Law To Introduce Gender Equality Measures Scheduled for Next LA Sitting

Proposed new legislation by the Ministry of Community, Gender Affairs and Housing (CAGH) will pave the way for the Cayman Islands to join the 187 countries around the world that have ratified the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

A cornerstone of CEDAW is the principle of equality between men and women, and, as such, it mandates the prohibition of discrimination of the rights of men and women as a step towards equality. CAGH confirms that it will present the Gender Equality Bill during the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly, currently scheduled to begin September 2011.  The Bill will provide protection from gender discrimination in employment, training, and hiring for both sexes. It also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of marital status and pregnancy. Other provisions stipulate equal pay for equal work, categorise sexual harassment as discrimination, and provide for equal treatment in related matters such as the provision of goods, services, and facilities.

Minister Mike Adam says officials had noticed that the term gender is often incorrectly assumed to mean women, or to reference only women’s issues. Therefore they believed it was important to ensure that the protections in the law extended to both men and women. For this reason the Bill defines gender as “the cultural, economic, social and political characteristics, roles and opportunities through which women and men are socially constructed and valued.”

“It is undeniable that discrimination against women is a feature of the modern Caymanian workplace. Less noted is the kind of discrimination that men face, as an example in terms of the kinds of jobs and other employment opportunities for which they may be considered or inequitable treatment based upon their marital status. Our objective with this Bill is to address and redress the inequalities that so many women face, but also to ensure that in the future there are equal opportunities for our sons, as well as our daughters,” he observes.  

He further notes that in 2008 the National Assessment of Living Conditions (NALC) found that women were overrepresented among the poor and underemployed and called for an end to strict classification of jobs by sex.

While the Bill extends to all Cayman Islands employers, including Government, it does provide various exemptions for private households, private educational authorities, charities, and religious bodies. It also specifically prohibits discrimination by professional partnerships, employment agencies, training agencies and qualifiying or accrediting bodies.

While some concerns have been expressed in the media by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that implementation of the proposed law would hinder employment and drive up employers’ costs, Minister Adam explains that the spirit of the law is to promote non-discriminatory practices that lead to equality, rather than to impose any kind of hiring quotas on businesses. Since there is virtually nothing that businesses have to do other than ensure they do not discriminate, there really are no compliance costs.    
Stating that there is also a strong business case for promoting gender equality and diversity in the workplace, he remarks that international research has shown that companies, and, by extension, wider economies that have a higher percentage of women in the workforce, and as senior decision makers, are more productive and more profitable.

“It has been said many times here that the Cayman Islands must compete with the wider world both for business and for its workforce. My ministry strongly believes that if we are viewed as a jurisdiction that is actively striving towards gender equality then this law will assist in enhancing our image as an attractive place to work and do business.  At the same time, we are aware that it entails a new way of thinking and doing business. As such we are committed to carrying out a wide-ranging public education campaign to make sure that businesses and the public are ready for the new law before it comes into effect,” he remarked.

The Minister notes  that an article on the Cayman Island’s diverse workforce in the most recent Chamber magazine (2011, 3, 10)  asserts that although the country has a history of prominent women in the workplace, the new legislation will encourage gender diversity, by giving men and women equal opportunities, in all but a few jobs. In addition the publication recognises that diversity in work and social environments was essential to enhancing local quality of life.

“My staff and I have been particularly encouraged to note that the civil society organizations and NGOs that have been commenting on the law in the media concur that gender equality legislation is necessary. We look forward to working with these groups over the next several months to ensure that the spirit of this law—which we all agree is so important-- realizes its full potential during the implementation process.

CEDAW is a core international human rights treaty still to be signed by the Cayman Islands. As such, the United Kingdom (UK), in keeping with its commitment to modernize governance in its Overseas Territories, has for some time actively encouraged the country to adopt the convention. 

The proposed Gender Equality Bill will also further cement the provisions against discrimination contained in the Cayman Islands Bill of Rights which is scheduled to come into effect in November 2012.