Most people who know very little about Barbados often stereotype Bajans as passive snobs proud of coming from a country known as “Little England.” What they often fail to recognise is what that Little England legacy means for many Bajans in terms of social exclusion.
Media reports on the launch of the Country Assessment Of Living Conditions highlight the fact the individual and household poverty in Barbados has almost doubled over the last 20 years. The reason given for the increase in poverty are the barriers to access created by stigma, inter-generational poverty and lack of educational and skills qualifications despite high government spending on education. It was also reported that discrimination based on “age, sex, area of residence, religion, disability, sexuality, migrant status or HIV status”, and that the attitudes of people toward “sex workers, the disabled, Rastafari, gays, the homeless, people living with HIV/AIDS, to mention some . . . meant lack of access to several public amenities and services, and therefore limited their ability to enhance their living conditions”.
The report goes on to note that only 36% of children in Barbados live in homes with both their parents. 86% of mothers are present in the home but only 40% of fathers. The report also reinforced what has been a long-time fact in the region, that households headed by women predominate amongst poor households.
The report also mentioned incest and sexual exploitation of both boys and girls by adult men.
The effects of being poor in Barbados were noted:
the Country Assessment also indicated that the high cost of living, particularly food and utility bills, were having a negative effect on Barbadians’ living conditions and their ability to meet basic needs.
“Respondents identified some of the devastating effects that living in poor conditions and in poverty have on their health, on their relationships, on how they are treated by others in relation to social and familial exclusion, and on their self-esteem,” the study said.
“Many stressed the serious psychological and emotional damage that they experience, including stress, anxiety, depression, frustration, helplessness and powerlessness. These issues are all strongly interrelated with three main characteristics: unemployment, low-paying/part-time employment (under-employment), high levels of dependency in households, and social and familial exclusion.”
The report provides a lot of important data from which sound social policy can be made. For me it suggests that social mobility in Barbados has shifted, has become more difficult. (Something I had personally observed as well.) That Barbadian society has become more exclusionary, shutting out people who come from poor families or working class neighbourhoods, who live with disabilities or HIV, who are poor migrants, LGBT and poor or young and poor. Government spends lots of money on an education system that serves to reproduce the class system rather than challenge it. The result is that while many children from poor families do excel, many many others drop out with no qualifications and many barriers to steady work.
As Barbados works towards a National Gender Policy it has this very important research to guide the policy-making process. Addressing social exclusion in Barbados must be high on the objectives of the Gender Policy.
It’s also time CODE RED for gender justice! to conceptualize a project which addresses social exclusion.