HOW CLOSE ARE WOMEN in Barbados to achieving economic and social equality with men?
If the World Economic Forum’s 2014 global Gender Gap Index and the assessments of top government officials, corporate leaders and experts paint an accurate picture of the situation, the answer would go something like this: although it will take many more years to close the gap, Bajan women and their “sisters” in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America are within striking distance of achieving that cherished goal in some key areas.
This includes economic participation and opportunity.
When the forum held its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in late January, the Index and words of wisdom articulated by some prominent international figures probably lifted the spirits of those in the forefront of international efforts to achieve gender parity.
For amidst the forecasts of global economic performance in 2015, a look back on what happened last year, and why this year may turn out to be a make or break period for the world economy, quite a lot of attention was focused on equality of the sexes, not simply in rich nations but in the emerging and poor economies.
“Technology has brought many possibilities in education and health that are key to women,” asserted Paul Kegame, Rwanda’s president, in Davos.
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the super-rich Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used a broader brush to sketch a path to high achievement.
“If you invest in a girl or a woman, you are investing in everybody else,” was the way she put it, quite correctly.
But how much progress has Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America made in recent years to advance to situation of women? In the latest Gender Gap Index which ranked nations according to their track record in four fundamental areas – economic participation and opportunity, education, health, and survival – Barbados remained among the world’s top 40 countries, occupying the 33rd position, down from 29th in 2013.
That fall was due to a statistically insignificant dip in the island’s total score at a time when the ratings of several states, including Spain and Argentina, were rising. According to the 2013 index, Barbados has “fully closed the gender gap in educational attainment and in health and survival”.
The island’s overall success was almost matched by Malawi, 34th, and the Bahamas, 35th, on the gender totem pole and it supported’ Gates’ contention about the wisdom of investing in the education of women and girls.
Before the global financial crisis struck in 2007/2008, and immediately after a series of home-grown economic management missteps began to take a toll on the country, it had gained an international reputation for investing heavily in the education of both women and men by giving them equal access to quality education.
Actually, it still makes the investment which is paying dividends.
The same was true of The Bahamas, Kenya (37th), Namibia (40th), Trinidad and Tobago (49th) and Jamaica (52nd) in the rankings. Within the Caribbean and Latin America, Nicaragua (6th) led the region. Ecuador (21st), Cuba (30th), Argentina (31st), Barbados, The Bahamas, Peru (45th), Panama (46th), Costa Rica (48th), and Trinidad and Tobago made the region’s top 10.
When the economic participation came under the microscope, Barbados trumped the vast majority of states included in the index, placing 20th in that area of the index. With women participating in the ownership of 44 per cent of the jobs in non-agricultural employment occupied by women, and wage equality a fact of life, the path to equality is clear.
In the professional and technical areas, Bajan women have apparently achieved equal standing with men. But that wasn’t unique to the country; Guyana, Suriname, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica have all done the same.
What the numbers also indicate is that although women are in their strongest economic position now than at any other time in the nation’s history, there is still room for considerable improvement when it comes to adult unemployment (most of the unemployed are women), and in women’s ability to rise to the top tier of management.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, was in Davos and she attributed men’s dominating role in society to the “patriarchy” bestowed on them “at birth”.
“Whether you want it or not, you have a privilege as a man, and you either fight against it and reject it by becoming a feminist man or you enjoy the privileges,” she argued. How men exercise the choices hurts or helps their mothers, wives, daughters, nieces and other close relatives every day.