“ Supporting Men and Women to Share Unpaid Caring: The Most Powerful Way to Increase Women’s Economic Empowerment?

Intervention of Jillian Bartlett, General Secretary of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers of Trinidad & Tobago in the parallel event “ Supporting Men and Women to Share Unpaid Caring: The Most Powerful Way to Increase Women’s Economic Empowerment?"

Well-Paid Paternity Leave: The Strongest Lever to Improve Women’s Economic Position?

I am so happy to be spending this time, sharing with you some experiences from my work and activities in my union and country – Trinidad & Tobago.

The map on the slide will help you to see and get a picture, so to speak, of the Caribbean and my country. Much of my work and activities have been specifically in Trinidad & Tobago. And given my role as a titular member for Public Services International in the Caribbean, much of what I will say to you also applies to the Caribbean sub region of PSI.

My in-depth work on the issue of gender-based violence especially violence against women and girls, started in 2011. In the last 10 years in Trinidad, 300 women were murdered by an intimate partner. We started by raising awareness with our members and the general public and we talked with the children affected through an Arts in Action competition. Their experiences expressed in sons, dance, writing spoke volumes. That work led to our members being more open about their experiences and the veil of silence was lifted. We believe that as unions in the public service sector we are well-placed to use our collective bargaining power to influence public policy on GBV and related issues. And this includes issues of paternity leave and parental leave.

The Caribbean has among the highest rates of sexual assault in the world: according to United Nations statistics from 2015, one in three women have experienced sexual or physical violence at least once in their lives. And it is estimated that 14-38 % of women have experienced intimate partner violence at least once. While the worldwide average for rape was 15 per 100,000, the Bahamas had an average of 133, St. Vincent and the Grenadines 112, Jamaica 51, Dominica, Barbados 25 and Trinidad and Tobago 18. And a UN report[1] also revealed that in nine Caribbean countries 48 percent of adolescent girls’ sexual initiation was ‘forced’ or ‘somewhat forced’.

Through our interaction with our members, their families and friends, we also learnt about the real situation regarding child sexual abuse (something that tends to be well-hidden under the carpets in many a home) and we have had national discussions that led to the change of child-marriage laws in T&T. [There may be an opening in general discussion to talk about the ethnicity issue in T&T and Guyana. The fact that reports and in some cases, statistics highlight the abuse cases in East Indian households – intimate partner violence.]

All women work. If we had time-use studies in the Caribbean I fear the results would be staggering: women work sometimes 4 times as much/long as men – caring for the family – both children and older dependents, as well in some cases in paid work outside the home. And even where there is work outside the home, some also do extra work in order to make ends meet. These factors and the strong patriarchal societies in the Caribbean contribute to situations that make women more vulnerable. Oh yes, there are changes in women’s lives in the Caribbean – they have high-paying jobs, their standard of living has risen, there have high educational achievements; yet they are still treated as second-class citizens in many of our societies. This advancement is challenging men’s privilege and their perceived superiority and this is dangerous for women. No woman is immune from violence. 

Because it is still regarded as women’s “natural” work - performed in the “private” sphere of the family - unpaid care work in a sense hides away its economic dimensions. And there is a double-whammy, because care work is under-valued, those who work in the field are viewed as unskilled, receive low pay and have few chances for promotion or even social protection.

Through the work of a number of unions, paternity leave has been introduced in the Caribbean; ranging from as little as a few days in some countries to two weeks in others. This is not enough. There is no parental leave. The way is wide open for trade unions to shape the development of paternity and parental leave in our various societies. Some young men are quite open to this and do want to play a more important role in their child’s upbringing. I am not sure that they are necessarily advocating for this leave as a way to empower women in any way. It seems in some cases to be mainly based on their needs and what they see as the child’s needs. There is not a great call for parental leave. Women are still expected to be the ones to solely care for elderly relatives or sick children and other dependents. And the concerns are only raised if men then have to do it themselves. In these cases, of course, they hire a woman to do the work – and again the issue is the undervaluing of this work.

And all this becomes more complex when race, ethnicity and class are considered. We still have men talking about “babysitting their children”. It is especially aggravating and points to a deep-seated belief in what their roles are. So, when women leave children with their  partners/husbands/spouses and do not get back home “in time”, some men become even more agitated and “there can be hell to pay” when she does get home.

But yes, if there is no loss in income and the leave is long enough this can go some way in helping to shape the way in which men and women effectively share family responsibilities and the care of children and dependents. But it takes much more than that. It is important to tackle a societal problem at its root – educating at all levels about gender equality and nurturing a culture of respect for women in all aspects of society. The entire society has responsibility for this.

[In follow-up discussion, the case in Japan can be used. The experiences from the figures given suggest that the time and money are not enough to encourage men to share care responsibilities. Does it go against what they believe men should do?

And there is also the result of your discussions with the president of the men’s group in Trinidad. Are they promoting gender equality? Are they promoting women’s empowerment? Or is it mainly pushing their individual rights as fathers because of various experiences that they see as unfair to them?]

Increase Women’s Economic Empowerment can be achieved by changing the way society views and values care work – in all senses. Well-paid paternity leave w Supporting Men and Women to Share Unpaid Caring:

The Most Powerful Way to?

Well-paid Parental leave has a key role to play. But especially we have to move towards valuing care work – whether it is provided by the mother, father or another person who is hired to do the work. We have to eliminate the undervaluing of all work done by women – we must have equal pay for work of equal value and we must work towards societies that value women’s work – in and outside the home. This is a key part of our work in PSI and other global union federations. It is an important aspect of our work to in achieving Goal 5 of the SDGs.

[You may have to expand on the concept of equal pay for work of equal value and its role in making women’s work visible.

Look carefully as well at Goal 5 and the targets and indicators (though indicators are a bit iffy]

We have to make this happen. This is how we can ensure the economic empowerment of women and achieve Goal 5.

[1] Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean, Report No. 37820 (March 2007)



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