Volunteers from Cuso International continue to make purposeful and focused contributions to Jamaica – both at the grassroots level and in steering conversations towards trends and influences in the society. On August 13, 2013, Cuso International Jamaica launched “Gender Mainstreaming: A Way Forward for Cuso International in Jamaica.”
This report was part of a regional research project undertaken in Bolivia by volunteer Barbara Powidel, in Peru by volunteer Jimena Eizeguierre and in Guyana by volunteer Caryn Duncan. The aim was to obtain a better understanding of how gender inequalities affect women and men, girls and boys in four Latin American/Caribbean countries – including Jamaica, where Cuso volunteer Erin MacLeod presented the research methodology, the results and 26 recommendations. It’s perhaps not surprising that the volunteers in Jamaica and Guyana identified common gender issues – gender based violence, employment, education (especially for boys), and prescribed gender roles.
Before I go any further, I want to emphasize – as I have done in previous articles – that “gender issues” do not equate to “women’s affairs.” Gender is a core part of who we all are as human beings. And “mainstreaming” gender is about always taking gender into account in all our policies and decision-making. Ensuring a balance, ensuring equity. I don’t think you can say there is anything divisive or difficult about that. It’s common sense.
I did not attend the launch of the report at the University of the West Indies‘ Mona Campus, unfortunately. I know it was very well-attended by Cuso’s partners, with Professor Verene Shepherd, regional director of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies for the university, Diahann Gordon-Harrison, the Children’s Advocate for Jamaica, representatives of the 51% Coalition, WMW, the Association of Women’s Organizations of Jamaica, J-FLAG, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and many others in attendance. There was much discussion on how gender mainstreaming could impact the wider Jamaican society, as well as Cuso’s work in the future. Cuso International Jamaica will consider the recommendations and develop a plan to integrate as many as possible as it develops its programs, which see gender as a cross-cutting theme throughout all activities.
There were five broad areas of focus in Erin’s meticulously detailed report: employment, education, violence, sexual and reproductive health and empowerment – that is, enhancing men and women’s traditional roles. After consulting with focus groups, the first three emerged as urgent concerns for Jamaican youth – along with early pregnancy for females and strong role models for males. Having browsed through the report, here are just a few of the interesting issues arising from it that I would like to share with you (not in any particular order)…
One of the recommendations I liked very much was the need to encourage innovative and “un-gendered” skills. There really is a need to think outside the box and determine where the best areas for employment and job growth are. Haven’t our skills training entities, both governmental and non-governmental, produced enough cosmetologists (female) and carpenters (male)? Tech entrepreneurship/training for men and women, for example (such as the Kingston Beta and other start-ups) has great potential…
I agree with Cuso that we do need to support fathers – to encourage a sense of responsibility. I think this could be an uphill struggle. Support for fathers must be at the community level, through faith-based and community-based organizations – practical advice and the training of men, who can be mentors in their families and by extension in their communities. I am sure some of this work is already being done, but it needs more support and some creative thinking. I also think that the private sector could play a greater role here.
Climate change issues and how men and women relate to them is something that could be explored much more deeply. The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre have a very promising program in this area in rural St. Thomas, which I visited last year. There is much value to be gained from strengthening Jamaicans’ response to climate change, which manifests itself in so many varied ways. Women farmers, for example, are often on the front lines.
Literacy has got to be a key concern, and one that needs to be tackled head-on. The potential is there to support more of the many non-governmental groups working to help children, teens and adults who have “fallen through the cracks” of the traditional education system. This of course, includes faith-based institutions. For example, a few years back I visited a church in August Town that had successfully graduated a number of men and women in English and Math examinations, enabling them to find employment. Many community-based organizations operate homework centers and are doing vital work.
Jamaican policymakers and civil society on the whole will inevitably have to revisit the legal strictures on abortion, I believe. Jamaica could perhaps work along the lines of Guyanese legislation, Cuso suggests. In my view, regardless of one’s personal views or religion, Jamaica must find a way for women to have access to safe and legal abortions. Soon.
Last but by no means least, I agree with Cuso that much more coalition-building is needed, especially in these times of meager resources. “Partnership” is a rather over-worked buzzword, but in a small society such as Jamaica’s, there is really no excuse for every organization/agency to be holding its tiny little corner. The most successful communities have strong partnerships where different sectors work together with a common goal. Sometimes, these groups have never sat down together in the same room and discussed concerns that they all share.
Cuso’s report ends with long-term as well as shorter term goals and recommendations. As I noted, it covers a great deal more than the issues I have picked out above, along with an excellent overview of Jamaica’s general development context. If you would like a copy, please contact Erin MacLeod directly. I also have a copy.
PS Please keep an eye open for mention of Erin’s name in a completely different context, that will be of particular interest to Jamaicans! You may reach her on Twitter @touchofallright.