Gender Equality in Jamaica

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Flag of Jamaica
Population (in Mil.) 2.71
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 14.79
Sex Ratio (m/f) 0.98
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.070422535
Fertility Rate 2.17
Estimated Earned Income (f/m) 0.6
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 29
Women in Parliament (in %) 12.7
Human Development Index 85/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 34/86
Gender Inequality Index 85/186
Gender Equity Index 87/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index /128
Global Gender Gap Index 47/68
More information on variables

Social Institutions

Previously under Spanish and British rule, Jamaica gained full independence as a country in 1962.[1] Deteriorating economic conditions in the 1970s led to political violence and organised crime.[2] Current challenges for the country include violence crime, drug trafficking and poverty.[3] The World Bank classifies Jamaica as an upper middle income country.[4]

Despite the introduction of legal and policy measures to advance gender equality, the persistence of strong discriminatory attitudes and gender stereotypes regarding the role of women in all spheres of life continues to stymie progress towards substantive gender equality.[5] In 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women noted that such attitudes and stereotypes served to condone the particularly high incidence of gender-based violence in Jamaica.[6] In 2010, the World Economic Forum reported that although women in Jamaica fared well in comparison to their male counterparts with respect to educational attainment, women continued to trail behind on wage equality, labour force participation, income and political participation.[7] Women’s economic and political position in Jamaica is threatened by the high level of physical and sexual violence they are subject to.[8]

The current constitution of Jamaica does not make any reference to gender. Discrimination is prohibited on the basis of race or religion, but not gender.[9] The proposed Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender.[10] However, as of December 2010 this bill has not yet been passed by the parliament.[11] Jamaica ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1984.

In 2011, the Human Development Index for Jamaica was 0.727, placing the country at 79 out of 187 countries.[12] For the Gender Inequality Index Jamaica received a score of 0.450, placing the country at 81 out of 146 countries with data.[13] In 2011, the World Economic Forum ranked Jamaica 47 out of 135 countries in its 2011 Global Gender Gap Report, with a score of 0.7028 where 0 represents inequality and 1 represents equality.[14]

Discriminatory Family Code

Under the Marriage Act, the minimum legal age for marriage is 16 years for both men and women. Males and females below 18 years of age need their parents’ consent to marry.[15]

Early marriage is very rare in Jamaica with the United Nations reporting, based on 2002 data that 0.5 % of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, compared to 0.2% of boys in the same age range. In 1970, 16% of girls aged between 15 and 19 were married, divorced or widowed which indicates that early marriage has become significantly less socially acceptable in recent decades.[16]

Polygamy in Jamaica is prohibited under the Offences Against the Person Act.[17]

Jamaican legislation provides for equal rights and responsibilities for spouses, and mothers and fathers share parental authority.[18] Social stereotypes persist, however, making it socially acceptable for husbands to exercise authority over their wives and make household decisions. Further, gendered stereotypes of women and caregivers and nurturers are embedded. However the male breadwinner/female carer model has been gradually shifting due to economic necessity and cultural change.[19]

In the event of divorce, custody is awarded according to the best interests of the children, but is usually granted to the mother.[20] The law in Jamaica does not discriminate on the basis of gender with respect to inheritance. Under the Inheritance (provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1993, the wishes of the deceased are paramount and the estate is distributed according to the will of the deceased. If the deceased leaves no will, the estate is distributed to the surviving spouse, children, parents and other eligible relatives according to the Intestates’ Estates and Property Charges Act. The law applies equally to male and female spouses.[21] However, if the deceased has specifically stated that the spouse and children should not inherit his or her property, the surviving dependents can appeal to the courts to obtain an allowance.[22]

Restricted Physical Integrity

The Sexual Offences Act, which was passed in 2009 creates new provisions for the prosecution of rape and other sexual offences, including marital rape, anonymity of complainant in rape and other sexual offences, as well as incest.[23] According to the US Department of State, rape carries a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.[24] In 1995, the government passed a law that recognised domestic violence as a crime. In 2004, the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act was adopted to provide victims of domestic violence the opportunity to apply for the protection of the courts. This Act broadened the categories of women protected to include not just married women, but also women in common-law and visiting relationships.[25] Breaching a restraining order is punishable by a fine of up to J$10,000 (approximately $114) and six months' imprisonment.[26] According to the US Department of State, there is no law prohibiting sexual harassment.[27]

Despite these legislative efforts, violence against women remains a serious problem in Jamaica. In 2010, Amnesty International reported that according to national police statistics, 610 cases of rape and 511 cases of carnal abuse were reported.[28] Sexual violence against young women is a particular problem, with Amnesty International citing a 2009 survey of 750 girls aged 15 to 17 which found that 49% of respondents had experienced sexual coercion or violence.[29] According to UNICEF, in 2006, children and adolescents made up an alarming 78% of all the sexual assault/rape cases admitted to public hospitals. In the same year, girls under 16 accounted for 32% of all sexual assaults in Jamaica.[30] Although there is no prevalence data for domestic violence, the government reported in 2004 that there were 15, 400 cases of domestic violence between January 1998 and December 2002. The majority of these occurred in the rural areas of Jamaica.[31] Amnesty International also reports that women and girls are often victims of gang-related crime in inner city areas.[32]

In addition to laws, there have been a number of positive developments to improve the safety of women and girls in Jamaica. This includes the establishment of the Centre for Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), within the police service, which is responsible for counselling victims and investigating sexual crimes and the implementation of several awareness- raising and education programmes under the supervision of the Bureau of Women Affairs.[33] However, under-reporting remains a challenge as well as the length of time taken to investigate and prosecute cases.[34] It is also reported that police are generally reluctant to investigate in domestic violence cases.[35] Further, more resources are needed to increase awareness of rights amongst women and towards services for victims.[36] In 2006, the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women, noted that the lack of training for criminal justice personnel, the persistence of stereotypes and the lack of enforcement of laws created a culture of impunity for perpetrators.[37] These obstacles to women’s physical integrity are indicative persistent prejudicial attitudes towards women and gendered stereotypes that serve to stall gender equality. Female genital mutilation is reportedly not a common practice in Jamaica. Limitations on women’s reproductive rights also infringes upon women’s physical integrity in Jamaica. Currently, abortion is illegal in Jamaica and falls under the Offences Against the Persons Act of 1861. There exists however, a 1975 Ministry of Health Policy, which permits medical practitioners to terminate pregnancies in cases of danger to the mother’s health/life and in cases of rape, incest and carnal abuse.[38] In 2006, the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women noted that this policy was not known or implemented and as such, women had few options for safe abortion.[39] In 2001 the Centre for Reproductive Rights reported that unsafe abortion is one of the leaded causes of maternal mortality in Jamaica.[40] According to the World Economic Forum, 69% of married women use contraception.[41]

Son Bias

A 2005 survey by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica found that slightly larger proportion of fathers engaged in activities with male children (43%) than with female children (38%), indicating a slight preferential treatment of sons with respect to engagement from fathers.[42] The survey also found that sons were slightly more likely than daughters to have toys.[43] With respect to child labour, the survey found that boys were more likely than girls to be engaged in paid work outside the house and girls were more likely than boys to be engaged in unpaid work outside the house. Boys were slightly more likely than girls to be engaged in household chores for more than 28 hours per week.[44] With respect to access to education, the World Economic Forum reports that Jamaica has nearly reached gender parity in primary education and reached gender parity in secondary and tertiary education enrolments. This suggests that there is no preferential treatment of sons with respect to education.[45] The Central Intelligence Agency reports that Jamaica has a male/female sex ratio for the total population of 0.98 in 2012.[46] There is no evidence to suggest that Jamaica is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

Restricted Access to Resources and Entitlements

In 2004, the government reported that Jamaican women have the same legal rights as men to hold title deeds for land. Women’s title to land is not derived from their husbands or fathers or any other male relative.[47] There is a lack of recent data on women’s ownership of land, however evidence from the agricultural census of 1978 showed that men had greater access to the ownership and use of land resources than women who owned only 12% of the total land cultivated.[48]

Under the Married Women’s Property Act, women have the same rights as men to acquire, hold and dispose of property and this right is preserved regardless of marital status.[49] The Married Women's Property Act provides that property, which belongs to a woman whether it is acquired before or during marriage, is held as if she were a single woman.[50] The Family Property Rights of Spouses Act which came into effect in 2006 introduces a special family property regime for spouses to provide for the equitable division of property between spouses upon dissolution of marriage. Under this system, the property rights of a husband and wife are not affected by marriage. The ownership of property acquired during marriage is determined by a party’s contribution - direct or indirect - towards its acquisition and the intention of the parties.[51] While there are no legal barriers for women to obtain loans in Jamaica, their lower economic position and lower levels of collateral poses challenges for obtaining credit. In 2004, the government reported on a study that found that while women make up some two thirds (65%) of the small business sector, they received a little under one half (49%) of the loans extended through government initiatives. In the micro-sector women received 62% of the smallest loans, but the percentage of women receiving loans decreased as the loan amount increased.[52]

Restricted Civil Liberties

Women’s freedom access to public space is limited in a number of ways in Jamaica. Firstly, the law provides that married women are obliged to adopt their husband’s place of residence. However, there is a contradiction in the law where under section 34 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, the domicile of a married woman is treated as though she was never married.[53] Secondly, as noted in the physical integrity section, high levels of violence also impinge upon women’s freedom of access to public space. With respect to women’s participation in public life, the government and US Department of State report that there is a strong and active women’s movement which has played a key role in advocating for measures to promote gender equality.[54] Women are under-represented in the media, with women more likely to be represented in the media as victims.[55] Women are under-represented in political life in Jamaica. The World Economic Forum reports that women make up only 13% of Jamaica’s parliamentarians and 13% of Ministerial positions.[56]

Under the Employment (Equal Pay for Men and Women) Act 1975, it is an offence for employers in Jamaica to pay persons of different sexes at different rates for the same work, if they are equally qualified and working under similar conditions.[57] The Maternity Leave Act (1979) makes provisions for paid maternity leave. The Act provides for 12 weeks leave with 8 weeks at full pay, paid by the employer. The payment can only be received for three pregnancies from the same employer.[58]


  1. Central Intelligence Agency (2011) The World Fact Book: Jamaica, available at, accessed 18 January 2011.
  2. Reference 1
  3. Reference 1
  4. World Bank (n.d.) Online data: Jamaica, available at, accessed at 11 January 2011.
  5. United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (2006) Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Jamaica, CEDAW/C/JAM/CO/5, New York. p.3
  6. SEE REFERENCE 5 p.3
  7. World Economic Forum (2010) Global Gender Gap Report 2010, Available at, accessed 20 October 2010.p.172
  8. JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) (2005), Country Gender Profile: Jamaica, JICA, Tokyop.19
  9. Reference 9 p.6
  10. Association of Women’s Organizations in Jamaica (2006) Jamaica and CEDAW: The NGO Perspective, Shadow Report to CEDAW, available at, accessed 18 January 2011p.6
  11. Jamaica Information Service (2010) Charter of rights one step closer, Office of the Prime Minister news article 23 December 2010, available at, accessed 18 January 2011.
  12. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, accessed 29 February 2012 p.128
  13. Reference 12 p.140
  14. World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at, accessed 2 March 2012.p.10
  15. United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2004), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Jamaica, Fifth Periodic Report of States Parties, CEDAW/C/JAM/5, New York.p.84
  16. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008)
  17. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.81
  18. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.83
  19. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.24
  20. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.83
  21. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.84
  22. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.84
  23. United Nations General Assembly (2010) Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Ninth session Geneva, 1–12 November 2010, National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 15 (a) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1: Jamaica, A/HRC/WG.6/9/JAM/1, Geneva.p.9
  24. US State Department (2010) 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Jamaica, Available, accessed 11 January 2011.
  25. Reference 23 p.9
  26. Reference 24
  27. Reference 24
  28. Amnesty International (2010) Jamaica: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, available at, accessed 18 January 2011.
  29. See reference 28
  30. UNICEF (n.d.) Jamaica: Child Protection, available at, accessed 18 January 2011.
  31. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.30
  32. See reference 28
  33. See reference 28
  34. See reference 28
  35. Reference 24
  36. See reference 28
  37. SEE REFERENCE 5 p.3
  38. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.68
  39. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.7
  40. Centre for Reproductive Rights (2001) Supplementary information on Jamaica: Scheduled for review by CEDAW during the 24th Session, available at, accessed 18 January 2011.
  41. Reference 7 p.172
  42. Statistical Institute of Jamaica (2007) Monitoring the Situation of Women and Children: Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2005, available at, accessed 18 January 2011. p.28
  43. Reference 42 p.29
  44. Reference 42 p.87
  45. Reference 7 p.172
  46. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 29 February 2012.
  47. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.78
  48. FAO (n.d.) Gender and Land Rights Database: Jamaica, available at, accessed 13 January 2010.
  49. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.80
  50. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.80
  51. Reference 48
  52. SEE REFERENCE 15 pp.69-70
  53. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.81
  54. United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (2006) Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Jamaica, CEDAW/C/JAM/CO/5, New York. p.2; Reference 24
  55. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.25
  56. Reference 7 p.17
  57. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.53
  58. SEE REFERENCE 15 p.53

The Women, Business and the Law

Where are laws equal for men and women? 

The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Covering 128 economies, Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, dealing with taxes, building credit, and going to court.Read more about the methodology.

For detailed information on Jamaica, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Jamaica


The FAO Gender and Land Rights Database

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The FAO Gender and Land Rights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender inequalities embedded in those rights. Disparity on land access is one of the major causes for social and gender inequalities in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Six categories

The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:

  • National legal frame
  • International treaties and conventions
  • Customary law 
  • Land tenure and related Institutions
  • Civil society organizations
  • Selected Land Related Statistics

For detailed information on Jamaica, please visit the report on Jamaica in the FAO Gender and Land Rights Database.


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