Women’s History Month highlights all that women have achieved. Recently, we saw The Right Excellent Robyn ‘Rihanna’ Fenty perform at the Superbowl and the Oscars.
The President of Barbados, the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and six members of the Cabinet are all women.
But across the world, we also watched women fight for their rights and freedom.
While we can look on with awe at the accomplishments of women, it is often hard at times to feel jubilation when you think about the extra effort required of women to reach levels of achievement within a system that disadvantages them.
For all of our progress, women in Barbados and beyond continue to endure policies that not only do not serve them but actually harm them and hinder their well-being and opportunity.
The first step in creating systemic change is becoming aware of what needs changing, and I can’t think of a better time to bring attention to these issues than during Women’s History Month.
The Gender Wage Gap
According to a report by UN Women titled, Status of Women and Men Report: A Gender Analysis of Labour Force Data and Policy Frameworks in Six CARICOM Member States, Barbados has been recognized as leading the charge to close the gender wage gap.
However, despite the investments made in education, there are still barriers in regard to gender equality. Deputy Representative of the UN Women Multi-Country Office, Tonni Brodber noted “Barbadian women earn on average 95.4 percent of what Barbadian men earn. But when controlling for education, Barbados women who are educated up to the primary level earn four dollars less than their male counterparts; those who are educated up to the secondary school level earn $1.67 less; and 63 cents less than men if they are educated up to the university level.”
Women comprise 49 percent of managers in Barbados.
Additionally, our Minister of Labour, Colin Jordan said, “while women have made significant strides in Barbados, there are still issues of inequality and inequity.”
It is assumed that there is equality in the areas of education and employment but this could not be further from the truth. Women predominantly further their studies when compared to men but they are also more unemployed when you look at the statistics.
Higher education does not equate to higher pay.
And while I acknowledge that the gender wage gap has narrowed in recent years, it does not negate the fact that it continues to be a relevant threat and disadvantage to women.
So what is being done to address the pay disparity between men and women?
The UN report recommended “an establishment of an ‘equal pay for work of equal value legislation’; the alleviation of the burden of unpaid work in the home through policies that enable women to reconcile paid and unpaid care responsibilities; improvement of access to quality, affordable childcare facilities; improvement of access to productive resources and an investigation of what can be done to expand entrepreneurial opportunities.”
Maternity Leave in Barbados
In Barbados there is subsidized nursery care, however, unpaid care work is still one of the factors which keep women out of the workforce.
According to the Barbados Employment of Women (Maternity Leave), (1976), Chapter 345A, women become eligible for maternity leave at 12 months of employment. Maternity leave can only be taken on up to three (3) occasions with the same employer.
The duration is a minimum of 12 weeks (6 pre-natal and 6 post-natal). Up to 6 weeks of additional leave is given upon the recommendation of a medical professional, should any illness arise out of the confinement.
The National Insurance Scheme provides coverage as follows:
- Maternity benefit: periodical payments in the case of the pregnancy of an insured woman;
- Maternity grant: a payment of $1,260 to women who are uninsured, or are insured but do not satisfy the conditions, and whose spouse is insured.
For purposes of a Maternity Grant, the term “spouse” includes a single man who is living together with a single woman for a period of not less than 2 years or 1 year, plus named as the father on the child’s birth certificate.
When the discussion about NIS reform was brought to the public forum last year, there was much outcry in regard to the number of times for maternity leave which currently cannot exceed three from the same employer. This was a catch-22 given the current push by the government for women to have more children.
In addition, the stipulation of living together with your “spouse” in order to qualify for the maternity grant also bore some concerns.
The effect that this has on the female workforce, especially for new mothers, is significant. The time allocated hardly provides enough time for women to fully recover from birth, settle into a routine as a new mother and bond with their child, but with many living paycheque to paycheque, the financial burden is catastrophic to many households.
Many businesses are less likely to hire new or expecting mothers, limiting their professional and economic opportunities. So what does this mean for women? It means that many women feel obligated to choose between their career and family, and risk returning to work before they are physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to do so due to financial need.
Covid’s Impact on Women in the Workforce
The world was rocked by the events of the pandemic. We experienced weeks of shutdowns, people endured unprecedented waves of unemployment and financial insecurity. According to the report presented by UN Women titled, A Gender Analysis of the Impact of Covid-19 on Women and Men in 12 Caribbean Countries February/March 2021, women in tourism-related occupations and sales sectors experienced a higher economic shock than men whose jobs were more diversified.
Stay-at-home orders, school closures, and lockdown measures saw an increase in unpaid domestic and care work for both men and women. However, women held the majority burden. While access to jobs decreased during the pandemic, domestic responsibilities increased as children transitioned to online learning. Women felt pressure in some cases to choose between caring for their children and pursuing livelihoods to feed their families.
Flexible working arrangements were made more accessible to middle and high-income earners which forced low-income earners into a bind as single-parent households are predominately led by women. The invisible line in the sand, that is, work/life balance caused many to leave the workforce in order to maintain increased domestic responsibilities.
According to the Barbados Police Service, there was a 38% increase in domestic violence reports.
What Can We Do?
There are no quick fixes…
Therefore, it is important that women keep speaking on these issues in relation to professional experiences. Women can also seek jobs that pay them what they are worth and stop thinking they have to be 100% qualified for a job before they apply as our counterparts do not do this.
It’s about being our sister’s keeper and advocating for our rights. Look to support businesses that encourage diversity, equality, and equity in their workforce. Further financial education is needed so that women have the tools they need to make sound decisions and be aware of their options.
But much like making a promise to eat healthily and then you fall off on day two and go back to bad eating habits, doing our part to change policies that hold women back comes down to holding the people in power accountable.