Women in Trinidad and Tobago

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Women in Trinidad and Tobago
Africa unite symposium.jpg
Trinidadian and Tobagonian women during an "Africa Unite" symposium
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.311
Rank 50th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 46
Women in parliament 27.4%
Females over 25 with secondary education 59.4%
Women in labour force 54.9%
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value 0.7166 (2013)
Rank 36th out of 144

Women in Trinidad and Tobago are women who were born in, who live in, or are from Trinidad and Tobago. Depending from which island the women came, they may also be called Trinidadian women or Tobagonian women respectively.[2] Some women in Trinidad and Tobago now excel in occupations such as being microenterprise owners, "lawyers, judges, politicians, civil servants, journalists, and calypsonians." Other women still dominate the fields of "domestic service, sales, and some light manufacturing."[2]

Women of Afro-Trinidadian mix commonly become "heads of households," thus with acquired "autonomy and power." By participating in Trinidad and Tobago's version of the Carnival, Trinidadian and Tobagonian women demonstrate their "assertive sexuality." Some of them have also been active in so-called Afro-Christian sects and in running the "sou-sou informal rotating credit associations."[2]

Gender and Society[edit]

Gender roles in Trinidad and Tobago are influenced primarily by legacies of patriarchy and colonialism. Baptiste [3] asserts that historical views of race and colonialism impact Trinidadian culture in such a way that are often excluded from Western feminist studies. "Caribbean gender theory has to wrangle with the boundedness of patriarchy at the same time as it tussles with the barnacles of colonialism and imperialism." [3] Gender performances in Trinidad and Tobago occupy three distinct spaces: physical, social, and cultural. Baptiste argues that the physical, public spaces represent a "postcolonial essentialist collage" in which performances are gendered by the socialization of gender roles according to very essentialist views of men and women. Many public spaces display African imagery, primarily from Nigeria and Ghana because these nations are still Trinidad and Tobago's closest political allies and cultural beacons. These social spaces provide an outlet in the face of a country struggling with increasing crime rates targeted toward women.[3]

Cultural Spaces and Islam[edit]

As far as cultural spaces are produced, Trinidad and Tobago has a large interconnected Muslim population that showcases the duality of public/private spaces. Scholars point to the contrast in which Muslim women within the country perform gender in order to express self-empowerment. Many of these women do not identify as feminist due to the conflicting nature of Western feminism in relation to the historic patriarchal influence of Islam. Baptiste and other scholars point to expressions of piety from Muslim women to expose the monolithic narrative that all Muslim women--even those living within the Western world-- experience oppression due to Islam.[3] In fact, Baptiste argues that "an uncritical adoption of hegemonic feminist theory leads to the reproduction of somatic norms" within the culture.[3] Public education within Muslim communities in Trinidadian culture does not require Islamic schools to adhere to any state curriculum; these cultural spaces operate in a unique, interconnected space. Here women can remain devout in their Islamic faith while simultaneously maintaining their social membership to a larger Trinidadian culture. Baptiste explores how Muslim women in Trinidad and Tobago "possess as much or as little spatial autonomy as any other woman in Trinidad. If there are constraints on the woman’s mobility, it is more gender than religiosity."[3]

Wage Gap[edit]

Research shows that there are substantial wage differences between men and women in Trinidad and Tobago. While women account for the largest entry into both the workforce and education, a 2015 study [4] shows that their wages are still less than men. According to the National Council of State Administration Secretaries Research Corporation, there are six key factors that influence this wage gap: occupation, human capital, work experience, career interruption, motherhood and industry sector. [5] Even with these in mind, Mahabir & Ramrattan assert that discrimination based on sex is apparent when critically examining similar scenarios affecting both men and women. The greatest disparity comes from the fact that married women or those in common law marriages still earn disproportiante wages compared to men in the same scenario. [5] While Trinidad and Tobago is ranked 50 out of 148 countries by the Gender Inequality Index, [6] the major factors that influence workplace disparities are inherently gendered.

Role of Music in Gender Performance[edit]

In an analysis of music and its influence in Trinidad and Tobago, Hope Munro Smith investigated the nuances of calypso music with respect to gender performance. She discovered that representation in calypso music was gendered by a large margin that favored male performers over females.[7] Smith presents the historical context of public ordinances that forced the female influences on the culture underground. This resulted in public performances of calypso being co-opted by "middle-class businessmen who charged a set admission price."[7] Public performances by women were seen as uncivilized and Smith asserts social workers saw it as their duty to subdue the performances of these lower class women. While male calypso performers were revered, the female performers were mocked and given names not unlike Jezebel that roused suspicion of the female's character. Calypso scholars point to the fact that the genre "became increasingly and almost exclusively a forum for the fiercely competing [male] egos" [7]

By the end of the twentieth century, female performers in Trinidad and Tobago had been socialized to be inferior and ultimately invisible. Smith[7] believes they had all but disappeared entirely. This was a means of social control over women who saw the male performers of calypso as idea caricatures of men; "the ultimate sweet man" who has sex with anyone woman he wants because he is so desirable.[7] Possession of women is seen as the ultimate reward both in bed and in society. Smith presents this "I'll do what the hell I like" as an attitude that is gendered to favour males and sexist against females. The performances are socialized in such a way that woman will fawn over male singers and present him with sexual favors and anything else that will keep him around. [7]

Smith's final assessment is that "music in Trinidadian context takes a very significant place alongside larger political projects and concerns." [7] The performances of male dominate the culture creating a narrative that man's rightful place is to dominate this and other arenas. Just like in calypso music, man's domination of women is a cultural experience that socially controls woman's position in bed, in family, and ultimately within Trinidadian society.

Notable women[edit]

As Trinidad and Tobago has undergone many social changes the Women of this region have grown in commerce and leadership. Two women who have developed women's leadership in this region are Elma Francois and Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Elma Francois was born in 1897. She was born in a time where racial discrimination and lack of political activism was expected. [8] Francois began to develop labour movements that were focused on mobilizing the working class. She was aware of her African roots and was a founding member of the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association (NWCSC). [8] The organization focused on mobilizing all African American people including the women of the society. Francois worked towards creating political movements that joined men and women together and has been not having separated political movements. Francois died in 1944 and in 1987 she was declared a Heroine of Trinidad and Tobago.[8]

Another notable woman of Trinidad and Tobago is Kamla Persad-Bissessar. She was born in April 1952 and later went on to attend University of the West Indies, Norwood Technical College (England,) and the Hugh Wooding Law School. She was awarded a B.A. (Hons.), a Diploma in Education, a B.A. of Laws (Hons.) and a Legal Education Certificate.[9] In 2006 she obtained an Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, Trinidad.[9] Persad-Bissessar went on to teach; after six years of lecturing she moved on to become a full-time Attorney-at-Law and later in 1987 she entered political scene. Her positions in the political scene are many and range from the years 1987-2016. The positions that she has served include alderman for St. Patrick County Council, Member of Parliament for Siparia, serving as Attorney General, Minister of Legal Affairs and Minister of Education. In 2006 she was appointed Leader of the Opposition becoming the first woman to hold that position from Trinidad and Tobago. She held this position in 2006 and 2010. Persad-Bissessar in 2010 became the first woman in history to become the Prime Minister for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.


In the past, Trinidadian and Tobagonian women with East Indian ancestry experience being betrothed when they are still very young through the practice of arranged marriages.[2]

Status and etiquette[edit]

Women in Trinidad and Tobago are expected not to respond to any verbal harassment done by men while in city streets, because such as reply will make those women lose their status.[2]

Police force[edit]

In 1955, Ordinance No. 6 of 195 of the government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago made it possible to draft into the police force of the country twelve women to "deal with juveniles and female offenders."[10]

Women's groups[edit]

Women's groups in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago include the following: Concerned Women for Progress, The Group, and Working Women.[2]


  1. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Trinidad and Tobago, everyculture.com
  3. ^ a b c d e f Baptiste, Jeanne. P. (2016). Gender practices and relations at the jamaat al muslimeen in trinidad. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, 1780310091. Retrieved from http://www.proquest.com/docview/1780310091
  4. ^ Mahabir, Reshma & Ramrattan, Dindial. (2015). Influences on the gender wage gap of trinidad and tobago. World Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development, 11(2). Retrieved from http://www.proquest.com/docview/1674910155
  5. ^ a b CONSAD Research Corporation. (2009). An analysis of the reasons for the disparity in wages between men and women. US Department of Labor. Pittsburgh, PA. Retrieved from http://www.consad.com/content/reports/Gender_Wage_Gap_Final_Report.pdf
  6. ^ Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2012). Closing the gender gap: Act now. Paris, France: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.oecd.org/gender/Executive%20Summary.pdf
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, Hope Munro. (2004). Performing gender in the trinidad calypso. Latin American Music Review/Revista De Música Latinoamericana, 25(1) Retrieved from http://www.proquest.com/docview/748695410
  8. ^ a b c "Elma Francois". 
  9. ^ a b "Current Members House of Representatives". 
  10. ^ History of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service", ttps.gov.tt

Further reading[edit]

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