Grenad: The impact of gender stereotypes on youth

THEME: A change in male-female stereotypes, and the provision of new challenges to youth are essential for improving Grenada's future.

The report of an IFAD mission to Grenada in 2000 found that fully 51% of the very poor were below age 20. There are a number of interrelated reasons for this. One is teenage pregnancy; another is the high unemployment rate. (Both are common problems in other island economies as well.) It could be argued that male-female stereotypes play a role in youth poverty. Women's issues, gender equity and youth issues have been given considerable priority by the Government, and IFAD is supporting the Government's efforts, giving special attention to unemployed and underemployed youth. In spite of numerous initiatives, however, the issues confronting youth are proving difficult to solve.

Gender stereotypes and the lack of challenges for both male and female youth are two underlying causes of teenage pregnancy. Grenada has an average of four births per woman and an annual population growth of around 0.3%. A high proportion of pregnancies are teenage pregnancies. Many young mothers remain single parents and go on to have several more children by different men. Studies conducted by the University of the West Indies and UNICEF (1998) argue that in the Caribbean - and not only in Grenada - both men and women are constrained by society's definition of manhood and womanhood. Manhood tends to be measured by the number of sexual partners a man has and the number of children that result from those relationships. Girls are offered few challenges or supports for their self-esteem outside of relationships with men and their domestic role. The school system still directs girls to home economics while it provides boys with instruction in industrial arts. Teenage pregnancy is a factor in the high female drop-out rates in primary and early secondary schools. For adolescent males who assume their family responsibilities, chances of further education are slim, work is hard to find and poverty is a constant threat.

Unemployment is highest among youth. Grenada's economy, which has traditionally been based on agriculture, has diversified in the past 20 years to focus on tourism and light industry. But the majority of rural youth do not have the basic education or the workplace or technical skills to benefit from this diversification. Given the high unemployment rate, very few youth with only primary education can expect formal wage employment in the public or private sector. Yet they are also not interested in agriculture, which is beset by a number of problems in Grenada and promises little excitement or status. As a result of these constraints, many rural youth of both sexes are unemployed.

Gender stereotypes also influence training and occupational choices. There are a number of governmental and non-governmental training programmes in Grenada that provide business orientation and skills training. However, lack of start-up capital and management expertise prevent most young men and women from setting up successful enterprises. This situation is typical of that confronting youth in other island nations, such as Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti. To some extent, it is a worldwide youth problem. Most of the programmes that provide vocational training in Grenada try to encourage both male and female students to break away from traditional gender-based definitions of occupations. But statistics indicate only partial success in this. A study by the Ministry of Education in 1992 found that females still tended to be most interested in being trained for office work, secretarial work, teaching or hospitality arts, while males favoured training in plumbing, electrical work, refrigeration, automobile mechanics and similar fields. There is little crossover to occupations considered gender inappropriate. Cultural attitudes and norms operate against the best intentions of the Government, donors and NGOs. Change will take time.

Grenada's future is highly dependent on finding ways to challenge both its rural and urban youth and to tap their productive capacity and energy. Part of the challenge is to change culturally based gender stereotypes and attitudes.

Adapted from:

IFAD. 2000. Grenada: Rural Enterprises Project: Formulation Mission Report. Working Paper I, "Socio-economic and Gender Equity Aspects of the Target Group." Rome