New concerns raised about Caribbean males underachievement

- in world gender equality report

Female enrolment both at the secondary and university levels has now far outstripped that of males in the Caribbean and Latin America, raising new concerns about male underachievement, according to the World Bank report on gender equality, released globally yesterday.

The flagship report titled, ‘World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development’, which was launched at an embargoed preview briefing on September 14 last, said that while gaps remain, particularly among indigenous populations, there was a new concern that education was being seen as primarily a female endeavour especially in the Caribbean.

In Guyana, for instance, data taken from studies undertaken by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) revealed that although Guyana has made significant progress in equality with primary education enrolment, at the University of Guyana and other tertiary institutions females far outnumber males.

A section of the students at the University of Guyana’s 2009 Convocation. (GINA photo)

Similarly in Jamaica, boys have underachieved beginning from the early years and this phenomenon has been taken over to both secondary and tertiary levels. Evidence of this was seen at the Caribbean Secondary Educa-tion Certificate Examinations where girls outperformed boys, with 30% of girls passing five or more subjects while for boys it was only 16%. This is with the exception of technical vocational subjects. The report also stated that a recent programme identified low self-esteem, violence, lack of discipline and masculine identities as challenges that drove boys and young men away from better academic performance and limited opportunities for jobs after they would have graduated.

The gender equality report also stated that gender gaps have been closed in the life expectancy in women and labour force participation. “In Latin America and the Caribbean women have made significant strides in terms of longevity, education and labour participation. Still, persistent differences in access to economic opportunities continue to lead to earnings and productivity gaps between mean and women. Quality of labour remains an issue, with more than half of women working in the informal sector, and male farmers representing 70-90 per cent of formal owners of farmland,” states the report.

While life expectancy was seen as a major development for females where 20 to 25 years have been added to former age limits enabling women to reach an average life expectancy of 71 years as compared to 67 for men, the flipside to this development was illustrated when the report stated that with an increase in age came the fact that most women were left widows since in most cases they outlived their husbands. Further, women were then left to run households on their own and most chose to do this solely opting not to remarry.

In addition, the report states that women in Guyana were comparatively better off in acquiring of assets after a spouse died unlike their West African sisters. States the report: “Evidence from Cambodia, Guyana, Haiti and Vietnam suggests that wives (or their children) inherit majority of assets from their deceased husbands. In contrast in 16 Sub Saharan countries more that half the widows do not inherit any assets from their spouse’s estate and only a third reported inheriting the majority of assets.”

Another positive noted, was the increase of women to the labour force. However, the report stated that they tend to work in different parts of the economic space where they are either underused or misallocated due to discrimination. “Women are more likely than men to engage in low productivity activities. They are also more likely to be in wage or unpaid family employment ….women operate smaller plots of land and farm far less remunerative crops. As entrepreneurs they tend to manage smaller firms and concentrate in less profitable sectors… gender inequalities in access to productive inputs make it more difficult for female headed firms to be as productive and profitable as male-headed ones,” states the report.

The aforementioned positives were, however, overshadowed by gaps such as excess deaths of females owing to maternal and infant mortality, unequal access to economic opportunities and differences in voice in households and in society, hurdles even wealthy countries are trying to overcome.

The need for Caribbean women to be educated about domestic abuse/violence was stated by one of the authors of the report at a briefing held in the UNDP boardroom. She said data revealed that in Haiti, 30% of women were hit by their spouses, the main reason being that the men are the breadwinners or head of the home. This information implies that gaps don’t necessarily go away with economic development since prior to the devastating earthquake in the French- Creole-speaking Caribbean nation, they were making significant economic strides.

The report details areas that countries can use as credible guides as they aim to narrow and further eliminate the gaps mentioned. These include educating women since the pattern of progress shows that when mothers are educated their offspring reap the benefits, leading to greater national economic and social benefits.

Also helping to improve the lot of women was giving them a greater voice within households and societies since the World Bank found that in politics, women were rarely given leading positions but were the ones to work more tediously in achieving goals for their male political representatives.

The report suggests that the international community complements domestic policies in the priorities areas outlined. Another strategy, the document states, can be supporting evidence-based action to help foster efforts to improve data, promote impact elevation and encourage learning. The document recommends that policy makers focus on gender gaps that rising incomes alone cannot solve. One of the authors of the report, Sudhir Shetty, advocates that “development partners can support domestic policies in many ways–more funding greater innovation and better partnerships ….additional financing for clean water and sanitation and maternal services… more experimentation, systematic evaluation and better gender-disaggregated data can point to ways of improving women’s access to markets”.

According to the report, while gender equality matters in its own right, it is also smart economics. “Countries that create better opportunities and conditions for women and girls can raise productivity, improve outcomes for children, make institutions more representative, and advance development prospects for all,” the report says.