Mon | Apr 22, 2019

Editorial | How gender-equal is Jamaica, really?

Published:Tuesday | March 5, 2019 | 12:18 AM

Four years ago, Jamaica preened at being identified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as the country with the highest proportion of female managers in the world – 59 per cent. We were more than six percentage points better than the next-best country, Colombia, and 15 places ahead of the mighty United States, where the championing of women’s rights has, for decades, been a big part of the culture wars.

As Jamaica prepares to join the world in this week’s, observation of International Women’s Day (March 8) , a new report, this time by the World Bank, is likely to provide Jamaican policymakers less pleasant reading than the ILO’s of 2015.

It shows Jamaica significantly down the list, at 41, among 187 countries, many with the same scores, in providing an environment in which women can pursue business. But more critical than its rank is Jamaica’s score on the index, in which the potential maximum is 100. That score was achieved by Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden, which, theoretically, makes them the best economies for women to work in.

“But the average global score is 74.71, indicating that a typical economy only gives women three-quarters the rights of men in the measured areas,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank’s interim president, in her forward to the report.

Jamaica’s score is 68.13, which is six and a half points, or nine per cent, below the global average. Notably, too, eight of Jamaica’s Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners – St Lucia, Guyana, The Bahamas, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, and Antigua and Barbuda – rank ahead of it on the index.

The central thesis of this report is that gender equality is a critical component of economic growth, so economies impede their capacity for expansion if half of their populations have no, little, or inadequate opportunity to participate. And usually it is discriminatory laws, or the absence of laws to level the playing field, that hold women back from being active contributors to growth.

“Many laws and regulations continue to prevent women from entering the workforce or starting a business, discrimination that can have lasting effects on women’s economic inclusion and labour force participation,” Ms Georgieva observed.

“Economies that failed to implement reforms towards gender equality over the past 10 years, for example, saw a smaller increase in the percentage of women working, overall, and in the percentage of women working relative to men.”

CRITICAL INDICATORS

This study reviews eight critical indicators that test issues such as:

* Women’s right of movement without the permission of men or family members;

*Whether they can legally get jobs or pursue careers in the same way as men, and what protection they have from sexual harassment;

*Whether women are paid the same as men and are afforded the same working conditions as men;

*Whether women, if married, are legally required to obey their husbands, can gain divorces, and are protected from domestic violence;

* Whether women have paid maternity leave, or the availability of other forms of parental leave;

*Whether there is sex-based discrimination in accessing credit, and if women have equal rights to sign contracts and register businesses;

* The rights women have to ownership of property, and if sons and daughters have equal right of inheritance;

* Whether there is equality in the age at which men and women retire, as well as other conditions of retirement.

It is perhaps unsurprising that on the sub-indices pertaining to freedom of movement, marital rights and a woman’s capacity to manage assets, Jamaica scored full marks. On those relating to running businesses and, thus, access to credit, and pension rights, it scored 75 out of the possible 100 points. On the matter of equality of pay, the island scored half of the possible points, while on the indicator relating to starting a job, its score was 25, and falling by five points, to 20, with regard to protection in their jobs when women have children.

We expect Olivia Grange, the minister with responsibility for gender issues, to say whether she disputes these findings and, if she doesn’t, what the Government intends to do about them, and when.