10th W. G. Demas Memorial Lecture Tuesday 26, May 2009
Professor Reddock is a distinguished Caribbean academic and the holder of the Seventh Caricom Triennial Award
Gender in the Construction of the New Paradigm for the Caribbean
In the rest of this presentation I seek to provide concrete examples of the ways in which gender can help us chart new directions for the future. I do this by focussing primarily on one issue that certainly faces my own society, Trinidad and Tobago, but which is also important for other parts of the region, that of male youth and the culture of guns, gangs and criminal violence.
Guns, Gangs and Youth Violence
In the introduction to its executive summary a UNODC/World Bank Report on Crime Violence and Development, observed that: In his 2006 New Year’s address as then Prime Minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson said: “without a doubt, the high level of violent crime remains our most troubling and pressing problem.” In opening the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago in September 2005, President George Maxwell Richards said the country was in crisis due to the escalating crime rate. Through multiple channels, crime and violence threaten the welfare of Caribbean citizens. Beyond the direct effect on victims, crime and violence inflict widespread costs, generating a climate of fear for all citizens and diminishing economic growth. Crime and violence present one of the paramount challenges to development in the Caribbean. (UNODC/World Bank, 2007: i).
This report identified Crime and Violence as development issues that have social and economic effects for entire societies. It also posits that a reduction in crime and violence levels in Jamaica and Haiti to that of Costa Rica could result an increase in annual growth by as much as 5.4 % (UNODC/WORLD Bank, 2007: i).
This, however, is not only a Caribbean problem. Buvunic and Morrison argue that between the 1980s and 1990s, a period characterised by the shift to economic neo-liberalism, the world average of homicides rose from 5.82 for every 100,000 persons in 1980-1984 to 8.86 per 100,000 during 1990 -1994 (Buvunic and Morrison, 2000:58-59). The Economic South or Third World exceeded that of the Economic North where, the homicide rates were – 40 per 100.000 in sub-Saharan Africa; 23 per 100,000 for Latin America with the Drug capital, Cali Colombia, having a rate of 91 per 100,000 ((Buvunic and Morrison, 2000:59).
What is significant is that throughout the world youth are the majority of the perpetrators as well as the majority of the victims of criminal violence. In this regard the UNODC/World Bank Report observed:
“Just as they account for a disproportionate share of the victims of violence, young people are also disproportionately its perpetrators, especially young men. In most countries, this is a growing trend.” Indeed, statistical data indicate that in virtually all parts of the world, with the exception of the United States, rates of youth crime rose in the 1990s, with many of the criminal offenses related to drug abuse and excessive alcohol use (UNDP, 2003). What little data exist indicate that this phenomenon may be particularly worrisome in the Caribbean (UNODC/World Bank,2007: 64).
While the report focussed quite correctly on the factors fuelling this crisis as the drug industry which is linked to the flow of small arms and the Caribbean’s geographic location; weaknesses in the criminal justice system and a focus on criminal justice solutions, the link with the dominant economic paradigm was not made and the fact that it was mainly male youth involved not problematised.
By extension, the gendered character of this phenomenon was not highlighted. The fact that alcohol and additive drug use has increased exponentially, especially, although not only among male youth, is an important development with many gendered causes and implications. Maybe the authors like many of us would be subconsciously thinking that – Boys would be Boys!
The problem of Guns, Gangs and Youth Violence is one that brings together all of the social, economic and gender questions currently facing our region. It raises questions about:
The Caribbean’s location within the regional and global economy;
The differential gendered impact of socio-economic policy;
The collapse of the social sector in many although thankfully not all of our countries over the years of economic neo-liberalism;
The increased burden of care placed on families, and on mothers in particular with little state or partner support;
The normalisation of the gun as the weapon of choice through the globalisation of the US entertainment industry;
The emergence of the drug economy as a replacement of the now disappearing productive industries;
The gendered constructions of masculinities and the significance of violence within it;
The sexual division of labour and the responsibilities of women and men within it;
The need for attention to the quality of our education systems and not only the quantity;
The need to support parents in the normal yet challenging role of parenting in the contemporary world.
A gender analysis of this illustrates comprehensively some of the directions we would need to consider in shaping this new paradigm, not just for these male youth but for our societies as a whole.
Increased Income Disparities: Decline of Social Services and Parenting Challenges
While there has been some economic growth within the region, its effects have not been evenly distributed among the population. Buvunic and Morrison note that after a short period in the 1970s when income disparities had declined, these rose again in the 1980s and definitely in the 1990s in Latin America and elsewhere. This was exacerbated by the decline in social services beginning with structural adjustment – that early phase of economic neo-liberalism which, among other things, resulted in the reduction in access to pre-natal care and early childhood support which could have affected the mental health of a new generation. leading to increased deprivation and violence.
This has also come at a time when the demands on parents are increasing. The International Labour Organisation identified the following related trends emerging internationally: the increasing separation of home from workplace despite the increase in information and computer technologies; the increasing labour force participation of women at all levels; the declining availability of family assistance as families become more nucleated and all family members seek their own life directions and seek to earn a living; the increasing care needs of the elderly; the increasing pressure of work and longer working hours; the increasing travel and commuting time for workers and their children; and the stresses of health and disease including that of HIV and AIDS.
They also noted the difficulties faced by workers and their families in: organising and coordinating family schedules, coping with emergencies; coping with longer care hours and discrimination in the workplace (Hein, 2005). In a contribution to this global study carried out in Trinidad and Tobago, Yvonne Bobb-Smith and myself observed that: employers in both the private and public sector have not significantly accepted their responsibility to address issues of reconciling work with family responsibilities and the challenges which workers face in this regard. This is also true for the state and trade unions who also have not adequately recognized the relationship between work-family conflict and the problems of social dislocation currently being experienced in Trinidad and Tobago. Women as part of the labour force (and I need to point out here that Caribbean women have been part of the work force since slavery and indentureship) have used innovative coping strategies to reduce the conflict that work-family responsibilities produce; men to a lesser extent are visible in this respect but usually in specific areas e.g. providing transportation. While government, and to a more limited extent, the private sector and NGOs have provided some support facilities and services based on family needs, policies are not yet targeted to workers with family responsibilities. The unpredictability of some countries’ infrastructure especially transportation and utilities e.g. water and electricity – play a large role in heightening work-family tensions and conflict. At the same time the heightening of the citizens’ fear of criminal violence especially in violence-torn communities, has placed more stress on working parents who seek to ensure their children’s safety; while middle and upper-income women/parents are able to use their financial resources to ameliorate their situation e.g. babysitters, special transport arrangements etc. low-income women are unable to access similar support structures and their children remain unsupervised consistently for extended periods (Reddock and Bobb-Smith,2005a:12-13).
While the challenges of work and family have always existed, they have taken on new forms today. The reasons for this are many. They include: the general process of urbanization and decline of intimate community relations; the increasing demands of the workplace; the absence of family members to provide child care and family support; and the insistence on the part of women, including grandmothers, for a life beyond the household; the non-synchronization of work hours with school hours; and the difficulties of public transportation and school transportation (Reddock and Bobb-Smith,2005:106).
What is clear is that parents’ especially low-income parents, most significantly mothers, are not being supported in this increasingly challenging job of parenting. The approach of many in the region is that people have a responsibility to take care of their children. Indeed in some countries, it has been suggested on more than one occasion that parents be held accountable for their children’s crimes and if necessary imprisoned or fined. I want to suggest here this evening that in many ways bearing and rearing children is a contribution made by parents and in particular women to our societies. In parts of the world where this has declined as in parts of Western Europe, pro-natalist and child friendly policies have been established. These include extended maternity leave, paternity leave, child care centres in communities and at workplaces, after work care centres, breast-feeding facilities at work places, school transport facilities etc. Poor women in Trinidad and Tobago, some of whom work as janitors, security guards, etc. to support their households, complained of their inability to monitor their children’s behaviour or to pay others to do so. This burden of care is exacerbated by the unequal positioning of women in the labour market. This in many ways fuels the continuing quest for more and more qualifications among women in the region. Economist Stephanie Seguino (2003) noted that the higher levels of education among Caribbean women, do not result in equal employment rates with men: She details:
Women in the Caribbean are almost twice as likely as men to be unemployed. This is a troubling finding, given the high rate of female headedness among households, and therefore, extensive reliance of women on paid work to support children. Their difficulty in securing paid work makes women dependent on men, the state and kin to help to make ends meet. Further, the relatively higher female unemployment rates in the Caribbean have contributed to the relatively higher out-migration of women from the region (Seguino, 2003:83).
Low-income Caribbean households therefore, from which the majority of the youth involved in gangs, drug trade and criminal violence derive, are run by mothers in the main or parents who are severely challenged and who receive little support – financial or otherwise from relatives or the state in meeting this increasingly challenging responsibility.
Contradictorily. the out-migration of many mothers in the region for long or a series of shorter periods, in order to better meet the material and financial needs of the families, contributes significantly to the national income of many Caribbean states through remittances but they also contribute to many of the social problems facing youth and their societies in the region.
Constructions of Manhood and Masculinities
This issue, however, is not one only of the availability of time and financial resources for parenting but of equal importance, the character of the gender socialisation that is taking place and its link to sex/gender identity formation. Identity can be simply defined as -how people think of or understand themselves. This can be multiple and based on one or more of the following; race/ethnicity, nationality, religion/belief systems; and sex/gender.
Although so obvious to us today, it is now recognised that sex/gender identity is possibly one of the most -if not the most -fundamental of all identities that human beings develop. By sex/gender identity I refer to the relatively consistent, subjective experiencing of oneself as male or female, feminine or masculine or other (Nanda,2000: 108).‛ This identity is shaped largely although not completely through interactions with others in particular cultural contexts. Parents, siblings, and other significant others are central to its development, its’ expression as well as to its policing. Later on and especially today peers and the electronic media also become increasingly important in this process of ‘becoming a man‛ and ‘becoming a woman.‛
As we speak, the strictly dichotomous sex/gender system, hegemonic in most parts of the world, is being challenged: opening new spaces and possibilities for those individuals who are unable to fit into these dichotomous gendered or sexed boundaries. While this was possible in many non-western or pre-modern societies prior to colonization, the colonial experience suppressed these memories and practices into the underground if not the unconscious. The Caribbean continues to be one of the places most resistant to a more open recognition and accommodation of sex/gender diversity. The HIV pandemic however, has in many ways forced us to bring these citizens out of the closet so to speak and I dare say they will not go away. A better understanding of gender could go a long way in helping us to understand these complex issues, to confront our own fears and address these issues frontally. But more importantly it would begin to challenge the homophobia i.e. the fear of homosexuality, which entraps young men and forces them into destructive forms of ‘hypermasculinity’ such as violence and the rejection of activities defined as ‘feminine’ such as education and schooling, as ways of proving their manhood.
One of the characteristics of gendered societies is the differentiation of masculine activities, normally more valued, from feminine activities. Women therefore seek equality and improved status by entering fields and areas previously inhabited by men. These include the jobs which have higher prestige and more remuneration. The opposite is not the case as women’s activities by definition, have lower value. So as women enter predominantly masculine areas men tend to retreat resulting in fewer and fewer spaces where men can claim as their own. The retreat into the physical, one of the last remaining areas of male dominance through for example, sport and violence and other forms of hypermasculinity therefore become one means of reclaiming masculine power and identity.
As observed by David Plummer former UWI Professor of HIV-AIDS Education:
‚Physicality is particularly important in contemporary life because it is an important way that men can differentiate themselves from the ‘opposite’ sex and is therefore central to modern gender identity formation. The emphasis on physicality also has consequences for relationships, for example men are more likely to use physical means to resolve disputes. The converse is also true: that a man that backs away from a physical confrontation risks his reputation as a man. (Plummer and Simpson, 2007?:4).
Gender socialisation, therefore, is another factor which must be brought into the equation. The processes at home, at school, on the block, among peers, in religious institutions where young women and men learn about acceptable masculine and feminine behaviours and the sanctions which could result for not staying within these boundaries.
Caribbean parents – especially mothers’ – fear of homophobia often affects their parenting styles with negative consequences in the contemporary world. Adherence to a strict sexual division of labour for example, means that girls may receive skills of multi-tasking, discipline, time-management through their involvement in housework (Figueroa,2004); although this is changing this is largely still the case. Their capacity for nurturing is also developed though participation in child care, something from which young men would no doubt benefit. As noted by Barry Chavannes, the place of young men in many Caribbean communities is in the street, not the ‘house’ or ‘the yard’ (Chevannes, 2001). Hence a drive through many parts of the region would see young and older men congregated on street corners.
The block, therefore, becomes a critical area for gender socialisation of young males – for good or for ill.
A key construct in Caribbean gender ideologies is that of the male breadwinner/provider concept which determines that men have the responsibility to financially support partners and spouses and their children. This concept was central to British social welfare systems which were introduced into the region in the post-war period, hence the social welfare provisions mentioned earlier. This idea justified women not working outside the home and earning less than men if they did so because it was assumed that they had a breadwinner somewhere – a father or husband who was supposed to support them. In this way, ‘providing’ became the single most important characteristic of fathering in this region; and ‘minding’ your child for many meant mainly financial provision. Recent studies in this region suggest that even where children share households with both parents, there was still much distance from fathers. As reported in one Jamaica study:
‚…the fact that a father shared a home on a consistent basis with his children did not mean that there was effective communication or that he played an important role in his children’s personal development or socialisation. There seemed to be an acceptance, mainly among some members of the female groups, that fathers were not interested in their activities. There was also an expectation that they would play a distant role, functioning mainly as breadwinners. (Bailey, Branche and Henry-Lee: 2002:5)
These researchers also noted that:
some fathers totally abandoned their children, and several of the male participants expressed keen disappointment over this abandonment and the fact that they had not experienced the nuturant and supportive relationship that they felt ought to exist between a father and son. Still there were fathers who were loving and supportive although even in such cases the children felt a stronger emotional bond with their mothers. (Bailey, Branche and Henry-Lee: 2002:5).‛