The first female to lead the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) has charged that women in Barbados are still being relegated to secondary status, 50 years after the country attained Independence.
Professor Eudine Barriteau pointed to the state’s treatment of and attitude to fertility and reproduction as a demonstration of this.
Delivering a lecture on Navigating Ideological Relations of Gender in Post-Independent Barbados as the UWI 50th Independence anniversary series continued earlier this week, the Cave Hill principal said little had changed since 1966 when women’s fertility was approached as “existing to serve the state, and women seemed incidental to the discussion”.
“In fact, the primary economic role the early independent state constructed for women was reproduction. The state incorporated women into state planning through population control, reproduction of the labour force, and the maintenance of the family,” she noted, adding that the conversation never took into consideration the very people who carry and deliver babies.
“Oh, how things change and yet remain the same,” Barriteau declared as she pointed to similar attitudes today.
“Throughout Barbados’ 50 years of Independence, the state has maintained an abiding interest in policing women’s fertility. From 2014, politicians and public commentators expressed growing concerns about the declining birth rate and slowing population growth. In the 1960s, development planners worried about the exact opposite. They wanted to regulate women’s capacity to reproduce the labour force by reducing women’s fertility to serve the state’s objective of maintaining adequate population levels,” she added.
Barriteau noted that after Independence, that “anxiety with women’s fertility and population growth” continued until 1989, by which time the birth rate had declined from 28.9 per 1000 in 1961 to 15.7 per 1000.
The last census released by the Barbados Statistical Service in 2013 put the island’s total population at 277, 821.
The university principal noted that in 2014, Minister of Education Ronald Jones had called on Barbadians to make more babies to boost the population to 325,000.
“The minister seemed to be making a case for a larger population so that both Government and the private sector would have access to a larger and more diverse consumer and tax base,” she said.
More recently, Barriteau highlighted, chairman of the National Assistance Board Senator David Durant reportedly suggested that monetary incentives should be given to married couples to encourage them to have more children. The Government Senator had subsequently sought to clarify that report, contending that what he had said was “it would be good to give people some incentives, because whenever you talk to people about making children, they say ‘Pastor, it’s too expensive’.”
Nonetheless, Professor Barriteau noted that the current situation “led to politicians making public declarations about women’s fertility”.
“Do also note the gender ideologies embedded in the coded language of the Senator, indicating it is married couples who should be incentivized for increased childbirth,” she added.
“There is no recent statistical evidence to suggest that the majority of children are born to married couples, but it is certainly consistent for Government officials to create or reinforce gender ideologies around marriage in attempting to explain or influence women’s behaviour.”