As we continue to celebrate International Women’s Day and Month with its theme: Digitall: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality, I am forced to reflect on the applicability of this theme for Jamaican women. Many Jamaicans who are educated, live in urban areas, and can afford a helper, tend to forget that our reality is not that of the average Jamaican.
We need to be mindful of the fact that many people in this country who do not have the basics, such as electricity or running water, and that there are government-run schools in the inner-city and rural areas where children still use pit toilets. So vast is the disparity between those who have and those who have not. I endorse what Novelette Grant, Retired Deputy Commissioner of Police said is a starting point.
“Jamaican women need to support each other across generations, work, and think more intergenerational to pass on knowledge, wisdom, experiences, and life skills to help us chart these challenging times. If we don’t, then we are going to have an even more difficult struggle than we do now.”
I do not know who decides on international themes and their relevance to the world outside of Europe and North America. While I do believe it is essential that all Jamaicans are taught the effective use of technology, and provided with opportunities to be innovative, we must begin by understanding where the average Jamaican woman is and what her basic needs are in order to bridge the gap to innovation and technology. As a researcher, I believe we should start by asking women what their needs are. With this in mind, I reached out to several Jamaican.
Teresa, a single mother of four, with one son still in high school works full time in ground maintenance, said that “Women need more money in their workplace. Because a lot of them don’t have a father for the children; them is the mother and father; they have to buy food, clothes, they have bills, children have to go to school, lots of stuff.” Teresa touched on one of my core peeves and something Jamaica desperately needs –an end to single parenting. Every child comes into this world because of two human beings coming together, no matter the circumstance, and every child deserves not just a mother, but an active father.
Single parenting has been glorified and places an unfair burden on women who have been blamed for the plight of children, especially the deterioration of boys. Where are the fathers? The government must OUTLAW single-parenting which drains our society. Absentee fathers must be made to be accountable. Two things need to happen: Women need to starve these men who they know have children they are not supporting, and the fathers must be listed on birth certificates. Once paternity is determined, the father must be compelled to pay child support and actively engage in the child’s life. Until the culture of our society changes to prioritise family, the government must take stringent actions to bring wayward men in line for the effective development of our society. Jamaican women need to understand the power they have and ensure before having a child that the man they cohabit with, will shoulder his share of co-parenting responsibilities.
The need for work and economic opportunities was a need expressed by Nicole C., an Office Attendant who noted that when young women leave high school, despite having qualifications, they are not getting the job they desire. “Jamaica women need more opportunities to do certain things especially when it requires like ‘man work’; they feel like women cannot do man work.”
Women want more than non-traditional jobs, says gender advocate who goes by goes by the initials, RHDH. She adds, “they also need assistance to open or expand their businesses and access income-generating revenues and security; they need access to own land, build houses, have an accommodating workplace that takes into consideration a woman’s child and eldercare roles makes provisions to help them balance her work and home roles; laws and policies that understand and address the unique challenges women currently face – from GBV and gender bias.”
Another concern for women is safety, of which I am discretely aware as a single woman. There are many nights when I would love to just go for a walk, but I dare not, because I do not feel safe. I know if while walking at night something was to happen, many would point their fingers and ask why I was out at night. My freedom as a human in this society is restricted based on my gender. This issue of safety was shared by Margaret RH,, an administrative worker who believes women must have the freedom to walk on the roads and not be molested: “Even if you are walking naked.”
In order to achieve our 2030 goals, safety is a major concern as Nora-Gaye, a journalist added. “Jamaican women need a society they can feel safe in. Safety and security are constantly being eroded for Jamaican women who also need more safe spaces to escape from domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence.”
Creating a safer space for women will also result in creating a safer Jamaican for all its citizens and the government has to come up with a viable strategy to bring this about. So Narricka, a 20-year-old university student was on point when she declared, “Jamaican women need more representation in politics so that our voices and concerns can be heard and handled by people who not only understand but are willing to make a change.”
For the first time in our history, Jamaica has the largest representation of women in politics, and we wait with bated breath to see if these women will insist on a gender budget and push through policies that empower and protect women.
Finally, because women want intimacy and companionship, the women also discussed this area. “Women need a chance to be loved not used and abused because sometimes when women open up themselves emotionally, men take our vulnerability and use us physically and emotionally,” said Margaret, a point affirmed by RHRD.
“We need better men. Men who are kind, caring, nurturing, responsible and present.” I agree wholeheartedly as I know so many women who desire nothing more than to be loved and respected by some good, and available Jamaican men.
So, while Jamaican women must be a part of and strive to upgrade their digital and technological skills to be active in the global community, we must first focus on the basics of education, safety and health. Sidonie Morrison-Donald, Retired Nurse Administrator says it aptly, “Women need to be respected and be included at all levels in Plans, Programs and Decision Making process. As we celebrate Women’s Month throughout March, let us pause to ask women in Jamaica what they need and collaborate with them to ensure that these needs are met so they can continuously upgrade their skills. Women’s month is about all of us and how we move forward and develop this nation of ours.