A reprint from 2009
“I’d put myself first
And make the rules as I go… .” – Beyonce
Antigua & Barbuda might be paradise, but only if you are born male, according to a study conducted by the Royal Commonwealth Society and released Monday. Employing eight indicators, including life expectancy at birth, pay equality, expected number of years in school, political participation and the number of teen pregnancies, the “Born a Girl” study ranked this country No 45 among 50 countries surveyed – and there are only 54 countries in the Commonwealth, mind you.
We imagine that this piece of news would have been greeted with a sigh of relief in some quarters, a reassuring slap on the back in others, as, finally, the “worrying trend” of girls’ out-performance of boys and the vexing question of “what are we going to do about it” have been laid to rest. Whatever we might have thought prior to this; however we might have felt last week as we celebrated 100 years of International Women’s Day; wherever it was we figured we were headed – a reality check has been administered: What women thought was a light at the end of the tunnel is only a shimmering mirage, the illusion of water, in the desert.
This is a very bitter pill to swallow, and it sticks in the throat for a number of reasons. First, life expectancy for women has always been greater than that of men. Second, we need no survey to tell us that girls in this country have not merely been staying in school, they have been shining academically, as well. The results of the Common Entrance, CXC and CAPE exams have told us that; and the number of females entering college and university, including our own University of the West Indies, confirms it. Third, our women have been entering the professions, even those from which, hitherto, we were barred, in solid numbers.
Yet it appears that a well-educated woman, despite being a professional and living longer – and, thus, working longer – is still worse off than the men she has outperformed, though not out-earned.
Though we have not seen, up close, the questionnaire, nor examined, in detail, the criteria, we have no doubt that Antigua & Barbuda’s women and girls have been misjudged in the rankings because of the very things against which we have railed for more than a decade:
For example, since boys do not become pregnant – ever – the number of years they spend in school is never compromised, except by their own doing. Girls, meanwhile, have not only the infant to care for, but a fight on their hands to get back into the classroom. Too often, with neither the resources nor the encouragement to buck the system, their education is truncated; and they, and their offspring, begin “life” behind the eight ball of poverty brought on by un- or under-employment.
It continues to be a fact that a young man who has not completed school has a better chance at earning more – and, certainly, of retaining more of his earnings – than a young woman with two or three academic subjects. For brawn still weighs more than brain on the scale of pay. And for women, low pay often breeds dependency; and dependency, too often, is cause for abuse.
And who understands this cycle better than women? And who knows its remedy better than women? But where are the women who understand and know? Not in the halls of power where change can be effected, for sure. Because, up to now, most men and too many women do not see women as corporate and political leaders. Instead, we continue to be viewed as foot soldiers, as organisers, as public-relations handlers, as “best supporting” actresses – for someone or something that does not view us as equals, as contenders, as winners.
So Ivena can win all the calypso monarchies she likes, as can Claudette on the soca stage. Christ the King High School can amass all the sporting trophies it likes as it runs the boys from Yasco’s field. Karen-Mae can be Rhodes Scholar until Cecil renounces racism. The ombudsman can be addressed as “Madam” and LIAT’s cockpits can be manned by women. The Governor-General, Senate President, and House Speaker can bow and scrape until Westminster falls like London Bridge. But until the Lower House is a less lonely place for the Minister of Education and until the corporate boardrooms resound with the clatter of heels, women’s place on the charts will continue to reflect our low estate:
Mothers will continue to strike deals with men who defile their daughters, because the system allows it. Men will rape with impunity and then take a brief holiday at the taxpayers’ expense if they’re “bad-lucked” enough to be caught and have the charge stick. Single women will be forced to take that second and third job because their children’s fathers contribute nothing to their welfare. And lawmen and churchmen will continue to urge battered females to go home and mend things with their abusers. …
The irony of all this is that Antiguan and Barbudan women live and work among other women who flock here from countries that enjoy higher rankings – including Dominica (5th) and Jamaica (12th) – ostensibly seeking “a better life,” which, rightly or wrongly, is interpreted as a better financial situation. But the study has proven that dollar bills in the purse do not equate to having a Mary Eugenia Charles or a Portia Simpson firmly entrenched in the psyche. In other words, it is not national income, but political will – as in Rwanda, ranked 10th – that matters in this regard.
For until women matter where it counts, we will not count … and it will not matter.