Addressing gender gaps

| 05/04/2013

The 2010 Census of Population and Housing revealed many gender gaps in the Cayman Islands. The most striking differences were found in the achievements and status of males and females in income, time usage, education, the work force and health. Males earned more money at every education level and across many occupations and industries.

In addition, females worked fewer hours in the paid economy and spent more time on unpaid caregiving and domestic work; males were less likely than females to be attending school or to hold educational qualifications; females were less likely to be unemployed but more likely to be outside of the labour force; occupational and industrial segregation showed that females and males are often taking different career paths; and females suffered from chronic non-communicable diseases at higher rates.

Gender gaps are evidence of gender inequality and demonstrate the loss of achievement within the Cayman Islands and the negative outcomes for individuals, families, the economy and our society as a whole. These gaps can also in turn contribute to larger social issues, including poverty, crime and violence.

Sex and gender

When discussing gender gaps, it is important to note that sex and gender do not mean the same thing. Sex refers to physical realities, while gender refers to economic, social and cultural attributes, roles and opportunities which determine what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or man and girl or boy.

Characteristics, emotions and behaviours that people generally associate with being male or female – commonly referred to as “masculinity” and “femininity” – are learned from childhood. We behave in ways that others encourage and not in ways that others discourage based on ideas of what it means to be a boy or girl or a man or woman. We are also treated differently because of our sex.

Ideas that we have developed about gender are not fixed, as they evolve through social interactions and vary between cultures and over time. Understanding these terms allows us to separate differences that arise because of biology from those that result from social processes.

Stereotypes and discrimination

Our society has gender gaps not because of the different innate abilities of males and females but because we expect boys and girls and men and women to also have different desires, to behave differently and to be capable of different achievements. When we have expectations or feelings about people based on sex or gender, we may reinforce inequality without even realising it.

Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender (or both characteristics at the same time) can be direct, indirect or structural. It is direct when, for example, men and women receive different pay for the same work, or when boys aren’t given the same opportunities as girls in the classroom. It is indirect when an act, practice or policy that is applied to everyone puts a particular group at an unfair disadvantage. This could occur, for example, if an employer does not allow employees to take their lunch hour after 2:00PM without a valid business reason, because women are more likely to use their lunch hour to pick their children up from school in the afternoon.

Structural discrimination is even more complicated and occurs when a society's major 'structures' – such as the family, government, labour market or education system – consistently disadvantage a particular group through norms, policies and behaviours.

This may not be intentional, but when the outcomes for males or females are unjust there is structural discrimination that is separate from, but may be related to, any direct or indirect discrimination in which individuals or groups may engage.

Promoting gender equality

By taking a gender perspective and considering these different types of discrimination, we can start to understand the root causes of gender gaps and what types of interventions will close them. In some instances, legislation or policies may be required to prohibit specific discriminatory actions.

Government is committed to upholding the rights of males and females and protecting them from prejudice, discrimination and injustice. The Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities recognises that all people have the right to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The Cayman Islands is also a signatory to international treaties and conventions that uphold these values.

The Legislative Assembly unanimously passed the Gender Equality Law, 2011, which seeks to eliminate discrimination in employment, training and recruitment on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy or gender. Other laws and regulations also prohibit certain kinds of direct and indirect discrimination and provide sanctions for offenders and remedies for victims.

However, it is often our attitudes that have the most power to ensure or prevent equality of opportunity in many areas. We all have thoughts about individuals based on characteristics like sex and gender that can cause us to act in ways that discourage or prevent them from reaching their full potential or pursuing their own desires. Stereotypes can also hold us back personally if we do not believe we can or should do or achieve certain things just because we happen to be male or female. In order to address structural discrimination and for our society to truly progress, we must all seek to understand how stereotypes and prejudices based on sex and gender affect us in our daily lives and resolve to overcome these biases.

What can you do to close gender gaps?

Ideas aboutour gender roles and capabilities are so ingrained that we often see them as “natural”. However, scientific and social research has consistently proven that while there are biological differences between males and females, the way that we are socialised by parents, caregivers, peers, teachers, the media and others is the biggest source of gender differences.

Education is one of the most important tools for ending structural discrimination by breaking stereotypes and prejudices. We can all strive to recognise stereotypes or prejudices we may have about the qualities or capabilities of males and females and what roles and personal choices are “suitable” for each sex. When we are more conscious of these assumptions, we can choose how we respond in our formal and informal relationships and decision-making processes. We can also advocate for ourselves and others by recognising and rejecting discrimination wherever it occurs.

When males and females have the same opportunities to achieve important goals and contribute their best efforts there are positive effects for women, men, children, families, the economy and society as a whole. These include decreased reliance on social services, more positive opportunities for all children, lessening negative effects of poor living conditions and poverty, greater productivity and economic growth. Gender equality ensures that individuals are treated fairly, development is human-centred and we are all advancing together.

Promote gender equality. Don’t stereotype.

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