Countering Gender inequality; challenging Gender StereotypesJun 16, 2016
On, 16 June 2016, Jacqueline Smikle, a female bus driver employed to the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and Kevin Allen, a Male Registered Nurse shared their experiences and perspectives of working in gender dominant professions. As two remarkable individuals breaking through the glass ceiling in the workplace, they were participating in the UNDP Jamaica Gender Focal Team (GFT) roundtable conversation in the UNDP conference room.
UNDP’s Programme Analyst, Monitoring and Evaluation, Dr. Shelly Trim, opened the session in her capacity as the Country Office’s Gender Focal Point. She welcomed all participants to the learning session, which she contextualised, as part of the on-going gender strategy development process.
Jacqueline, who has been a professional bus driver with the JUTC for about eight years, spoke of her journey to reach behind the wheel, after randomly applying for a driver position, when the news broke of impending redundancies for conductresses. Smikle who at the time did not have a driver’s permit, was most surprised to be selected for training. However, with no driving experience and on pure determination, she successfully underwent a grueling training for 2 1/2 months', at the Advanced Drivers Training Centre. The training included instructions in basic bus Theoretical Mechanics, Mathematics and elements of English such as essay writing. She is now a proud, reliable and skilled single-operator of a 53 seater passenger bus.
When asked about reactions from passengers upon realizing a female driver will be taking them to their destination, Smikle remarked that she “strives to drive professionally and to be courteous and polite, so that passengers can say, there goes a great female driver.” UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Dr Elsie Laurence-Chounoune, who joined the discussion via Skype, posed a question to Jacqueline regarding her attitude towards her job, on whether she feels that she must be aggressive or act masculine to demand respect. Jacqueline responded that,” I do not feel that I need to act macho and rough, I remain ladylike, courteous, greet my passengers with a smile and they respond to that and treat me respectfully.”
On the other side of the spectrum is Mr. Kevin Allen, who has been a registered nurse for some 15 years, specializing in psychiatry. Nurse Allen realized that from a very early age he wanted to become a nurse because of his passion for taking care of the sick. He affirmed that his ambitions did not mean that he was a “half-a-man or a maama man”. He was simply “a man who wanted to become a nurse.” Three years after applying for Nursing College, Allen received a successful response to his application. When he arrived at the Nursing School he realized that the delay was because, they only had one room designated for a male student, so they could only accept a male nursing student every three years, after the diploma was completed. Before completing his diploma, Allen was able to lobby for additional rooms to accommodate more male nursing students.
Nurse Allen describes himself as a caregiver first and foremost and does not view himself or his profession through gender lens. He says that his patients often mistake him or refer to him as “Doc” even though he always introduces himself as Nurse Allen. He admits that in his early days as a nurse he would receive more positive acceptance from patients rather than his peers. But he has seen the landscape of nursing change over the years. More male nurses are in the profession and can be counted on to provide the highest quality healthcare.
This session was attended by staff of UNDP and the wider UN family. The perspectives openly challenged fixed ideas about femininity and masculinity and assumptions about a man’s job or a woman’s job, based only on his or her sex. In the words of UNDP’s Gender Consultant, Ms. Linnette Vassell, Jamaicans must privately and publicly confront ideas such as “men don't cry” and to quote in Jamaican dialect, “women cyan drive good”. As facilitator for the session, she further pointed out that gender stereotypes limit what women or men think they can do and achieve, limiting their potential.
A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s and men’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make choices about their lives and life plans. A major role of UNDP is to challenge gender stereotypes and work on creating a culture of zero tolerance of both direct and indirect gender bias. Gender stereotypes can be deconstructed starting from simple actions. The GFT will continue these sessions as a part of the awareness campaigns to counter gender stereotyping under the Gender Equality Seal Initiative.