Women rise While Men stagnate as Caribbean’s different gender gap

February 17, 2015 8:17 am

When the young woman was
preparing to open a business in Jamaica selling pipes, vaporizers and
other smoking paraphernalia, some acquaintances suggested she would have
difficulty succeeding in a niche trade dominated by men.

Now, about a
year-and-a-half after its launch at a hotel complex in Jamaica’s
capital, Ravn Rae’s smoking supplies store is growing and she’s proving
doubters wrong in a country where women have made such big
advances in professions once dominated by men that a new U.N. study says
it has the world’s highest proportion of female bosses.
“Women
are the ones who are the main breadwinners. We push harder to earn,”
says Rae at her smoke shop, which she hopes to soon expand into a
medical marijuana dispensary if lawmakers pass a decriminalization bill
and allow a regulated cannabis industry. For now, she manages one
saleswoman.

In this Feb. 5, 2015 photo, Ravn Rae sits behind the counter of her
smoking supplies store, Mez, located in a hotel complex in Kingston,
Jamaica. Some of Rae’s acquaintances suggested she would have difficulty
succeeding in a niche trade dominated by men, but about a
year-and-a-half after launching her store, her company is growing and
she’s proving doubters wrong in a Caribbean country where women have
made such big advances in professions once dominated by men that a new
U.N. study says it has the world’s highest proportion of female bosses.
(AP Photo/David McFadden) 
According to data
analyzed by the , nearly 60 percent of
managers in Jamaica are women, including those who work for large
companies and those, like Rae, who own their own businesses. That’s the
globe’s highest percentage and way ahead of developed countries.
Colombia, at 53 percent, and St. Lucia, at 52 percent, are the only
other nations in the world where women are more likely than men to be
the boss, according to the ILO’s global list. The highest ranking first
world nation is the United States, with almost 43 percent, and the
lowest is Japan, at 11 percent.

Overall,
women in the Caribbean and parts of make up the
managerial ranks to a greater extent than in the developed world.
Experts say the gain is due in part to improvements in the level of
female education, but also because men have failed to keep pace and have
in some cases gone backward.
The
Caribbean and Latin America have seen such big improvements in the
economic and social status of women that gender gaps in education, labor
force participation, access to health systems and political engagement
“have narrowed, closed and sometimes even reversed direction,” according
to a World Bank study that analyzed women’s economic empowerment in the
region. More women are receiving advanced degrees even as a number also
juggle household and child-rearing responsibilities.
But
while government officials and educators celebrate that fact they also
have serious worries about stagnating men, who have lower levels of
academic achievement and are at increased risk of falling into
criminality, trends that undermine the gains by females.
Wayne
Campbell, a Jamaican high school teacher who blogs about the problem of
male underachievement, believes toxic notions about masculinity
permeate entire communities, reinforced by a popular music culture that
often celebrates law-breaking. Boys who display school smarts are often
ridiculed as effeminate by peers and even adults in areas where academic
excellence by males is typically devalued, he says.
“It’s almost as if manhood and masculinity have been hijacked by a thug culture far removed from education,” he said.
From
the southern country of Trinidad & Tobago to the northern
archipelago of the Bahamas, Caribbean education ministries have focused
attention for years trying to solve the worrying reality of male
underachievement and the social problems it leaves in its wake. Grace
McLean, Jamaica’s chief education officer, says “it is evident that
boys’ underachievement in the education system is weighing heavily on
national socio-economic development.”
Regional
educators say the scale of academic underachievement by boys, a trend
which is mirrored in other parts of the world including the U.S., points
to the need for systemic changes in the way that lessons are planned
and delivered. Many schools in the Caribbean have experimented with
approaches large and small to better engage boys, but results have
typically been mixed when they haven’t been considered outright
failures.

In 2010, Trinidad and
Tobago transformed about a fifth of its co-educational secondary schools
into single-sex institutions to address underperformance. But the
pilot program was scrapped after officials found students did not
improve in single-sex classrooms.
But
educators in Jamaica say the research they have conducted has shown
that boys in single-sex schools do better than those in co-educational
ones. In one co-ed Kingston primary school, the principal is now
experimenting with single-sex classrooms and she says the results are
promising.
“We’re finding
that reading levels are improving and the boys are more focused and
engaged when they learn by themselves,” said principal Candi Lee
Crooks-Smith at Allman Town Primary, where exuberant 8-year-old boys in
one classroom learned math lessons on a recent morning by taking turns
juggling a soccer ball with a male trainee teacher.
Not
everyone is convinced regional women are close to pulling ahead of men
in Caribbean societies. Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar, an associate
professor of sociology at Canada’s Ryerson University who researches
Caribbean cultures, said the majority of top positions are still
dominated by men, even if countries like Jamaica and Trinidad have
female heads of state. She says women in the Caribbean still “have to
contend with old-boy networks, male privilege, and males dominating in
the justice, social, political and religious systems.”
But
with far more women pursuing higher education compared to men, the
gender gap could grow lopsided. For years, there’s been a steady 70-30
ratio in favor of women at the University of the West Indies, a public
university system serving 18 Caribbean countries and territories.
“Caribbean
culture has a laid-back, slow-paced vibe. But generally, Caribbean men
are a lot more relaxed than the women,” Rae says, checking inventory at
her smoke shop.
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