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Post 310.

It was entirely an old familiarity, recalled by the smell of airplane fuel in morning heat. You know when a drifting scent or shade of light suddenly puts both your feet back in the past?

As I crossed Piarco’s tarmac, I glanced up into the brightness and the yellow-painted side of the airport made me look twice, the first time mistakenly seeing a waving gallery and, the second time, vividly remembering the old one, from the old airport, as if it was there in front of me. I breathed, feeling goosebumps, maybe because of the hot wind blowing along my arms or from being caught momentarily convinced by this mirage.

As a child, I’d marvel at so many beloved families and friends crowding that second-floor verandah to share an experience of travel, to emotionally wave at their loved ones until they disappeared through the plane door, or excitedly identify them from the line of rumpled travelers as soon as they disembarked.

Something in the new airport design, whether for modernization, security or cost-cutting, lost sight of this Caribbean custom or never understood or valued ordinary Caribbean cultural expressions of connection and community, and the narrow, barricaded gate at which one now says quick goodbyes has shut such a space for sharing into the past.

I was coming home from commemorating the 25th anniversary of The UWI’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies on the Cave Hill campus in Barbados. The three founding professors of the IGDS, Patricia Mohammed, Rhoda Reddock and Eudine Barriteau were being honoured, and I sat at the conference with graduate students who, in just two years’ time, would never have these Caribbean feminist foremothers on the campus with them. After nearly forty years, such passing of a generation that built scholarship, institutional strength and academic activism from scratch was the end of an era.

For twenty years on campus, I was under their wing, gaining invaluable guidance, compassion and protection. Looking through the shimmering above the tarmac, and blindly seeing a memory instead of the present, I thought about the past and what makes it live on.

These women tried to understand and value Caribbean customs and cultural practices, treated them like the true richness of theory and the deep wealth of scholarship and, in so doing, created a homegrown feminism that connected countries and generations in our region, crossing from one tarmac to another.

This homegrown Caribbean feminism’s head cornerstone was the one that the builder refused. It looked for what was ours, found the everyday ways ordinary people cared and created citizen coalitions, and built that into the design that my graduate students and I inherited.

The head cornerstone’s strength was its grounding in gendered analysis of the region and its realities; women’s rights histories and stories; mothers’ and grandmothers’, godmothers’ and aunties’ ways of raising up and nurturing; daughters’ aspirations to improve on the past; and the solidarities of male allies. None of these are yet taken seriously or valued in economics, social sciences and political theories in the Caribbean today.

Yet, somewhere, that window to our lives as they crisscross the Caribbean hasn’t disappeared. Twenty-five years on, in IGDS, it’s still here. Honouring these three women, I treasured the homegrown feminist foundation laid for us to remember to examine and empower the ways we make time and space for love, family, survival, connection and equality as well as the little traditions through which we recognize each others’ heart and humanity.

As I entered the airport’s cool interior, the past, present and future walked through with me. I thought about whether we educate both for Caribbean transformation as well as recognition of what most matters to Caribbean people, whether in terms of how we design our built environments or our social policies.

I thought about how few places teach another generation to understand, and protect from new ideas about modernization, foreign models or almighty profit, the spaces and practices that can be so easily relegated to obsolescence even when they have significance for care, connection and community. Now we get to decide what to keep.

Honouring the professors and the past would live on in our design for a future of Caribbean living and loving. For, one bright morning, the right hazy mix of scent and hue could fully return an old, familiar flutter of emotion and eagerness, along with nostalgia for what was simply deconstructed out of our collective memory.

It’s such an unnoticeable thing, the disappearance of that waving gallery.

 

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Post 226.

In this rough monetary moment, the conversations we have about the economy are more important than ever. We could focus on issues of debt to GDP ratios. The debt-to-GDP ratio is over 60 per cent for 12 of 20 Caribbean countries, over 80 per cent for 6 countries, and over 100 per cent for four. Indeed it’s the pressure of debt payments that prevents Caribbean countries from affording development projects and social programmes.

We could focus on the importance of investment to economic growth. Investment provides funds needed by industries to provide jobs, create wealth and pay taxes. But we are at risk of invisibilising other indicators if we mainly focus on these. When countries focus on debt reduction, who carries the costs and how are those measured? When we rely on profit-seeking investment to drive economic growth, what might we fail to discuss in terms of environmental, labour, health and other costs?

Looking at women’s experiences in the labour market can show what such indicators hide. From this perspective, the global and national economy is fundamentally gendered, meaning that the roles that women play in both private and public spheres aren’t incidental, but central to how the economy is organized and experienced. For example, women often devise survival strategies for their families using their unpaid time and labour to absorb the effects of economic crises, such as industry shrinkage, or higher food prices, or prescriptions for debt reduction.

More than men, women perform uncounted, non-unionised and unwaged homebased labour, and have greater responsibility for care of children, and the disabled and elderly, particularly where health and social services are inadequate. Such economic exploitation within households reinforces women’s exploitation in the waged economy, where women predominate in the five Cs: caring, catering, cashiering, cleaning and clerical work. Particularly when traditionally male-dominated jobs are being lost, these women are more vulnerable to poverty and relationship violence because of their economic dependence.

When women take work to make ends meet, they may experience the absence of a social infrastructure permitting them to combine work with family life. Additionally, women’s clustering in service sectors, and informal jobs, that are often considered less skilled or valuable than hitting a ball with a bat, is highly exploitative and features low wages, poor working conditions, and little opportunity for security or advancement. In this context, economic problems and prescriptions are likely to have an asymmetrical impact on women and men because they have different relationships to labour in informal and formal spheres, and in reproduction and production.

Reflecting on this, Caribbean feminist Eudine Barriteau writes, “Constructing economic analyses around households should force development planners to move beyond exploiting the resources of women to costing out the use of these resources. It should no longer be possible to speak of market gains while households are suffering, of growth without equity or redistribution.” Making households the basic unit of socioeconomic analysis, she argues, should make planners directly confront the gendered nature of economic relations, disaggregating and exposing the conflicts and competing interests within households, and between household roles and market-based economic behavior.

In our economy, in the category of those 25 to 49 years old, men comprise about 57% of the labour force, women 43%. Within this age group, women’s labour force participation rate is 72% compared to 95% for men. Men’s unemployment is 2% for that age category, but women’s is 4%, and more women than men (28% versus 6%) are considered to be out of the labour force between the ages of 25-49. Why and with what implications for their labour?

In the petro/gas industries, men comprise 80% of those employed, women 20%. In the construction sector, men constitute 88% of those employed, women 12%. Finally, in community, social and personal services, as well as in trade, restaurants and hotels, women are 54% and 58% respectively of those employed in comparison to 42% and 46% of men. And, this labour force data for 2015 doesn’t adequately highlight women’s pervasive wage inequality for similar work.

The costs of recession and growth are being survived and subsidized by households, and by labour inequities being borne by women. In addition to indicators of investment and debt, this is something economists should be discussing.