BY R.D. Miller
The elephant is still in the room
Often when one looks at the Caribbean region from outside, only a few things come to mind: (1) the warmth of the people; (2) the blue waters; and (3) most of those who visit from other industrial countries have no idea that the region still has social and cultural issues hidden under the warm welcome.
Despite upward mobility and economic growth women have made since the late Eugenia Charles became the first and only female prime minister of Dominica from 1980 to 1995, today, women are still under-represented in this region. There are now a couple of top positions held by women: Kamla Persad-Bissessar, prime minster of Trinidad and Tobago, and Portia Simpson-Miller, prime minister of Jamaica. More needs to be done, and if your name not listed, you know who you are. To some of these male leaders who are stuck in past: let us face it. The generation gap often creates tensions.
While more women hold advanced degrees, they earn less for same work performed by men. Although some progress has been made where a few higher offices held are women, they constantly face tremendous resistance. Often the only reason(s) their economic policies are blocked or not taken seriously both by some government leaders and by the community are simple: that they are women.
The male chauvinism mindset instilled from birth continues to be passed on for generations in the region. The expectation is that she should be at home cooking and ensuring kids are clean and well fed is now by choice, and that can be hard to fathom in a male dominated circle. Yielding this treasured power to women even when it is for the greater good of the society is very difficult despite modernization for several decades.
Additionally, about 57 percent of all college degrees awarded were to women in recent years. It represents about six in every ten college degrees earned today are by women. Furthermore, since January 2013, women lead some of US largest weapon makers: Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and BAE Systems.
Equally important, despite those significant upward-mobility and accomplishments in areas such as government, research and development, media, medicine, sports, and academia, recent studies have shown there is an increase in the women prison population. It is my hope, as more women leaders take offices, and these issues can be addressed going forward, to reverse the negative side of the statistics.
A few weeks ago, Senator Ruel Reid of the Jamaican Parliament delivered what I believe was an excellent speech with a broad appeal beyond the beach of Jamaica. He called for “Rebuilding Jamaica,” across several sectors. However, the senator also argued that families should consider only two children as a part of an economic growth plan.
The concept of a repressive system of government lurking in one’s bedroom to dictate how many children one should have plays into a structured ideology, and does not quantify a sound economic plan to move forward. Furthermore, this system of government is not China, who recently eased its 34-year restriction on population growth from one to two children. According to the Population Research Institute, about 25 million men in China cannot find brides because there is a shortage of women.
The region’s population numbers and the size of the countries are not the only real barriers to growth, but also an intangible that has to change. It is important not to ignore the colourless statue still lurking in these regions: “Stratification.” A few leaders who graze the stages in front of the cameras are not always the perfect picture they paint when the lights go off in moving the region ahead as one body.
Many writers have talked about one’s colour and its importance in the region for decades. The stratification and the willingness to be accepted saw an explosion in bleaching cream. This product, as noted, should give the appearance of lighter skin tone than one’s actual skin pigmentation. However, this is a topic where a dermatologist will better to explain the downside to this trend.
Professor Oliver Mills talked about “liberation of our minds from mental slavery.” As noted, often these traits can be traced back to the old colonial ideology, slavery, and oppression where only a few rule the greatest. Several locals are being priced-out of affording basic food supplies, this trend cuts across all colours, and when these barriers continue to divide it creates a sociological stagnation and hinders economic mobility.
As society evolves, most new generations have a total different outlook on these social barriers, and are willing to move forward, but past ideology still woven into the political system makes it more difficult to form alliances. Sure, society often can learn from older leaders, however, sometime one has to yield power or simply give it up.
It is not helpful to sit on the cyber crime committee, but cannot save a document in Microsoft Word. Maybe term limits in Parliament could help change some of these perceptions, as it will welcome new ideas if such law can become a reality.
Solidarity is always important to one’s country. Moreover, it gives one sense of belonging, but when it promotes separation, it can be very difficult to move all forward. Each island is unique in its own way. The Caribbean is not alone in wanting to be different despite similar history. For example, in the US, northern and southern states tend to have different views on several socio-economic agendas, and it often dictates who gets elected into office, or what political agenda is important.
The history of seeking separation too has played a role in the American Civil War, fought between states in 1861. Some still argue that it was to free the stronghold on slavery in the South while others believed that it was a separation between the North and South. However, the tension sometimes between each other will not amount to civil wars in the Caribbean, but limits cross-border travel, investments that could expand tourism, imports, and exports that could give to a better social agenda, crime control.
The mindset that its population size and notoriety are reasons to isolate and continue to classify some as small islands can be problematic and, therefore, cut its importance in the long-run to connect. Every island has a graph on the economic scale. Too often, one sees themselves as different and, yes, nothing is wrong with that. Every person has a certain amount of biases. However, when one fails to accept and address biases, and uses them as a determinant factor, they can become a roadblock in moving forward.
The word “independence” tells us that one has to do what is best for their growth engine. However, when they compete where it is not necessary and ignore the bigger picture through collaboration to move the next generation send, the only outcome is that someone loses. However, to reach a reduction in high unemployment rates, this region has to grow more than what has been forecast to lift the lower class out of poverty.
Moving forward is critical and to make sure equality for all to cut gaps between haves vs. the have-nots should be a universal mission. These regions were once the envy of colonial powers. The English, Dutch and French, and the US were once colonial rivals in this region. St Lucia, Barbados, and Jamaica, as well as Bermuda in the Atlantic were all economically important Caribbean islands. Caribbean sea-lanes as it was called were of strategic significance as early as the 17th century before the slaves arrived. They should get back to that essence of belonging.
What will change you might ask in this year? Answer: not much: There will be another election in this region in several months and leader’s re-election signs will be posted to map their next re-election path. If you are not careful and lose track, every four to five years, another proposal will emerge. The values we place on governance, whether we agree or disagree, at some point we are responsible to create a better future for the next generation. This is why it is important to work together.
The region must ask itself: “What happened to an economic inequality agenda; victim’s rights, women rights, gay rights, comprehensive educational policy to lower the cost of education, the offender population, homelessness and the prison system reform. In addition, what resources are there to help others with less hope stemming from long periods of incarceration, conflicts, and resources for rehabilitation?
Although government is not the solution to some of the social problems the islands face today, it has a responsibility to make sure that basic safety is paramount, including policies that are fundamentally geared to moving people forward and especially young people who have more student loan debts than opportunities.
Far too often, segments of that society who fall on hard times are left out. Some are labeled “lunatics” because recently he or she has been seen in the same clothing for a few days. It appears this often ignores what happened. Did this person witness a crime, and needed an outlet to cope? Alternatively, were she and her family just being physically, sexually, verbally abused and have no one to talk to so she ended up in the street, and later raped by the same [lunatic] the system has ignored. If these people are woven back into society, the economic growth will continue. A country cannot sell only the white sand, and ignore the ones that washed away.
These issues go beyond pure numbers in any class. Nothing will immediately stop the rate of teen pregnancy, the level of care that only financial status dictates, automobile accidents, and other crimes from being committed each day on the streets. One in four women will become a victim of some sexual violence, and the prison sizes will not drastically be reduced.
The region has to move from the mindset where some are often measured by race, culture, and economic status. Not everyone will be a senator, or member of parliament, a doctor, and attorney, or the chief of police. The trash needs to be picked up, and the farmer to make sure you have the supplies for a good meal. However, structural ideology often divides us by race, culture, sex, and socioeconomic status. Far too often, these labels have dictated one’s outcome in the criminal justice system or the education they receive.
It is more critical that my [Generation X] balances the appetite for the latest gadgets searching and the next best thing and miss what has taken place next door. We do not talk as much as we once did; we rather stay wired to the next headlines a million miles away. Most of the local media seem to be more on entertainment than what is actually going on in the local region. I am not implying that some are not responsible; however, we should not isolate ourselves but we need a balance and to stay informed.
One of the biggest threats to this region is not its location that has a hurricane hovering over it or an outbreak of disease on local crops. It is simple the lack of sound economic policies, and collaboration, and moving from that they vs. us mentality as several writers have discussed before.
Although economic development is critical to sustain the quality of life, however, all aspects of the community from the media to the local police department, schoolteachers, religious leaders, Rastafarian community, to the minimum wage workers and investment bankers should all have a voice at the table because too often the barriers to success in the region far outweigh the opportunities.