Some more equal . . .
The Nation Newspaper (Barbados) – March 30, 2008
by TONY BEST
ARE WOMEN REALLY EQUAL in the Caribbean? The answer: the laws often mandate one thing but in actual practice the story can be quite different.
It’s a provocative question at a time when women in Barbados are top corporate executives and Mia Mottley is the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
In the United States human rights report on the status of women it said that in Barbados, women had made significant gains. In fact, the report to the United States Congress stated: “Women actively participated in all aspects of national life and were well represented at all levels of the public and private sectors.”
It’s also a fact that “women have equal property rights, including in a divorce settlement”, and there are constitutional guarantees of equality.
But there are problems. Barbados has pointed to the feminisation of poverty and the abuse of women as major social problems. Prostitution fuelled by poverty and tourism is also a fact of life.
For women in The Bahamas it is another story. Its constitution guarantees equality of the sexes, giving females the right to vote, hold the highest offices and to have unobstructed access to all social and economic services and the courts of law.
Bahamian women who marry foreigners do not have the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their foreign-born spouses.
The situation in Haiti is particularly egregious.
A husband who catches his wife with a man in his home can kill her or the man without any fear of being punished by the law courts, a wife can’t.
Jamaica is one of the few Caribbean nations to have had a woman prime minister, albeit for a short period, and the law “accords women full legal equality, including equal pay for equal work”.
In addition, “social and cultural traditions perpetuated violence against women”; there wasn’t any legislation that addressed sexual harassment, and it was a problem”; and trafficking in women “for prostitution was a problem”.
Trinidadians also face somewhat similar hurdles and discrimination. For instance, “while equal pay for men and women was the rule rather than the exception”, both the government and non-governmental organisations noted considerable disparities in pay between men and women in the private sector.
Abuse of women also “continued to be a significant problem”; rape was an under-reported crime; no laws are on the statute books making sexual harassment a punishable offence; and there is a “perceived insensitivity on the part of the police” when it comes to rape and sexual crimes.
Guyana’s report card mirrors Trinidad and Tobago’s. Violence against women was “widespread” and crossed racial and socio-economic lines; rape and incest were illegal but were neither frequently reported nor prosecuted. Just as bad, a husband can rape his wife without fear of being hauled before the courts. Sexual harassment on the job, prohibited under the law, was “common” in Guyana and “there were no prosecutions for it”.
Even worse, although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, “there was no legal protection against such discrimination in the workplace”.
That didn’t appear to be situation in Grenada or St Lucia where women “generally enjoyed equal rights” in economic, family, property and judicial matters and the governmental apparatus keeps close tabs on how women fare on the job, in the home as far as domestic violence was concerned, and “equal treatment in employment”.
St Vincent has gone further, insisting that women “should receive equal pay for equal work”.