Some thoughts on March 8
What seemed to have overshadowed those messages was the push for bragging rights by some enterprises, highlighting the number of women in top leadership positions. Women’s issues should be highlighted beyond March, but are not. At least in March, the country’s focus is on National Heroes’ Day and Heritage.
While we must complement those companies that were blowing their own horns there are issues that should be part of our national conversation. Some of them were highlighted; among them being domestic violence, statutory rape and how these are addressed in Court, the need to review the Domestic Violence Act of 2015 and the matter of gender equality.
There are broader issues, too, that have to be addressed. The fact that women are increasingly being placed in leadership positions in many enterprises does not surprise me. I have always been embarrassed by the marked absence of male graduates at Recognition of Graduates ceremonies at the UWI Open Campus where females comprise 85 percent of the student body. At the UWI overall, women outnumber men by 68.6 to 31 percent. It is true that women are still underrepresented in Engineering, Science and Technology, but this trend is being reversed. I note that in Science and Technology, women at Cave Hill now make up 49 percent of that group. Based on qualifications alone, women are certainly equipped to fill top positions. This is certainly not an alarm but points to broader concerns. We have to ask, where have the males gone? Let us remember that the concept of gender suggests that women’s issues should not be seen in isolation.
Despite the prominence of women in top positions in many enterprises men still hold power and gender imbalance remains an issue. Not only do men hold power but they feel that they have a right to do so. I was shocked, recently, to have heard a minister of the Gospel using the Bible to rationalise what he considered the absolute right of men to dominance of the home. The traditional position of men as heads of households is being challenged and is leading to serious conflicts. It is not the bible, despite what some say, that has given men that control, but the fact that traditionally they were the breadwinners. We are however in changing times and women are becoming increasingly financially independent of men, their spouses, or partners. They sometimes control the purse strings in the household.
I have no doubt that this leads to divorces and physical abuses, for the financial independence of women impacts psychologically on those men still holding on to that macho image and what it conjures to them. Issues of rape and physical and sexual abuse are major concerns. Part of it has to do with male assertion of power over women. In their minds there is no better way of assuring themselves of power than targeting minors, in a situation where women have become more confident and self-assured.
There are areas that have to be addressed. One of them is that of women in politics. It is not that women should find a place simply by the fact that they are women, but political parties have to begin serious work in allowing them the opportunity of rising to top positions. The other issue that calls for concerns is the high dropout rate of male students in post-primary education. This should be an alarm bell ringing in the ears of education authorities and needs to be addressed urgently. Issues affecting women and by extension the society demand attention beyond March 8.
Women are, indeed, the bedrock of the society.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian