is expected of board members in general; and how should women in particular use board membership to their advantage, and to the advantage of other Jamaican women who are seeking leadership?
Executive Director of the influential Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the 51% Coalition Sandra Glasgow started us all thinking with her presentation on “Why Jamaican Public Sector Boards Need More Women.” A remarkable amount of research has been done on this topic already, she noted – including a revealing 2009 Ernst & Young report, “Groundbreakers,” and research by University of Michigan Professor Scott Page, Catalyst and others. In 2010 the global median of women on private sector boards was a mere 12 per cent; in 2007 in Jamaica it was 16 per cent on private sector and 33 per cent on public sector boards. Since then the percentage on public boards has slipped to 31 per cent; but the process of appointments is still ongoing. And yes, politics is a factor; WROC’s Linnette Vassell asserted unequivocally that the method of selection of board members is “still too closely linked to the political process.” Of 91 boards polled by the PSOJ, 70 were chaired by men.
These researchers – and many others – have determined that “a diverse group almost always outperforms homogenous boards” by a substantial margin. Michigan’s Professor Page adds,“Diversity IS strategy.” Boards with female members have a strategic advantage. There is a major push in Europe for more women on public and private boards, and some countries already use legislation to reinforce this – or are considering that option. But how and why does a gender-balanced board do better than one dominated by men, for example? “Female directors behave differently,” said Ms. Glasgow. Their behavior affects how the men behave; they set an example of conscientiousness. Women’s attendance records are better, and they prepare better for meetings (one should spend two to three hours studying board papers before a meeting). This keeps the men on their toes. As it stands now, women represent a vast, untapped resource; in these days of economic crisis, we should take the opportunity for a “rethink” - women will help to strengthen the private or public sector body’s performance, and this has been proved time and again. Including women is simply good for business.
What else can women bring to the boardroom table? Women are instinctively more concerned for the interests of the under-privileged, as well as for other women and children. This is a part of the balance; don’t leave them out.
But what is the ideal gender balance? Some experts say the “critical mass, or tipping point” is three women on a board (but of course this depends on the size of the board). What the 51% Coalition is aiming for (and this is a generally accepted standard) is a 40%-60% balance on either side. A board comprising entirely of women (there is one in Jamaica, the National Council on Education) is not ideal. However, none of the women in the room served on a board with the 40- 60 balance. Some were the only woman on the board; most were in groups of two or three, but with some boards numbering up to nineteen. So, the balance was tipped heavily in favor of men. Besides, women only get appointed to “certain types” of committees; many other committees are the preserve of the men.
Many women want to become directors, said Ms. Glasgow. She admitted, however, that she was “a little pessimistic” that more would be appointed – unless positive, concrete action is taken. A woman can become a change agent within the board, pushing for more women to join you; and women can – and should – publicly promote the principle of gender diversity on boards.
Former Senator and a stalwart of Jamaica’s women’s movement and the Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus, Ms. Donna Scott-Mottley, opened up the floor for our illustrious group to share their experiences. Ms. Enith Williams, who had served on several boards in New York before returning to her native Jamaica, said that in her experience, male board members “always had an agenda, and used the board to achieve it.” Women, she suggested, must “be clear about working collaboratively” as a board, not just in support of an individual’s personal projects and goals. This is another strength of a woman board member; they are often more inclusive and more concerned with the welfare and the contribution of the whole to the organization. After all, we were reminded, the shareholders in public sector entities are the Jamaican people. “We may have different views,” observed civil society activist and board member Yvonne McCalla Sobers, “but we should not have differing agendas.” Public sector boards should always keep in mind that they exist to serve the people. One woman complained of what she saw as the selfish and unethical behavior of her chairman. When she protested and refused to be one of his “yes men” (or woman, in this case) the chairman lectured her, both publicly and privately, for her impertinence. Financier Ms. Megan Deane advised her to make sure that board meeting records reflected her objections; she should also register her concerns with the Permanent Secretary or other superiors. On private sector boards, it was noted, men have used sexist comments and bad language. This is unacceptable; a protest should be recorded – and if the worst comes to the worst, the woman should consider her resignation. “Don’t be afraid to be a whistleblower” if necessary, commented one of our presenters.
51% Coalition member Carol Narcisse reminded us, “How do we ensure that the public interest is served?” How can we achieve this? We must keep in mind, as the PSOJ’s Greta Bogues stressed in her presentation, that “the whole is far greater than the individuals” on any board. Ms. Bogues, who chairs the PSOJ’s Corporate Governance Committee, gave us a remarkably detailed and useful overview of “Core Tenets of Good Corporate Governance.” This should be available on WROC’s website shortly; or if you ask me, I can email you a copy. It is invaluable.
And yet, when all is said and done, “Corporate governance is not a destination, it’s a journey,” in Ms. Bogues’ words. It is an imperfect process and needs to be worked on – a bit like democracy. As Carol Archer of the South East Regional Health Authority observed, “You can’t always achieve consensus,” but the men and women on public sector boards must always ask themselves how the public benefits from any decisions they make.
Bearing all of the above in mind, how can women support an increase in the number of women on public sector boards? Well, the 51% Coalition has made progress in this regard; it has sent a list of 54 women it recommends for boards to selected ministers. The Jamaica Stock Exchange has supported its work with training and this list will be posted on the JSE’s website, as well as on the PSOJ and WROC websites. A meeting with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has been requested.
“I am not a feminist,” one young board member confided in me at the end of this highly stimulating event. “But I do believe in fairness and equity, we should all work towards that.” Nuff said.
Personal note to self: I have the greatest admiration for all the women who were our guides through this conversation. They are not only dedicated, focused and highly intelligent – but they are all-embracing, inclusive, progressive, fair. I am truly proud of the contribution these women have made over many years (and they don’t look a day older, by the way!) and it was an enormous pleasure to be in their presence and to interact with them.
Another note on the 51% Coalition: WROC chair Lorna Lee noted that it is “getting stronger and stronger every day,” and this meeting was strong evidence of this. I will write more on this important group – a natural progression from years of dynamic partnerships among Jamaican women – in a later blog post. Meanwhile, if you would like to contact the Coalition, you may call (876) 929-8873 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- http://www.marciaforbes.com/content/51-coalition-–-development-empowerment-through-equity: 51% Coalition: Development and Empowerment Through Equity (marciaforbes.com)
- http://www.dogoodjamaica.org/organizations/freidrich_ebert_stiftung_jamaica_the_eastern_caribbean: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Jamaica
- http://www.psoj.org/: Private Sector Organization of Jamaica
- http://wrocjamaica.org/: Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre
- http://www.caribjournal.com/2012/06/20/haitis-martelly-authorizes-official-publication-of-amended-1987-constitution/: Haiti’s Martelly Authorizes Official Publication of Amended Constitution (Caribbean Journal.com)
- NGO applauds government effort to appoint more women to assemblies (ghananewsagency.org)
- Sunday Swirl: June 3, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Simmer (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Changing the face of boards (business.financialpost.com)
- Tories to create advisory council to promote women as corporate directors (theglobeandmail.com)
- ION President Meyerrose Joins “Moving the Needle” Task Force for Corporate Board Member Event at NYSE Connecting Qualified Women with Public Company Boards (prweb.com)
- Do TriMet’s board members ride their buses and trains? Yes, no comment and sometimes (if Portland Streetcar counts) (oregonlive.com)
- Why We Need More Women on Corporate Boards (bigthink.com)