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Are Women in Jamaica Under Siege?

Are Women in Jamaica Under Siege?

Marcia Forbes PhD

Women at the Tip

MANY ARE quick to point out the sprinkling of women in top-level positions in Jamaica as representative of “woman power.” Then, too, the country has a female Prime Minister. These relatively few high profile women disguise an ugly truth – the situation of the majority of women in Jamaica leaves a lot to be desired. Most persons, however, only see the tip and not the broad-based bottom where women mostly reside. 

Women Being Fired / Transferred

The question as to whether women are under siege in Jamaica is raised not just in the context of rising unemployment levels among this gender, as detailed below, but  also against a backdrop of unexplainable dismissal and or transfer of seemingly top-performing women in very high-profile, senior positions in the public service.

Concern regarding this drove the lobby group 51% Coalition: Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment through Equity to alert the public by way of a letter to the Editors of Jamaica’s two national newspapers. One newspaper captioned the letter “Transparency needed in dismissal of women in Key Leadership Positions in the public service.”

The 51% Coalition noted that it was “watching…the developments related to the employment status of women in three key leadership positions – the Managing Director of the NHT, the Commissioner-General, Tax Administration Jamaica and the Chief Executive Officer, of the Child Development Agency.”

To add to those three women, we now hear about the transfer of Superintendent of Police Gladys Brown, Head of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA). Superintendent Brown has been strident in bringing the matter of sexual offences and child abuse to public attention. It is no secret that members of the police force are sometimes guilty of perpetrating such acts.

Joyce Hewitt of the Women’s Crisis Centre has come against Superintendent Brown’s transfer. Hewitt ascribes less-than-honourable motives to the Jamaica Constable Force for removing a woman she and many others regard as a hard and effective worker. We may or may not hear more about this transfer.

No Answers from the Political Directorate

As the 51% Coalition noted in its letter to the editors, “public calls for details on the justification for the termination of the Head of the CDA, Ms Carla Edie, went largely unheeded.  The controversies surrounding the status of the NHT and TAJ Heads is cause for unease.”

Both the former Managing Director of the National Housing Trust (NHT), Mrs. Cecile Watson, and the former Commissioner General of the Tax Administration Jamaica, Ms. Viralee Latibeaudiere, are now locked in legal battles with the Government of Jamaica and their agencies.

Ms Latibeaudiere has been a passionate and effective advocate on behalf of the Government of Jamaica on matters relating to tax collection. Mrs Watson is described as “a senior business leader with over thirty years experience in leadership, strategy, change management…(with) main industry experience … in banking, engineering and consulting” (HRMAJ.org)

The manner in which these women have been removed from their jobs leaves great cause for concern. Despite public outcry and request for further and better particulars, not much has been forthcoming.

The 51% Coalition ended its letter with a promise to “closely monitor the developments related to the current court proceedings and the subsequent handling of the employment status of these women.” Now to the matter of rising unemployment among women in Jamaica!

Women Unemployed

In light of this country experiencing the highest unemployment rate in the past sixteen (16) years, we note that among the unemployed women outstrip men by almost two to one. While 21.3 percent of women are unemployed, for men it is 12 percent. We note the climb in female unemployment rate. As @diGJamaica.com noted, “unemployment is a critical indicator of the status of the economy.”

It is a sign that the economy is in trouble. Given the high incidence of female-headed households with women as sole bread-winners, the point must be made that female unemployment is a serious problem for Jamaica.

Be Alert!

When female unemployment is coupled with what could be the beginning of a trend toward disempowering women and removing them from senior positions in the public service, an alarm must be raised. All women in Jamaica should be on the alert.

September 23, 2013