Somewhere in South America and Trinidad

This week’s earlier post, “Not Even One Token Woman!”, was published on Monday in Guyana’s Stabroek News, thanks to the initiative of  Dr. Alissa Trotz who gave up her ‘In the Diaspora’ column to air what she considered to be a pressing issue:  gender politics in the Caribbean.

I got a most entertaining response from ‘Somewhere in  South America’:

Carolyn is right – the Caribbean Methuselahs are in charge and pity the poor woman or young man or woman who wants to be a part of the PM and DM process – you might catch their eye, but for all the wrong reasons! These men are in charge of everything up and down the Region and no one else is expected to gatecrash this particular party because the pickings are so rich – consultancies galore until you literally drop dead from the weight of the money you have accumulated from the likes of Caricom, the CommSec, UWI and international organizations with largesse to divest and settle their balance sheets. Carolyn is right -being Methuselahs, not even the young get a look in – and these are the people whose future these geriatrics are trying to commandeer and manage for them.

Sir Shridath to the left of the Queen

Sir Shridath and his ilk do not know when to stop and bow out gracefully – kind of like those boxers who come out of retirement at 55 to find themselves pummelled, punched, outclassed and out of date but still believing that they have a point to prove. Embarassing spectacle for all concerned – did their part, were recognised amply for it, but still want to feed at the trough in the guise of ‘Caribbean Elder Statesmen’. So now we have the cushy prospect of yet another commission (on Migration) bearing the stamp of the Ramphal Centre, and financed by the hapless CommSec – with all sorts of ‘old boys’ from the Commonwealth dishing out advice as our elder and wise statesmen – I haven’t seen any old men migrating recently, have you? Im sure Sir Shridath and the boys being in touch with Caribbean reality when they have their time from their busy schedules will dispense loads more wisdom to clog up the bookshelves of even more Caribbean libraries.

There really is no shame about it – and in fact a lot of righteous indignation – as Im sure she will get – when one has the temerity to disturb/question the ‘party’. Number One they don’t like being called ‘Old’ and Number Two they really believe that the solutions need to be found by them and them alone. Funny thing is, if they were so good – and as we all know, these guys have been at it for donkeys years – where are the results? Limited to say the least and they then lay it at the door of the leaders. The leaders can carry a significant portion of the blame but our ‘Methuselahs certainly need to be put out to pasture by now. They really are way past their ‘sell by date’. Bring on the women and the young people – maybe an intellectual Jasmine revolution in the region might be the thing we need….

Norman Girvan

One of the sympathetic  ‘poster patriarchs’, Norman Girvan, posted the column on his blog:

The development consultant, Mervyn Claxton, gives an intriguing response which I reproduce here in its entirety:

It is unclear how many women were initially invited to participate in the Conference on Collective Responsibility in the 21st Century; when they were actually invited (was it a last minute act to deflect growing criticism of the gender imbalance in the composition of the panel?); and the reasons why several women invitees declined to participate. How many did so because they felt that they were invited as an afterthought? Even if the answers to those questions exculpate the conference organizers, it is most damning that the flyer for the conference featured only male participants – eleven of them. That single action, probably a subconscious reflex, is an eloquent illustration of the considerable hurdles women face in overcoming gender inequality in the region. It was further compounded by the fact that the gender ratio of the participants who addressed the conference or presented papers was 23 males to 2 females. Carolyn Cooper summed up this most intractable problem perfectly: “Women end up on the margins or are completely written out of the story. So we women…still have to put up a fight to insert ourselves into history.”

With a certain amount of hesitation (because I am on the other side of the gender divide), I would like to propose a strategy that might help women in the region succeed in winning that fight, namely, “to insert ourselves into history.” A number of economic reports and research projects over the past decade have concluded that not only are women an engine of economic growth but, even more importantly, that they are the single biggest force for world economic growth. In the light of those reports, which I detail below, I suggest that Caricom women seriously consider shifting the emphasis of their struggle for gender equality from righting wrongs to the centrally important role that women could play in Caricom in dealing with the redoubtable challenges of globalization and economic development, among others.

Jamaican market woman

If they succeed in getting that message across to the region’s (patriarchal) political, economic and business establishments (and they have unchallengeable conclusions from the research findings from authoritative sources at their disposal to support that message) Caricom women would then move from the margins to centre stage and will thus insert themselves into the region’s 21st century history.

The conclusions of a 1999 report from France’s Conseil d’Analyse Economique demonstrate that women are an engine of economic growth. The report makes a correlation between the level of unemployment in certain European countries and the percentage of women in those countries who remain economically inactive. Thus Denmark, with an overall unemployment rate of 4.6% that year, had 74.2% of its adult female population in economically active life, while Spain, with 18.2% of its population unemployed had only 45.6% of its adult female population in active economic life. The report concluded that countries desiring to stimulate economic growth should promote a greater participation of women in the work force and reduce the inequalities they suffer.

Qualitative female participation in the work place is equally, or perhaps even more, important than quantitative participation. In a March 2009 Financial Times article, entitled “Soapbox: why women managers shine”, Michel Ferrary, Professor of Business and Human Resources Management at the University of Geneva, shared the results of his research on the performance of the leading companies quoted on the French stock exchange during the recent global financial crisis: “My research project on companies from the French CAC  40 stock exchange index pointed out that the more women there were in a company’s management, the less the share price fell in 2008. A significant coefficient of correlation links the two variables.” 000077b07658,dwp_uuid=1d22aad4-0732-11de-9294 000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1#axzz1EDjjZDy

Ferrary advanced the reasons why firms with more female managers weathered the global financial crisis better than those with few or no women in higher management:

“Gender diversity supports managerial efficiency by creating a more diverse culture and favouring the exploration of different business opportunities. However, creating a diverse culture implies a critical mass of female managers. To reach this point, companies must recruit more women. They also have to promote and train women when the labour market does not supply enough.”

To access the Financial article via the link above, one must register with the paper, which is free. However, those who do not wish to do so can read about Ferrary’s findings, together with the results of two other studies (a 2007 study by the consulting firm McKinsey and a 2001 study by Pepperdine University), in an accessible article in the Boston Globe, “The female advantage: A new reason for businesses to promote women: it’s more profitable.” (May, 3, 2009).

The article states: “Several studies have linked greater gender diversity in senior posts with financial success. European firms with the highest proportion of women in power saw their stock value climb by 64 percent over two years, compared with an average of 47 percent, according to a 2007 study by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company. Measured as a percent of revenues, profits at Fortune 500 firms that most aggressively promoted women were 34 percent higher than industry medians, a 2001 Pepperdine University study showed. And, just recently, a French business professor [Michel Ferrary] found that the share prices of companies with more female managers declined less than average on the French stock market in 2008.”

‘This mounting body of evidence represents an important twist in the debate over women in business. For decades, women’s advancement has been seen as an issue of fairness and equality. Now some researchers are saying it should also be seen in another way: as a smart way to make money.” Applying those conclusions to our region, Caricom women should argue that their advancement, is not only ‘a smart way [for Caricom business firms] to make money’ but, even more importantly, a crucial policy action that can help the region cope effectively with globalization, as well the negative consequences for Caricom of the fallout from the global financial crisis.

Putting women centre stage on the economic scene would also be an innovative, catalytic strategy for accelerating Caricom countries’ socio-economic development and improving its overall economic performance at a time when the increased competition generated by a globalized market. l developing countries (particularly small ones like ours) to make optimal use of their national assets and, also, shrewd national investment decisions, if they want to avoid becoming future basket cases, that is to say, countries dependent for their survival on AID, EPA’s and sundry handouts from the industrialized countries and the international community.

In a paper presented at a CDB Conference (Barbados, December, 2008), entitled ‘The Global Financial Crisis – Implications for the Caribbean”$File/GlobalFinancialCrisis.pdf, Trevor Alleyne outlined the important negative effects on Caricom countries of the global financial crisis, which gives an indication of the enormous challenge the region faces: Growth in the Caribbean has been revised downward in light of the global financial crisis and the economic slowdown will result in lower tourism receipts; lower remittances, lower FDI and other private capital, lower commodity prices, slower economic growth, and balance of payments pressures.

The reports cited above show that women are better than men in risk assessment and risk management in respect of investments. Alleyne further pointed out that current account deficits in the region are financed by financial flows which are expected to slow down in the future and that spillovers from a US credit crunch will likely involve reduced capital inflows, remittances, and exports. Caricom countries will seriously handicap their efforts to cope with the economic fallout of the global financial if governments and business firms decline to take full advantage of possibly their most valuable, and undoubtedly, the most underutilized asset for doing so – the region’s women.

A number of articles published in the Economist over the past decade confirm and reinforce the conclusions of the reports cited above. An article in the Economist, ‘A guide to womenomics: The future of the world economy lies increasingly in female hands’ (April 12, 2006),

opens with the following attention-grabbing comment: “WHY can’t a woman be more like a man?” mused Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’. Future generations might ask why a man can’t be more like a woman…. Arguably, women are now the most powerful engine of global growth.”

The article continues: “Making better use of women’s skills is not just a matter of fairness. Plenty of studies suggest that it is good for business, too. Women account for only 7% of directors on the world’s corporate boards—15% in America, but less than 1% in Japan. Yet a study by Catalyst, a consultancy, found that American companies with more women in senior management jobs earned a higher return on equity than those with fewer women at the top. This might be because mixed teams of men and women are better than single-sex groups at solving problems and spotting external threats. Studies have also suggested that women are often better than men at building teams and communicating.”

“In poor countries too, the under-utilisation of women stunts economic growth. A study last year by the World Economic Forum found a clear correlation between sex equality (measured by economic participation, education, health and political empowerment) and GDP per head. Correlation does not prove the direction of causation. But other studies also suggest that inequality between the sexes harms long-term growth.”

Even without the impetus of the fallout from the global financial crisis, an era of globalized markets and the much greater competition associated with them, Caricom would fall by the wayside without that “capacity for solving problems and spotting external threats.” As the Economist reports, such a capacity is enhanced by “mixed teams of men and women” at the senor level. Can Caricom governments and business firms afford to ignore those compelling findings?

In a second article, “The importance of sex: Forget China, India and the internet: economic growth is driven by women”, (12 April 2006), the Economist states: “The increase in female employment in the rich world has been the main driving force of growth in the past couple of decades. Those women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants, China and India.”

In yet another article, “Helping women get to the top: How to get more females into senior corporate jobs” (21 July 2005)

The Economist states: “Many firms are worried about the coming demographic squeeze that threatens to reduce the supply of qualified men. A few think that women have a unique contribution to make in running modern firms. They are often better at team-building and communications, for example, an advantage in a corporate world that is today increasingly characterised more by informal networks than by ordered cohorts. IBM is convinced that it ran into trouble in the early 1990s partly because its blue-suited, like-minded top male executives failed to see the implications of changes in the computer industry. It has sought to diversify its workforce at all levels ever since, and promoting women has been a big part of this effort. Diverse groups are acknowledged to be better at spotting threats coming from unlikely directions.”

Caricom countries will surely run into much greater trouble than IBM did if they continue to ignore the game-changing role that informal networks play in a globalized world and thus fail to make full use of the critically important team-building and communication skills offered by women managers.

In his paper, “Caribbean Integration and Global Europe: Implications of the EPA for the CSME”, (August, 2008)

Norman Girvan described the strategy of the CSME: “The CSME embodies a strategy in which Caricom regional integration is a springboard for engagement with globalisation. The consolidation of a single economic space in the Community will facilitate cross-border production integration, economies of scale in production and synergies from factor combination; which will lead to internationally competitive production and growth of regional enterprises.”

Despite the plethora of reports and research findings on the unique contribution women can make, and have made, to world economic growth and business firms’ performance, I have not come across a single comment in the on-going regional debates on Globalization, the CSME, the Cariforum-EU EPA and other key regional economic issues and problems, which draw attention to it. I strongly suggest that the role Caricom women can and should play in those key areas become a central factor in such debates. The CSME stategy outlined above by Norman Girvan cannot be successfully implemented, in my opinion, without the unique contribution that the women in the region could make, if given the opportunity to do so.

Norman’s paper continues: “The rationale for economic integration is to create a platform for internationally competitive exports to global markets; and to pursue functional cooperation to exploit institutional and resource synergies among the countries.” That rationale, and its implementation, is tailor-made for women and their unique skills. In the light of the above cited reports, no future debates on Caricom integration, regional economic development and performance, the CSME, the challenge posed by Globalization would make any sense without factoring in the role and potential contribution of women in the region.

Because of its great environmental vulnerability, climate change poses a potentially existential risk to the entire region – a risk for which past experiences can provide no reliable guidelines for meeting. We need to think “out of the box”, to envisage possibilities that fall outside established paradigms. It would mean developing a sophisticated national risk-managing capacity to assess and manage both the environmental risks posed by climate change and how best to manage them. As the reports cited above convincingly demonstrate, women possess a greater capacity than men in those areas. Can we afford not to make the fullest use of that capacity?

In respect of my comments above, I draw attention to the South Centre’s Fact sheet on MARKET ACCESS FOR TRADE IN GOODS IN ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENTS (EPAS)

Which concludes with the following two paragraphs:

“The scope and extent of liberalisation of trade in goods under the EPAs is unprecedented for ACP governments, highlighting the WTO-plus aspect of EPAs, even with relation to the core provisions regulating trade in goods. These agreements will entail major challenges, both for governments implementing the EPA required reforms and for the private sector trying to adjust to new”competition conditions.”

“The improvement of the terms of EU-ACP through economic diversification and a higher value addition of exports depend on the capacity of the private sector to innovate towards new segments of the value chain, which in turns require ACP governments to enact supporting policies. Similarly, the capacity of firms to utilise greater competition from European products to modernise and gain competitiveness also depends on the availability of finance, workers retraining and skills development, and governmental incentives.”

To conclude, I suggest that gender equality should no longer be pursued as merely “an issue of fairness and equality” but, also and more importantly, as an economic imperative for the region. – Mervyn Claxton


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