The unique face of gender (in)equality in the Caribbean

Publicado el 21 de agosto, 2012 | 0 comentarios | Archivado en : , , , , ,

Foto: David Álvarez Veloso

The discourse on achievements in the reduction of gender inequality has spread far and wide, but in areas like education, there seems to have been a strong reversal of trends. Although today women in the Caribbean are more educated than men, the gains favoring women in the region should not be interpreted as a victory for women on all fronts. In terms of female labor participation and political participation, there is still work to be done.

In education, girls are outperforming boys in the countries of the region. Gaps at the secondary level are closing rapidly and they have even reversed.  The same has occurred at the tertiary level. In Caribbean countries for which data is available,[1] the differences point to a marked reversal, where enrollment rates at the tertiary level are markedly higher for women than for men. And although the narrative is similar for countries of Latin America (with one exception: Bolivia), the difference of enrollment of women versus men is notoriously high for countries of the Caribbean (figure 1).


Figure 1. Difference in female enrollment at the tertiary level for Caribbean countries

Source: Author’s elaboration based on UN Data.

Recognizing the positive gains associated with greater enrollment of women at the tertiary level does not mean that the low levels of male enrollment in university should not be addressed. It is important to analyze why this female bias is especially evident in the countries of the Caribbean and what factors could account for this trend.

A possible explanation is that education has been identified primarily as a “female” endeavor, and as a consequence, men in several countries of the Caribbean, such as Dominica and Jamaica, have dropped out of school. According to recent research, there are four main challenges that explain the educational development of males in some countries of the region: 1) low self-esteem among young males, 2) persistent violence and the absence of discipline, 3) a masculine identity that drives boys and young men away from better performance at school, and 4) limited opportunities for jobs after graduation. It is interesting to note that this last challenge has led to a pervasive phenomenon in the Caribbean, labeled “brain drain” (i.e. migration to developed countries), but that unlike the Latin American migrant, which is typically male and uneducated, migrants from the Caribbean are typically skilled and female (this is most visible in the Jamaican case). This means that because women complete a tertiary level education, they have increased opportunities abroad in building a career, most typically in the health sector, a phenomenon that has become subject of debate, as health workers of the region often leave to find better opportunities abroad.

In terms of labor force participation, although progress has been made with the incorporation of women in the workforce, the gender gap still displays that a greater percentage of men participate in the labor market in all countries of the region for which data is available. It is interesting to note that this gender gap is markedly narrower in the Caribbean than in Latin America, which signals important differences in terms of gender equality achievements in both regionsFigure 2 summarizes the findings of differences in labor force participation and tertiary enrollment rates for select countries of the Caribbean. In the first case, the difference illustrates more male participation in the labor force, while the second trend shows a strong female bias.


Figure 2. Difference of tertiary education[2] enrollment and labor force participation for select countries of the Caribbean

Author’s elaboration with information from UN Data and the ILO’s Key Indicators of the Labour Market.


Despite progress and a smaller gap in labor participation for the women of the Caribbean, one of the most important challenges for gender equality in the region is still the significant underrepresentation of women in politics. In the Caribbean, the proportion of female ministers on average is only 15 percent. In addition, with the exception of Guyana, laws to guarantee representation of women in decision making-bodies, (i.e. quota laws) are largely missing throughout the region.

Understanding the achievements and challenges in the Caribbean is crucial because they signal the areas that demand more attention. The alarming reversal in tertiary enrollment in detriment of males, as well as the need to increase female participation, above all in politics, is unique to the Caribbean region. These characteristics should be understood and differentiated from the rest of Latin America so that adequate policies may be enacted to ensure even greater gains in gender equality.



[1] Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados,  Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

[2] The 1997 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED 97) defines tertiary education as education programmes at ISCED levels 5 and 6. Education at ISCED level 5 includes programmes that are theoretically based or research preparatory (history, philosophy, mathematics, etc.) or giving access to professions with high skills requirements (e.g., medicine, dentistry, architecture, etc.), and those programmes that are practical, technical or occupationally specific. Level 6 are tertiary programmes that lead to the award of an advanced research qualification. The programmes are therefore devoted to advanced study and original research and are not based on course-work only.




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