The Caribbean region is home to countries with the highest per capita incomes. In terms of human development, Anglophone nations such as The Bahamas and Barbados are among the 58 countries in the world identified as “very high human development”; Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago rank amongst those identified in the category of “high human development”. English-speaking Caribbean countries are also assessed as among the least corrupt in the world. Yet, hidden in the social fabric and fed by an entrenched patriarchal system, a double paradox exists. Women have achieved great strides in education and labour force participation, while many Caribbean men continue to espouse and internalize a rigid masculine gender identity and behaviour, hurting both men and women at home, in school, and at work.
The home is a dangerous place for about 1 in 3 Caribbean women. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is an open secret in the region and the average prevalence rate of lifetime intimate partner violence (IPV) is on par with global estimates of roughly 30 percent. This rate masks a wide range, from 27% in Jamaica and 30% Trinidad and Tobago to 60% in Belize and Guyana. The lifetime IPV rate for Haitian women is 34%. In The Bahamas, domestic violence occurs in 20% to 40% of households and at all economic strata, although it is more pronounced in lower income households. Rape prevalence in the region is above average in comparison to 102 countries worldwide. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, residents of Caribbean countries experience rapes more often than those of other regions and the rate of reported rapes is higher than the unweighted global average of 15 rapes per 100,000. Three countries of the Caribbean ranked in the top 20 worldwide in terms of per capita rates of reported rape in 2014 and 4 were on the top 20 based on the rates for 2010.
To learn more about the impact of gender roles in education and governance on the Caribbean, please take a moment to listen to this podcast with Laurence Telson and Terry-Ann Coley-Graham
Schools reinforce cues and ideas of proper masculine and feminine behaviour, learned at home and in the community. In her seminal book on Male Underachievement in High School Education, Odette Parry argues that “male gender identity as it is currently constructed runs contrary to the academic ethos of education.” Boys are perceived as rowdy and thus needing more severe and repeated discipline or needing to be “toughened up.” Verbal putdowns and corporal punishment place boys at a disadvantage in terms of learning. Studies on the effect of violence and academic achievement of primary school students revealed that corporal punishment is associated with poor school achievement. Data from Jamaica revealed that, in 2008, half of the boys (ages 6 to 18 years) from inner city communities were not in schools and boys are more likely than girls (87% to 91%) to shirk school at the secondary level. This leads to a gender imbalance in post-secondary studies and, for example, in 2010, 40% of Caribbean men compared to 60% of females were studying at universities.
Gender expectations also play in the distribution of youth who are Not in Employment Education or Training. The NEET rates for available countries in the Caribbean averages 25%, compared to 4% to 18% in Europe and Latin America. Looking deeper in the available NEET youth data for Barbados and Suriname showed that NEET males have lower academic achievements than women while most NEET women (20% in Barbados and 33% in Suriname) are more likely to be undertaking unpaid work, such as household and caring duties and pregnancy.
Meshed together, hegemonic masculinity and economic inequalities are reinforcing gender disparities, impeding the agency of men and women and reducing economic potentials.
The bottom line is that manning up boys does not add value; its negative impact is reflected in recent data on Caribbean women and men with respect to employment trends, educational achievement, or professional development.
Listen to more conversations on Masculinity in the Caribbean in the podcasts below.