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Saturday 21 July 2018
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The confounding gender gap

Marina Salandy-Brown

A few weeks ago I caught sight in a local newspaper of a picture of a group of women in India who had remade their lives after being badly disfigured by their husbands – mainly acid attacks, but also scarred irrevocably by other acts of extreme violence. It is worth knowing that nearly always these totally unreasonable and unjustifiable attacks on women are caused by factors over which the woman has little control, such as giving birth to a girl instead of a boy.

In almost all societies women have been physically, and in many places continue to be, habitually tortured in the name of some preposterous idea or other, whether it was the Chinese binding of feet to keep them small and beautiful and totally useless eventually, or the enduring Arab-African genital mutilation in order to keep women as secure property. In Europeanised countries such as ours, the violence against women usually has less culturally physically barbaric expression although, as we know, men manage to kill women at their will, using any means possible.

The savage, frenzied recent killing here of not just a woman who had dared to break off a relationship, but of her teenage daughter, her daughter’s friend and also the kind landlord who tried to put an end to the madness has taken us to a new realm of brutality and male unhinging. Yet, these lurid acts of vengeance distract us from the many sometimes silent and almost invisible behavioural mores that we live with. Women at all levels of society here experience diverse forms of male domination. I was more than a little surprised to hear, not so long ago, a well-educated, seemingly cultured, and certainly very-well-off, only slightly middle-aged man speak of the appropriateness of beating a woman. And I was horrified to learn that a much older man from a very respectable family had told his own unbelieving daughter, when she disagreed with him over a small domestic matter, that her husband should beat her into shape.

The possibility of physical abuse effectively serves to coy dependent women into submission. A woman wishing to keep her marriage together and to maintain a comfortable lifestyle is much more likely to take steps not to trigger rage or provoke any negative reactions in her easily threatened, vulnerable husband. Women do understand that many men respond poorly and unthinkingly to whatever may be intuited as questioning their historically dominant role or their capacity to be good providers.

I know women who were stellar professionals but having to manage their husbands’ insecurities chose to abandon the workplace to make happy homes. The lucky ones have hung on to their husbands, but not all. I am not against women choosing to be housewives and I admire a woman who is prepared to dedicate herself to that work when it is so undervalued. I forget the exact figures, but a UK analysis once costed the services a housewife provides. It turned out to be hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling more than the family could afford or would pay. Certainly, children benefit from the attention an at-home mother can provide, and some are fortunate that they are born into loving extended families that support professional working mothers.

For the woman who chooses to work outside the home the pressures of male domination are ever present, starting with the pay structure. If you consider that most professions employed men before women it is no surprise that salaries have reflected men’s longer service, but women now constitute such a large and important part of the economic workforce that pay parity has become only fair practice, and not yet easy to achieve. Having been once part of setting pay levels in a very large organisation I can testify that employers are compelled to get what they can for the least they can. Women are at a disadvantage since many, regardless of education, enter the workplace at lower levels of authority. So, even when bands of salaries exist women usually fall in the lower range. Employers are disinclined to bump someone up from the bottom to the top, even if they deserve to be. The people who get paid highest are those who use aggressive agents to sell their services, but even agencies have inherited lower pay thresholds for women.

I have no idea what happens in TT because pay structures are a mystery. In many other countries employers are bound to advertise jobs and relevant pay scales. Here, employers seem free to make it up. Women new to employment are disadvantaged by not knowing the market value of their work, a setback that dogs their financial advancement.


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