Sunday, January 30, 2011

…And now, a desperate call to housewives

In the sublime and euphoric end of year mode, when tout le monde try to pay as little attention as possible to the cares of the world and revel in optimism at the year to come and if given to reflection at all, to focus only on the good of the year gone, a cable provider slipped letters into the mailboxes of its unsuspecting customers.
These were not epistles of good tidings that would have brought great joy as befitted the season, so those who put off opening suspect mail until well into the New Year were spared having to absorb its cheerless content.
But alas, perhaps because of diminishing numbers of housewives, or diminishing numbers of those classified as such (readers will recall the trauma described in a previous column of trying to ascertain national statistics on housewives), there have not been even a whimper at this national injustice.
At least one wants to believe that may be the reason there has not yet been voices raised in widespread protest at the dismal content - if not the mode and manner of delivery - of the sad tidings that merely drummed up a two-decade long debate and suggested consumers lobby the Telecommunications Authority and Ministry to return two channels the provider was ‘ordered’ to discontinue.
Or it might be that in these days of email and instant messaging, few really pay store to nicely-typed, politely laid-out, double-spaced, somewhat apologetic, notification, signed by the chief executive of the provider with whom consumers enter a contract to provide their home entertainment if, and when, they have time to partake thereof.
Or it might be that in an era long past those of monopolistic corporate practices - as open market forces now offer consumers choice of a range of not just national television and cable service providers, but direct access to international ones as well - few thought it was worth the effort to elicit more than a muted steups while they went shopping for an alternative provider.
Whatever the reasons, in the glory days of the Housewives Association of Trinidad and Tobago (HATT), such a missive would never have slipped pass public scrutiny. The death just over a year ago of the head of HATT, which has been a vibrant force in carving space for recognition of women in Trinidad and Tobago and beyond seems to have rendered this organization somewhat silent.
Established in 1971 to generate public interest and awareness of the power of consumer action and to provide reliable consumer information, investigate consumer complaints, ensure consumer protection and educate consumers about their rights, HATT’s sporadic spurts of support of various causes over the last four decades have, at times, had global reverberations.
Time was when this organization was a household name. It not only championed the merits of breastfeeding, for instance, or high consumer prices; or the invisibility of housewives in national accounting and planning; it admonished various public and private sector bodies including, Ministries, the Bureau of Standards, consumer affairs division, public utility services and advertisers to pull up their socks and tie their shoelaces.
The work of this illustrious organization has made its way into various impressive treatise – including the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, as a significant entity that has impacted on “Dance Halls, Masquerades, Body Protest and The Law: The Female Body As A Redemptive Tool Against Trinidad's Gender-Biased Laws”.
It was seen as an enduring voice to any cause. In 2005, one year after HATT resurfaced with a new burst of energy following a period of dormancy, the haulers’ association invoked the menacing visage of HATT to their defense if manufacturers did not pay for wasting haulers time by keeping them waiting as much as six hours before loading haul trucks at the port. Manufacturers had threatened to increase the price of goods following the haulers establishing a ‘delay fee’. The haulers rebutted:
“If prices are increased, the consumers should say something, whether it is the Housewives Association or somebody else. Let the port know the delays cost the country,” the haulers admonished.
So now, it would be good if HATT, as it has done time and again over water and electricity rates, lets the people know that cuts in aspects of any contracted household services, including those provided by a cable television company, without a related reduction in bill rates or compensatory services is unacceptable business practice. It certainly directly affects the unsubstantiated numbers of housewives in T&T who (though also statistically unsubstantiated), are perceived to be among the most voracious consumers of cable content, Desperate Housewives and the like.
HATT would find some valid statistics to back up its lobby – that each household on average contributes around 6,000 dollars yearly to their cable service provider. With an island-limited population, and increasing competition, those are customers cable providers cannot afford to lose.
And while, at it, HATT could also find adequate cause for pulling up the socks and tying the shoelaces of other delinquent telecommunications providers of deficient phone and internet services – but to that at another time.
More attention to local and educational channels, and (hint, hint) the now available Oprah Winfrey Network can fill the service deficit arising from discontinuation of the already paid-for movie channels, until of course, HATT gets its own channel, as its mother organization, the Network of NGO’s, has been looking into for some time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Housewives and disparate Census statistics

To help inform what was to be this week’ topic in this space for this week, I casually asked an officer of the Central Statistical Office (CSO) how many housewives are there in Trinidad and Tobago. Blame the answer for this digression. “You would have to look under female-headed households,” the CSO officer said, when I asked where I may find such data in the CSO database. The response puzzled me so I am using this space to mull it over, given that CSO is currently conducting its once-in-a-decade national census. The original topic was supposed to be on our entertainment services, but not unlike calypsonian Stalin’s ‘Dorothy’, it will have to wait.
Puzzle 1. Clearly, ‘female-headed households’ - which data suggests can be anywhere between ten to 42 percent for the Caribbean - is not synonymous with ‘housewives’. Females who head households are breadwinners for their homes. In this home-based activity of writing this column – (clothes are in the washer and lunch is in on the stove too!) - consulting Google beats finding a dictionary, but both modes would define housewife as “a married woman who is not employed outside the home”.
It implies that as breadwinners, females who head households are employed in an activity, other than as a housewife - whether as breadwinners in an activity that keeps them in or takes them away from home. If in addition to their in- or out- of home breadwinning capacity, they are the home’s chief cook and bottlewasher, managing and doing house work, they may also be called housewives, but (according to the official definitions) only if they are married.
Modern gender relations now define “husbands who choose to stay at home instead of working” as househusbands. I have not been able to ascertain whether there is a term for unmarried or single women, or unmarried single men, who are not employed outside the home.
That definition though not clear, implies that a married woman who is not employed outside the home is, by default, employed in the home. The women’s movement has lobbied that housewifery is an occupation with equivalent economic/dollar value, in addition to esoterical, social value etc. Although they recognise in real terms the ‘dollar value’ of love, nurture, care might be immeasurable they contend that house/domestic work as an activity that contributes to the economy and family and national income.
The informal practice of an allowance to housewives by some breadwinning husbands’ may be translated as the equivalent of a salary (though often much under the value of what may be considered a fair month’s wages). This is becoming somewhat systemized mainly in the developed world and has extended to benefits (as paternity leave), perhaps because many workplaces accept female workers. Women can now, generally, choose or not choose, to be housewives. Growing numbers of househusbands, including those who choose to stay at home, as well as those who cannot find work, have benefitted from this practice of an allowance.
I have said all that to say that CSO’s statistics for female-headed households is the same statistics for housewives, and Trinidad and Tobago statistics for housewives, let alone desperate ones, it seems, do not exist.
Puzzle 2: If one were to move out of CSO’s gender categorisation, into its economic activity/occupation category, the dilemma is similar. If I had persisted questioning, I am sure the statistician would have referred me in my search for the numbers of housewives in Trinidad and Tobago to statistics for domestic workers. But domestic worker is also not synonymous with housewife. Google’s magi churns out that a domestic worker is employed within the employer’s household. To state the almost obvious, domestics are not necessarily the wives in the home; and the perhaps less obvious, are not necessarily female.
In this way those of us attempting to factor in women’s contributions to society are hindered by lack of what is called ‘gender disaggregated data’ (information that define differences in the way males and females impact on and are affected by various activities/decisions whether at micro (household/community) or macro (national/international) levels. That is why these has been moves to increasingly use tools of gender sensitive analysis that capture stereotyping which can result in skewed statistics, skewed analysis and skewed representation and analysis of social/economic and other realities. (So when one talks of female-headed households, for instance, one does not project stereotypical beliefs that that is the same as housewives; or that domestics are only females.)
CSO’s webpage boasts of a new national socio-economic database facility called cTTInfo. This it claims “aims to improve capacity to manage and access reliable gender disaggregated data to facilitate evidence-based planning and inform the allocation of budgetary resources.” It links to a page with a logo of the Ministry of Planning, Housing and Development, the former title of what now is the Ministry of Planning, Economic and Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs. Apart from the misnomer, I have not yet been able to access gender-disaggregated data from this tool.
For reasons similar to those detailed above, the Network of NGOs recommended, and it was accepted, that the Gender ministerial portfolio be placed in the ministry responsible for planning, and hence CSO activities. As CSO begins the census that will inform analyses, planning, decision, policy-making, and governance directions towards 2020 and beyond, its data-gathering and analyse may have to be retailored to be more relevant to changing evolving social realities and needs. Gender disaggregation and gender-sensitive analyses are part of that process.
Certainly, such awareness would have spared readers this, and instead offered perhaps more pleasurable reading about home entertainment in the style of the TV soap, Desperate Housewives – surely much more befitting the upcoming season of bacchanalia. But stay tuned.