Island Inequality

Typically when I analyze the issue of gender inequality my thoughts are limited to what I have experienced as a woman living in the Western world. Although I am of Haitian descent, my knowledge about the oppressiveness of a patriarchal society doesn’t venture far past the shores of North America. I have never asked my Mother or Grandmother what it was like living as women in Haiti, a country far less liberal and just than the United States is when it comes to the treatment of women.

Being a first generation American meant my parents still raised me with some of the gender roles and double standards that exist in Haitian society; but what I have had to deal with is not even a fraction of what Haitian women and other caribbean women experience in their home countries.

The issue of gender inequality in the caribbean became relevant to me, after reading an article about a sexist comment made by Haitian president Michel Martelly. Earlier this year at a campaign rally in the port city of Miragoane, a woman asked President Martelly what he planned on doing about the lack of electricity in the region. Instead of answering her question appropriately, he responded by telling her to go find a man to have sex with. [1]

President Martelly is known for being filterless and loose-lipped, but that doesn’t change the fact that his comment was totally unacceptable. The comment he made is reflective of a widespread sexist mindset in the caribbean. Unlike women in the western world, it has taken much longer for caribbean women to combat this sexist culture and ascend from the status as second class citizens.

Gender inequality in the caribbean often times stems from religious extremism, that glorifies male dominated supremacy of women. Men feel compelled to control their wives and daughters, ruling their households with an iron fist. The result of this is that a great deal of women in the caribbean ending up in low sectors of society in terms of employment, wages, and political representation. Statistics report that, “women in the Caribbean still lack promotional rights, free from job discrimination as social and legal institutions do not pledge equality in employment and earning and social and political participation.” [2]

Poor economic conditions have put a massive strain on family life, leading to an increase in domestic violence caribbean women face. Economic collapse and crisis are often correlated to a rise in domestic abuse. [3] Sexual violence against women is also pervasive in the caribbean. Three Caribbean countries are among the top 10 for reported incidence of rape, and all Caribbean countries have higher than the world average for rape. [4] There are laws in the region against domestic violence; however, fewer than half of caribbean countries have laws that protect women when it comes to marital rape and sexual assault. It is also extremely difficult to document cases of abuse, because women often remain silent out of fear. [3]

There is an urgent need for both social and systemic change in the caribbean. The United Nations in collaboration with the Governments of many caribbean countries, are actively trying bring about change. The United Nation‘s Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has been working with caribbean countries to achieve gender equality in the labor force. Partnership for Peace, UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, and other organizations are all working to end violence against women in region. These initiatives have been effective, however, there is more that needs to be done. The intrinsic worth of women as capable, self-determining individuals needs to be promoted in caribbean society. Once this is recognized, caribbean women can begin experiencing equality.

[1] “Haiti President Michel Martelly Embroiled in Sexism Row.” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.                                                                                                                   [2] Edmonds, Kevin. “Discussing Domestic Violence in the Caribbean.” NACLA. N.p., n.d. Web.                                                                                                                                         [3] “Caribbean News Now!” Commentary: Gender Inequality in the Caribbean: A Sad Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.                                                                                         [4] UN Women Caribbean, “Ending Violence against Women.”

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