The real differences between men and women!
By Akim Adé Larcher
As a male, I could not help myself from putting pen to paper about an article which appeared in the March 28 STAR. Having just completed an online course with the World Bank on Gender and Poverty this past week, I thought it an injustice not to share my two cents on the issue of Who has it easier? Boys or Girls? which was the title of that week’s Teen Talk article . The writer, Sarah Munn raised some very interesting points, however, I think she needed to expand a little further on the gender issue in St Lucia.
In order to discuss the issue of boys vs girls in society one must set the stage as to the roles they play in this landscape we call the Helen of theWest Indies. Sex, as we know is a biological phenomenon in that it is determined by chromosomes (XX for female and XY for male). Basically, we are born male or female by biology. On the other hand, gender is what we learn about our sex, that is what it is to be masculine or feminine. Gender therefore refers to the socially constructed roles and socially learned behaviors and expectations associated with females and males.
You see, ladies and gentlemen, within these very roles, behaviors and expectations, is the very crust of the issue. Women and men differ biologically but all cultures interpret and elaborate these innate biological differences into a set of social expectations about what behaviors and activities are appropriate and what rights, resources and power each sex should hold.
Socially, we teach girls to play with dolls and bake cookies, whilst we teach boys to play outside with guns and fire trucks. As a result of this it is quite obvious that when we fast forward to adulthood, we see that women are by and large assigned the caring of the children and family (private sphere) while men are more likely to engage with the public spheres of society and the state (agriculture, politics, and national defense).
On an emotional level, women are more ‘in-touch’ with their emotions, whilst most men and boys bottle things up. But are men really the ones to blame for their behavior? From an early age girls have continual access to their emotions as they play “house”, they continually act out conversations of love and emotion with their dolls. Whilst boys perfect the act of war. They must not show emotion on the battlefield. Would things be any different if boys were allowed to play with dollhouses? Maybe, maybe not. Or would that cross the line into socially unacceptable behavior? In any event it makes you wonder why men are usually the ones who are the murderers, rapists and batterers? This isn’t to say that women too are not criminals, but the numbers in terms of males speak for themselves.
Without straying too far for the point, I would also like to touch on the issues of gender inequality. Many fail to recognize or acknowledge that such a term exists in St Lucia or the Caribbean region for that matter. Women in S Lucia account for almost 51 percent of the population and figures show that women head the majority of single households.
When looking at issues of poverty reduction and gender inequality we see that 35 percent of women in St Lucia earn less than $296 (US) a month, whilst men in the same category share only 20 percent. Quite a difference! Inequality also exists when you juxtapose women and men with equal qualifications in higher paying jobs. At the moment men account for 16 percent of all jobs that pay $741 (US) or more, whilst women account for only nine percent. Women are still to this day paid less even when they possess the same or higher qualifications.
The University of the West Indies not too long ago advised that some 61 percent of all enrollments were women. Women, as a result account for a large portion of the higher paying job market but also they account for a sizeable number of domestic workers, who are subject to low wages and harsh working conditions.
Most people would agree that when you think of male poverty, it is associated with the loss of employment, however poverty for women on the island exists even when they have full time employment. It is important that we recognize that poverty should not only be associated with the absence of food, but can be associated to the lack of access to basic social services like health care, access to education, communications and protection of the law.
You see boys do have it easier than girls as a framework of cultural and socially accepted behaviors exist on the island. What also does exist is an international framework to help eliminate such discrimination and inequality. Up to today, St Lucia has no official policy on gender equality or agenda on the empowerment of women. The voice of women is lacking in the social and political processes on the island, which affect their daily lives.
Directly related to this is the fact that current government data is not gender sensitive and lacks any empirical information to reflect the issues that women face in light of globalization, the decline in the banana industry and the growth of the service industry. Women as a result face continuing inequality with their access to credit, financial services and the law.