Gender moves we hope to see this year

Gender moves we hope to see this year


Monday, January 18, 2021

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LAST year was a year of moderate action where gender issues were concerned. Among other things, we watched as the Sexual Harassment Bill was discussed in Parliament, and savoured in the much-needed national discussions on the issue. We also celebrated as the gender ministry announced that we finally have a State-run emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence.

But while we are happy for the strides that have been made on a national policy level, and the ground that has been covered through public/private partnerships, we remain cognisant of the fact that far more needs to be done to ensure that one's gender does not make it harder to access opportunities in this country, or even worse, make one a target for violence and discomfort.

Below are some big moves that remain on the agenda, and we would like to see more attention being paid to these matters by policymakers, corporations in their budgeting for social responsibility, and the public, whose voice is loudest in this democracy.

End period poverty

We celebrated with Scotland in November as they became the first country to pass a law making all period products, such as sanitary pads and tampons, free to all who need them. Simultaneously, we lamented that many Jamaican girls and women are still period-poor. We celebrate the work that is being done by HerFlow Foundation and its partners to provide these products to as many high school girls as they can, but we would like to see more being done on a national policy level to ensure that no girl has to choose between her education or her period. We should make a free pad at least as accessible as a free condom.

Hold the vote on abortion

We were pleased to witness a stir on the topic of abortion last week, after State Minister Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn brought the issue into the public domain once again. Riding on the recent legalisation of abortions in Argentina, Cuthbert-Flynn urged Parliament to move the bill along, which, as expected, ruffled the feathers of the church, with Bishop Alvin Bailey calling for her to be 'reined in' by the prime minister. In March last year the Human Resources and Social Development Committee recommended that Members of Parliament (MP) make a “conscience” vote to determine whether or not abortion should be decriminalised. A conscience vote would allow each MP to vote anonymously for or against it, instead of along party lines. A parliamentary committee reviewing sexual offences legislation recommended in December 2018 that abortion and other issues of “broad public divide” could be put to a referendum for the public to vote. Whichever route our leaders decide to take, we would like to see more done this year to further the debate that was reopened over two years ago.

Open the other two shelters

We are happy that one of the three State-run shelters for victims of domestic violence was opened last year, and that women who are fleeing violent relationships can have a place of refuge. We look forward to more good news this year as we track the progress of the other two shelters. Last summer, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange said the ministry has taken possession of the second property, and the title for the third property was being transferred. These additional shelters will serve more victims across the island.

More sexual harassment education

We are pleased that the long overdue Sexual Harassment Bill has been chugging its way through Parliament and seems to be on the verge of being passed into law. We watched as several groups made presentations, and public discussion was had on the topic, and we look forward to it being passed early this year, even if it only covers the realm of the workplace. We would like to see a greater thrust towards public education on what harassment is, so that we can begin the long process of cultural change that it will take to reduce street harassment in Jamaica.

Break the salary silence

Although, according to the International Labour Organization, Jamaica has the highest proportion of women managers in the world (59 per cent), there is still too much hush-hush around salaries, especially in the private sector, for disparities in the salaries paid to qualified men and women to be scrutinised. We hope that this year moves can be made to encourage the publication of salary ranges for all advertised positions, and to encourage greater discussions about salaries in public spaces. Besides, it's a waste of everyone's time to go through several rounds of interviews only to have to turn down the job based on a surprisingly low salary offer.

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