It's the economics for womenSunday, March 07, 2021
International Women's Day is sometimes met with the question “Why is this relevant to Jamaica when women outnumber men at our universities? What about the International Labour Organization study that says Jamaica had the highest percentage of female managers?” Notwithstanding those truths, Jamaica is a country of contradictions. More men are employed in Jamaica than women. That has been the case pre-COVID-19 and has only worsened with the crisis.
When you unpack the numbers in the chart further, data reveal that 66 per cent of the women who are employed are in jobs that barely afford them the opportunity to earn much more than minimum wage annually. Women also have a higher unemployment rate compared to men, 13 per cent versus 8.6 per cent.
To make matters worse, 59 per cent of Jamaicans 'outside the labour force' are women. That term includes people engaged in home duties or not wanting to work or not available to work. This clearly has worsened with increased caregiving responsibilities due to the closure of face-to-face learning in schools because of COVID-19. All these data points are even more important, given that 48 per cent of households in Jamaica are headed by women, and are primarily single parent, single income.
Given the scale of the economic inequity for women, solutions for Jamaica's economic recovery need to be executed by both government and private sector in a targeted way. The impact on children and families will be great, as CaPRI's research has shown that women reinvest 60 per cent more of their money into the household than men.
Globally, women-led micro, small and medium-sized enterprises are also disproportionately impacted in COVID-19-ravaged economies. Consequently, some private sector banks in Kenya and South Africa provide focused solutions for women-led enterprises.
They provide access to finance for women through unsecured loans. As their own client data show that women tend to borrow less and pay back more consistently than men, their risk department supports the customised products. They also provide tools and training, noting the dynamics and knowledge levels for women in rural areas versus urban areas.
Training includes “mentoring for growth”, “owning your presence in a board room” and “financial education to better manage the books of the business”. Banks in Jamaica could make participation in such programmes a prerequisite to accessing unsecured loans as this could be the way to get to know the business and the owner. However, this requires reorienting how banks operate.
Some of the banks in Kenya and South Africa realised that apart from providing affordable and accessible finance, they could provide a market through their procurement. Those banks examined their supply chain (looked at what goods and services they bought) and agreed on a percentage that would be allocated to women-led enterprises. They also make sure the MSMEs are paid on time. Imagine if all large companies in Jamaica did this.
Inclusive Growth Policy
The Government can use the 'Public Procurement Set Aside Order' in a similar way. They can proactively allocate a portion of government contracts for buying goods and services to women-led Jamaican companies. When I argued in 2015, as a senator, for the 'set aside' to apply to women, I didn't imagine that six years later we would be here with nothing done in that area.
Government can also provide more funding to the Local Economic Development unit of the Social Development Commission to build the capacity of women-led micro-enterprises as well as a special funding line. Developing economic activities close to home for women would be beneficial. We have limited funds overall, so let's use what we have to ensure we get the multiplier effect for families and communities.
For International Women's Day 2021, let's do what we can to make a difference to the economic prospects for women in our country. Balanced opportunities will make for stronger families, stronger communities and a stronger country.
Imani Duncan-Price is a former senator, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and Eisenhower Fellow. E-mail feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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