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Caribbean Women in Business: A Different Gender Gap

Caribbean Women in Business: A Different Gender Gap

Posted by Shanelle Weir on February 17, 2015

When the young woman was preparing to open a business in Jamaica selling pipes, vaporizers and other smoking paraphernalia, some acquaintances suggested she would have difficulty succeeding in a niche trade dominated by men.

Now, about a year-and-a-half after its launch at a hotel complex in Jamaica's capital, Ravn Rae's smoking supplies store is growing and she's proving doubters wrong in a Caribbean country where women have made such big advances in professions once dominated by men that a new U.N. study says it has the world's highest proportion of female bosses.

"Women are the ones who are the main breadwinners. We push harder to earn," says Rae at her smoke shop, which she hopes to soon expand into a medical marijuana dispensary if lawmakers pass a decriminalization bill and allow a regulated cannabis industry. For now, she manages one saleswoman.

According to data analyzed by the International Labor Organization, nearly 60 percent of managers in Jamaica are women, including those who work for large companies and those, like Rae, who own their own businesses. That's the globe's highest percentage and way ahead of developed countries. Colombia, at 53 percent, and St. Lucia, at 52 percent, are the only other nations in the world where women are more likely than men to be the boss, according to the ILO's global list. The highest ranking first world nation is the United States, with almost 43 percent, and the lowest is Japan, at 11 percent.

Overall, women in the Caribbean and parts of Latin America make up the managerial ranks to a greater extent than in the developed world. Experts say the gain is due in part to improvements in the level of female education, but also because men have failed to keep pace and have in some cases gone backward.

The Caribbean and Latin America have seen such big improvements in the economic and social status of women that gender gaps in education, labor force participation, access to health systems and political engagement "have narrowed, closed and sometimes even reversed direction," according to a World Bank study that analyzed women's economic empowerment in the region. More women are receiving advanced degrees even as a number also juggle household and child-rearing responsibilities.

But while government officials and educators celebrate that fact they also have serious worries about stagnating men, who have lower levels of academic achievement and are at increased risk of falling into criminality, trends that undermine the gains by females.

Wayne Campbell, a Jamaican high school teacher who blogs about the problem of male underachievement, believes toxic notions about masculinity permeate entire communities, reinforced by a popular music culture that often celebrates law-breaking. Boys who display school smarts are often ridiculed as effeminate by peers and even adults in areas where academic excellence by males is typically devalued, he says.

"It's almost as if manhood and masculinity have been hijacked by a thug culture far removed from education," he said.

From the southern country of Trinidad & Tobago to the northern archipelago of the Bahamas, Caribbean education ministries have focused attention for years trying to solve the worrying reality of male underachievement and the social problems it leaves in its wake. Grace McLean, Jamaica's chief education officer, says "it is evident that boys' underachievement in the education system is weighing heavily on national socio-economic development."

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