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Woman empowerment and/vs marginalisation of our men

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), in its recently published report on employment in Jamaica, indicated that women are being employed 11 times more than their male counterparts. To some people this report may have come as a shock; for others, it speaks to the unwelcomed marginalisation of our men which has been taking place for some time. Still, for others, the report is welcomed as it points to women reasserting themselves in making themselves economically independent and moving into spaces which have long been dominated by men.

However we may look at the report, tempered and reasonable assessment of its subject would be urged. The context of it and the challenges that it poses must be faced, but there is no need to twist ourselves into pretzels about it. Contextually, for a very long time in Jamaica men have been at the helm and the commanding heights of every important institution and sector of the society. Whether it is the Church, business industry and commerce, or politics, males have dominated since Independence.

This has been especially the case in the political arena, where men have dominated our politics. Of all the prime ministers since Independence in 1962, we have only had one woman serving. We have not had a female governor general. There has only been one female chief justice and one female director of public prosecutions. It is only in recent times that we have seen women heading important church denominations in Jamaica. There has not been a female diocesan bishop in the Anglican Church. It does not appear that there will ever be a female bishop in the Roman Catholic Church given that church's stubborn stance on the ordination of women to the priesthood. It is inconceivable at the present time that there will ever be a female head of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the church with the largest membership in Jamaica.

Another fact that should arrest our attention is that more women are matriculating and graduating from our tertiary institutions than are men — and this is not because there are more women than men in Jamaica. It is just that women are increasingly realising that the path to true economic independence is education. They are now realising more than ever before that a good education is the most viable path out of a life of control, dominance, and certainly poverty. And they are pulling out all the stops to ensure that they get this education.

Their absorption into the workforce at the rate cited by the STATIN report should not, therefore, come as a surprise. As more women become educated their employability index increases. Increasingly they are looking to their own entrepreneurial talents to provide a work space for themselves, especially when traditional means of employment are not available. With the help of social media platforms and the space provided by the Internet more opportunities abound than hitherto existed. Our young men and women have their sights trained on opportunities that may arise. This is a good thing.

Instead of reacting negatively to these trends there ought to be rational and sober analysis of where we are, how we got here, and what the future portends. What is clear is that we did not arrive here overnight. We must ask and honestly answer the sober questions as to what has become of our society after years of male domination. If there was equal recognition of the worth of our women in contributing to the building of the society, would we be where we are today?

What should be also clear is that if men are being marginalised in the workplace, women seeking to empower themselves economically are not the ones to blame. If men abdicate their responsibility in the home, become deadbeat dads and fail to contribute to the economic sustenance of their families, women, having to pick up the slack to keep their family together, should not be blamed for male marginalisation.

And this is not mere feminism, as some may charge. To assert this is to miss the point. The undeniable fact is that too many of our men are contributing to their own marginalisation by indulging debilitating lifestyles that make holistic relationships with their female counterparts almost impossible. Too many are driven by get-rich quick mentalities which bypass a viable and sustainable work ethic.

Real or imagined, marginalisation of any group in any given society is never a good thing. Studies have shown that when men feel dissed, marginalised or disempowered in relationships they tend to react with violence to reassert their power and control. And violence need not be physical, but mental or psychological. This is one of the underlying causes in the physical abuse of women. This is not just a Jamaican or Caribbean phenomenon, but is a universal trait present in all cultures. A good deal of this mentality is grounded in religion, and especially in the often misconceived belief in the biblical injunction of women being submissive to men.

As a society we must grapple with this reality. Women will not retreat from the trajectory of self-empowerment on which they have set themselves. We need to have a conversation as a society as to where we may be failing our men. Is it in the educational system considering the paradigm of male-female learning synergies in the early childhood phase of our educational system? Are we developing skills training facilities to absorb many of our men who are not interested in straight academic pursuits but who could do well in developing their skills and latent abilities by which they can make significant contributions to their communities?

We need not beat upon each other or point fingers of blame as to who is responsible for where we have gone wrong. What is required is rational and sober reasoning and conversations as to how we can shift attitudes that can lead to the social and economic empowerment of all our people.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.