Women & the Jamaican Work Force

Women & the Jamaican Work Force

Marcia Forbes PhD

We Waan Jostice! Who Cares?

“We waan jostice.” This is the cry of many Jamaicans regularly shown on national television during nightly newscasts. This demand for justice (jostice in local parlance) is usually accompanied by placards, blocked roads and confrontations between Police and citizens.  At another level and largely hidden from the view of cameras, another cry for justice has been on-going. It is the cry for justice for all women in Jamaica and elsewhere and is being led by entities such as the 51% Coalition and other civil society groups.

The cries sometimes intersect and intertwine, crossing class divides as women struggle to make sense of a vicious society where they are raped and their babies killed with increasing regularity, sometimes by the very men who fathered those babies. Women in Jamaica face a tough time, although enrollment levels at universities would disguise this, as too their high-profile in “middle-management” positions.

Hustle vs Job-hunting

While the unemployment rate in Jamaica is just over 12 percent, women have a harder time finding jobs. A part of the reason for the high levels reported among women may be that they keep looking for work longer and get counted among the unemployed. T

his is unlike men, who drop out, stop looking and perhaps opt to “hustle” for a living. The way measurement is set up, once you stop looking for work you are no longer counted among the unemployed.

The unemployment rate overall is dismal but is even more so for women (16.6 percent) when the figure is disaggregated by gender.  At double that of males (8.3 percent), high female unemployment cannot be explained away by factors such as measurement idiosyncrasies. The problem reflects deep systemic biases against women.

Passing Exams for What?

Based on Labour Force data, about three-quarters of males have passed no higher exams. This compares to about half of females. However, passing exams is not helping women in Jamaica to get jobs. Not even vocational training seems to be helping them. In 2011women doubled men in this type of training and certification, 13 percent compared to only 6.7 percent of their male colleagues. Yet still we have the wide disparities in male/female employment levels.

Turning again to the Labour Force data it is clear that the men are making strides in the areas of “skilled agricultural and fishery workers,” “craft and related trades,” “plant & machine operators and assemblers” and the construction industry. Here, they substantially outstrip women in employment.

No one is advocating that women put men out of work, but surely some balance is essential if the country is to move forward. After all, it is women who mainly care for families and look after the very young and the very old. Helping women to earn a living is smart economics and critical to Jamaica’s future.

Underemployment in Productive Years

Another frightening statistic is that almost two-thirds of the underemployed fall in the 25 to 44 age range. This is usually the most productive period of one’s life. Not surprisingly, more females than males are underemployed, 54 percent compared to 46 percent in 2011. So, not only are women out of work but when they do have work it is not enough to keep them fully occupied.

Producing below one’s potential and desire breeds discontent and frustration. Not just that but this chronic underemployment can lead to laziness. Jamaica’s productivity levels have been in decline for decades. The country is increasingly unable to compete because the culture of work is foreign to so many of her citizens.

“Personal” Resignations & Sexual Harassment

One worrying trend is the extent to which women resign their jobs for what are described as ‘personal’ reasons. A snapshot from 2000 to 2011 reveals consistently higher levels of these resignations among women than men. It begs the question as to why ‘personal’ reasons are so persistent. Is sexual harassment a part of these “personal” reasons for women leaving their jobs?

In 2000, compared to 32.2 percent of women, only 17.4 percent of men resigned for personal reasons.  In 2005 it was 29.9 percent compared to only 14% of men. Then in 2009 it was 28.6 percent, versus only 10.9 percent of men.  For 2011, the figure for women who abandoned their jobs for personal reasons climbed to 32.5 percent, compared to 12.4 percent for men.

Of all the categories of reasons for being unemployed over the decade of 2000 – 2011, among women resignations driven by personal reasons consistently contributed the single largest percentage. There is a deeper story here but the data were not sufficiently forthcoming. Something was revealed, however, in one section of the Labour Force report captioned “Addressing Sexual harassment.”

Culture Holds Sway – Women Want JUSTICE!!

As the report noted, “Given deeply entrenched cultural mores regarding the interaction between males and females, it is expected that policy and legislative introductions to address sexual harassment will be a time consuming process and that required behaviour modification will be slow.”  We know this. But does anyone care enough to push against these ingrained injustices?

Where there’s a will there’s a way! Jamaicans, especially women, must muster the will and the courage to tirelessly lobby for changes and to bring justice for those who make up more than half of the population. “We want justice” must become the rallying cry of all women.

March 6, 2013