Gender Roles in Economics

According to the International Labor Organization, 10.3% of men and 22.3% of women were unemployed or without paid work in 1999, and 73% of men and 55% of women were economically active. Women predominate in the informal sector as market women or higglers selling farmers' produce which they have purchased, or homemade sweets, clothing, household goods, or school supplies at small stands outside school buildings. Some men are higglers as well, but it is regarded as women's work. Higglers play a central role in Jamaican folk culture as strong independent women, but are nonetheless of low status, along with other female-linked informal sector positions such as domestic workers and prostitutes.

Poor women and some men engage in informal savings institutions known as pardner, pooling their money in a common fund and taking turns drawing from it to pay for major expenses such as a car, school fees, or the creation of a microenterprise. Another key strategy for getting out of poverty is migration for both men and women. In 1999, 47% of migrants traveling to Canada and 49% traveling to the United States were male. Female migrants take positions as domestics, nannies, and cooks. Increasing numbers of Jamaicans migrate to work in tourist communities along the north coast. Women work as souvenir and craft vendors and as maids. They may manage small resorts for their husbands and sons, but men are the main beneficiaries of the big money in tourism derived from land speculation and enterprise, as well as drugs. Men also produce and sell woodcarvings and jewelry (McKay, 1993).

The growth of the electronics and textile manufacturing sectors in the 1960s and 1970s led large numbers of young women to relocate to urban areas to work in factories with low wages, few benefits, cramped working conditions, and long hours in insecure jobs. Women continue to work on the factory floor in free-trade zones. They have not been encouraged to join labor unions, even though they are the most exploited workers, receiving the lowest wages and the least opportunities to increase their skills. Both men and women work long hours with little pay on agricultural plantations (e.g., banana, cane, coffee). Throughout the economy, men predominate in managerial and executive positions, and in labor unions.

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