Saturday, February 2, 2013




PDHRE, 1998.

1. Introduction.

Aruba is a democratic country, but democratic for whom? Democracy has several faces when it comes to women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) from 1979 is ratified in 2001, but little has been done to eliminate forms of discrimination against women.  Furthermore gender gap on certain domain has increased for the last decade. Even though the United Nations argues that Since gender equality is the essential underpinning for the achievement of all other Goals, the failure to achieve gender equality targets will have a domino effect, compromising progress on the other Goals and targets(UNDP, 2005). With a deadline of 2015 set by the Millennium Development Goals since 2000, where countries would work together on specific targets to reduce poverty, and cut the roots of inequity and instability (MDGs, 2010), we have only three years to comply with millennium goals.

The National Integrated Strategic Plan 2010-2025 (NosAruba2025, 2010) is a report for sustainable development on several domains on the island, but is lacking a human vision for women while women participation in the labor market is 49.9% and they outnumber male on several levels of education. On top of that, this report doesn’t even mention the ratification of CEDAW nor the Millennium Goals, two recognized organizations that strive for not only to narrow the gender gaps, but also to give women the quality of life that they deserve. On a daily basis, women face difficulties when trying to exercise their rights due to ignorance or lack of information, but…women on the island need to group themselves, support each other and together fight for their rights instead of fighting AGAINST each other.

2. Womocracy?

What does a democratic society MEANS or women? According to Stromquist (2007), a democratic society suppose to requires that women be provided free time, not only through releasing them from childcare and the care for others, but also by creating new norms about the division of domestic work(Stromquist N. P., 2007). Democracy on the island of Aruba has a different meaning. Women on the island have multiples roles and a range of responsibilities. Women are not fully release from childcare. Law does not regulate childcare and neither creating a new norm for the division of domestic work, we have a long way to go regarding this matter. Most women work outdoors, take care of their family, including their in-laws and are responsible for their house chores. Women participation in the labor market is 60.5% of the female population and 49.9% from the total labor market (CBS, 2012). The working world for the mothers in Aruba has changed into a 24-hour a day and 7-days a week, in a society where employers demand commitment and customers expect service at their convenience. Considerable amounts of mothers have to juggle responsibilities at home and at the workplace simultaneously (Grant-Vallone & Donaldson, 2001). Most women have a full time job or several par-time jobs in comparison with our women counterpart in Europe, especially in the Netherlands(Leewaarde M. , 2011).  On average, Dutch women work less after birth of their children, on average less, in spite of her high education(Leewaarde M. , 2011). Leewaarde (2011) indicates that most women from the Dutch Caribbean in the Netherlands on the contrary hold a regular job. She ascribes this to one of the Afro-Caribbean theories and slave history of women: “They could not have a durable relationship due to slave trafficking. Because of the trafficking, for generations women were obliged to be and become economical independent“. It’s a historical development through decades (Leewaarde M. , 2011).  Another factor is that the Caribbean countries are not welfare states. Who does not work won’t receive social security benefit.  Work is the only option to support oneself and the family. Work is the way to survive for almost all women in the Caribbean. Because of the matriarchal family structure is expected that grandmothers, aunts, sisters or neighbors take partial responsibility regarding the upbringing, so as to give mothers the opportunities to enter and stay in the labor market after given birth  (SCP-publicatie, 2006; Leewaarde, 2011).

In Aruba women are also obliged to work to provide for their families. Having a job is not enough to  make ends meet each month. Aruba has one of the highest GDP in the Caribbean, but that doesn’t mean that poverty among  female population is not existent. Poverty in women[2] is particularly high for single mothers acting as head of households[3].  From these families, 24.2% of them live under the subsistence level (CBS, 2005). According to the findings of CBS, a single mother with one child needs 1985.00 AWG Florins a month to survive; a single mother with 2 children needs 3176.00, and a single mother with 3 children needs 3772.00 (CBS, 2010), while the minimum wage is 1542,90[4] AWG Florins per month. Summarizing, all single mothers that are on a minimum wage salary are living under the poverty line.  We have also a salary gap that has increased for the last decade. In 2000 the gap between men and women was 550,00 AWG florin (CBS, 2000) and in 2011 it increases to 700,00 AWG florin (CBS, 2011). 66% of people that request for social assistance are women (DSZ, 2011).  Divorce is one of the causes why women request for aid (DSZ, 2011). The question remaining is what have past governments done to narrow this gap while having during the last 25 years of “Status Aparte[5]” 7 female ministers and 27 female members of parliament include our present government (CBS,  2003, Pronk, 2003, CBS, 2011).

3. Developments and Capability Approach

Aruba has been in a constant developing process since its discovery in the 15th century. It has the second highest development index in the region; however, there are serious ascertainable differences between population subgroups on the island in terms of income, education, employment, and health (NosAruba2025, 2010). For instance, there is a disparity between the wage of a public employee and that of a private one in the same career field. Yet, the Aruban community is becoming increasingly aware of the need for a balance between education, public health care, economic development, environment, and its general well-being. This awareness has been included in the National Integrated Strategic Plan 2010-2025, which has been based on the following twelve development priorities that define the concept of “Sustainable Development”, and which are based on the image and general characteristics of the Aruban community (NosAruba2025, 2010):

1. Stimulation and promotion of a healthy living

2. Protection of the environment

3. Lifelong learning and personal development

4. Culture

5. Good governance

6. Building the community from inside to outside

7. Energy management

8. Sustainable food supply

9. International financial sector

10. Sustainable Tourism Industry

11. Nation of innovation

12. Sustainable economic growth and diversification

Based on these twelve priorities, the Aruban National Strategic Plan is lacking of a human development vision for women. A vision regarding their quality of life, their right for equal treatment, their freedom to achieve in any field, and also their right to be considered as contributors to the national economy; a vision that considers them as human beings able to make their own choices in order to improve their personal and productive lives and their families’ well-being. Since 1919, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has promoted women’s rights at the workplace and equality between women and men in society; nevertheless, a high amount of women who work for private companies that do not have a signed collective contract with their employees do not enjoy equal payment rights to this date (CBS, 2003; ILO, 2009).  The Aruban Strategic Plan is mostly based on the development of the national economy, meaning that it is focused on the achievement and sustainability of high rates in the economic growth, while the quality of life and capability building of the human being is in second place. It is not less important to consider what could be the probable possibilities for the female population to enjoy and profit from this economic growth as well as their chances to be considered as a strong support in our society.

One of the central goals of human development is to enable people t0 become agents in their lives and in their communities (Nussbaum, 2006; Deneulin & Shahani, 2009). It is very difficult for mothers in Aruba to become agents due to the “double day” of taxing employment and the full responsibility of their housework, families, and child-care. This situation deprives common mothers from becoming agents in their lives and in their communities, preventing them to enlarge their scale of choices, and also to concentrate on the expansion of their freedom (Sen, 1991; Robeyns, 2000; Nussbaum, 2006); freedom to bear children or not, to stay single or not, to be a stay-home mother or a working one, to earn a salary; also, to choose the profession they have dreamed of, to spend their money as they consider it, to make their own decisions, to keep their individuality within their marriage, and finally, to improve their quality of  life by educating themselves. Women that have been limited in their role of active agency will seriously affect the rest of the community  (Kothari & Minogue, 2006). Women in Aruba might not be aware of their capabilities and possibilities to expand their freedom by making their own decisions and expanding their own range of choices. On the other hand, once they are aware of their freedom to choose, they should accept responsibility for the outcome of their choices. Notwithstanding is the fact that choices and opportunities on several fields are limited by various factors, which depend on personal, financial, and social circumstances (Nussbaum, 2006; MBZK[6], 2010).  In accordance, some women on the island have a strong developed self-image (agency); they enjoy and create new chances and possibilities for self-fulfillment (functioning) and independence (capability building)  (MBZK, 2010). They are active, self-standing, and independent women who manage their lives according to their personal needs and circumstances. They not only try to have a better life but also to make changes in our community. They are dynamic prom0ters of social transformations, which can alter the entire community, the lives of women, men, and their children (Kothari & Minogue, 2006). For these reasons and because the office of “Vrouwen Zaken” (Women’s Affairs) was closed in the year 2007, in 2010, the Ministry of Social Affairs in Aruba started to develop a new policy to empower women on the island. This new policy was finally implemented on March 8th, 2011 (CEDEHM[7]).

4. Education

Education is essential to development. It empowers people and strengthens nations (MDGs, 2010). It is the impetus for personal development. Moreover, education, especially education for the female population, has a proven-direct  impact on the  decision of all women about how many children they want to have, and if they can afford to give those children a healthy, decent life together  with the opportunity to study and become productive agents for themselves, their families and the community (TWBG[8], 2011). Education is one of the many elements that determine social mobility, career perspective, and well-being of humankind; consequently, many women in Aruba make good use of education as a mean to improve their quality of life and their families’ well-being (MDG Report, 2010). They consciously choose for schooling, in order to get better employments, professional opportunities, larger scales of choices within the labor market, and higher salaries. The MDGs[9](2010) stated that education improves women’s lives; it helps them to fight poverty and gives them opportunities for social and economic advancement; furthermore, education plays a catalytic role for those most likely to be poor: women, ethnic minorities, orphans, disabled people and rural families.

During the last decades, female students have excelled male students at all school levels: primary, secondary and tertiary schools. Currently, the female population outnumbers the male population in almost every school level on the island of Aruba, with the exception of the School for Special Education, EPB[10] and the Technological Stream of EPI[11]  (DO[12], 2000 up to 2009). In the year 2009, from a total number of 558 local students who went to study abroad, 338 of them were female, while in 2010, the total number of students increased to 601, and 374 of them were female (Croeze, 2010).  Of all Aruban professional people, only 1.5% holds a University Education diploma, and just 5.5% holds a Higher Education[13] diploma (CBS, 2003).

In the mid 1960s, the government awarded a scholarship to the first group of Aruban students who travelled to the Netherlands in order to fulfill their studies in Higher Education Training. Teaching was one of the most common choices (CGM[14], 2010). Then, during the 1970s, any Aruban student who qualified could apply for a scholarship, even though, by that time in Aruba, attending to a university or any other school for higher studies was unusual, and the access to these kinds of institutions was unknown and difficult for the perspective student. Since the 1980s, the whole process of studying abroad has been polished. Today, Aruban students apply for what has been called, since 1986, a “Study Loan” (Studie Lening), and they can attend to the university or college of their choice in countries like The Netherlands or any other European country, the United States, or countries in the region. The total number of female students that have studied abroad from the 1960s until today is unknown.

A research conducted by Colegio Arubano[15] at the beginning of the 1990s[16], showed that 63% of the Aruban students in the Netherlands fell behind during the first two school years, increasing to a 70% during the third year of study (IOA,[17] 1993). Even today, most Aruban students encounter difficulties to succeed in their studies due to homesickness, language barrier, lack of self-discipline to study, and many times, lack of proper guidance and information regarding the career they choose (IAO, 1993).

In spite of the fact that the Aruban female population has outnumbered the male population in almost every educational level, just a small number of women have broken through the glass ceiling[18]  (CBS, 2003; Leijedekkers, 2011). The national census of 2000[19] indicates that the amount of women in key positions is increasing but in a very slow pace (CBS, 2000

The illiterate population on the island is very low, for every child in Aruba is requested to attend to school disregarding race, gender, social status, religion or legal status. From the total illiterate population of women on the island--between ages 14 and 65--only 2.7% of them are Aruban, 2.5% come from developed countries and 3.4% come from developing countries (CBS, 2003).

After becoming mothers for the first time, many of these women consciously choose schooling in order to get better employment and opportunities, a larger scale of choices on the labor market, and higher salaries (Dijke  & Hulst, 1990; SCP[20], 2006, Marcha & Verweel, 2009; MBZK, 2010).  Education determines how mothers manage and deal with their families and work demands, and, simultaneously, education functions as the impetus that will add force to women’s agency and to their voice in society.

5. Gaps…are rights?

For the last two decades there were no changes in the existing discriminatory laws, or in rules that are being applied for decades by formal institutes. One of these rules is the expulsion teenage girls by (some) schools on the island when become pregnant (WGK, 2010). Expelling teenagers from school because they are pregnant is at odds with the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, article 26 (Koenig & Friedman, 2000). The sadness of this issue is that most of these girls and their families/parents aren’t aware of this article that gives them the right to stay in school, pregnant or not. Lamentable and outrageous of this issue is that the government and the ministers of Education from the last two decades, were always aware of this situation and yet never reacted about it, not even when we had two female ministers of education. Deny these girls from their right for education makes their situation even worse. They will end up living in poverty since they cannot get a diploma, and therefore are unable to find a job, much less having a future. This will have direct impact on their well-being and that of their children. Irrespective of higher education of women on the island, women are treated as a second-class citizen and most of women don’t’ stand up for their rights, the so-called “Culture of Fear”. Or (sometime) they don’t know their rights and don’t even know that laws to protect them or give them the rights exist. The question remains:  How come? There are million answers to this question, but one thing is for sure, governments are the first in the row that are responsible and accountable to educate their citizens on several domains and make them aware of their rights; “empower your citizens. “

Most of women on the island are not aware of are their rights after marriage. Marriage on the island of Aruba has many disadvantages for women. On several domains women are being discriminated regardless of Governmental commitments to ensure the human rights of woman that are central to the unanimously approved Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (PDHRE, 1998). The “Handelingsbekwaamheid” law was enacted in 1974, but  still women that are married need their husband to sign when applying for a loan, mortgage, even to open their own bank account after divorce.

During elections, poll cards always present a woman as the wife of Mr.; this is not the case for the husband card, where such details aren’t printed. In Chapter three; Article eight from the Register of voters is written: ”Gehuwde vrouwen en weduwen worden in het kiezerregister vermeld met de geslachtsnaam haar echtgenoot of overleden echtgenoot[21]”. This voting law takes away a woman’s right to choose for her family name on her poll card. Once again, the Island of Aruba is discriminating women, and on top of that it is at odds with Article 5:  Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, article 10 and 14 article; Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (PDHRE, The Human Right to Education, 1996). 

Married in the Netherlands under the Dutch law article 9, section 1: “Naam en Recht[22] (Loeb, 1990)”. This statutory regulation gives women the option to legally choose out of three options when marry:

a.       Use only her family name;

b.      Use only the surname of the husband

c.       Use the surname of the husband, linked on and previous to her family name (Loeb, 1990).

Chosen option a. you have to ask officially via a specific letter that you be married under article 9 sections 1 to receive all your documents under your family name.

6. Politics

In the Caribbean, a small number of women hold leadership positions at executive levels and, presently, a very low percentage of women are represented in parliaments and in the executive branches of governments all over the region. Women’s low participation in politics can be mainly attributed to their negative perceptions of politics and also their will to have families (Ellis, 2003).  In Aruba, women are only represented by 25% of the total number of parliament members and ministers. In 2010, two  female parliament members where expelled from their own parties after they voted in favor  of a motion proposed by their opposite party, while male colleagues from their own party treated them unprofessionally and with disrespect (Amigoe, 2010). Another matter of deliberation would be, if  the reaction of these male colleagues  would have been different if the “offenders” had been male party members. This is an example of how men on a political level treat women when women stand up for what they believe in.  Especially when consedering that they were in their rights. Amazing and very dissapointing to observe was  that other female members of the parliament as well as the only female minster didn’t protest  or pronounced against this injustice. How can women fight for their rights if they even can’t support each other?

7. Conclusion:

If Aruba pretends to be one of the most developed islands in the Caribbean, it needs to broaden the focus. The governments of the last decades have only focused on the tourism industry and economy, forgetting that you need well-educated and healthy people to support your economy and especially women who are on rise and are excelling on several levels in our community. Well-being of women in a community is crucial, because whichever way you look at it, they are the impetus in several areas and levels. At the end of the day are their families that rely on them. Because of their indispensible role they deserve to be treated better and with more respect.   To give women in our community a better life, Aruba is obliged to take CEDAW and millennium Development Goals in the years to come seriously into account. There is more work to do besides ratifying these conventions.  But…on the other hand women themselves need to be pro-active regarding their rights. They need to stand up and fight instead of wait and see who will take the lead. Women in Aruba are afraid or don’t know how to speak for themselves. It is time to stand up and shout if you want to shout, and adopt a “”take it or leave it attitude, otherwise they will continue to be second-class citizens in our community for generations to come. Women need to group and fight together, contrary to what is currently the case. They are wasting their time fighting each other on a daily basis, by trying to kick each other from the social ladder, most of the times, driven by peer pressure, jealousy, and envy. They don’t support each other on several domains. Our female members of the parliament aren’t also role models for our women because of this situation. If we want changes for de generations to come, we WOMEN NEED TO CHANGE OUR PARADIGM TOWARDS EACH OTHER AND DEMAND CHANGES. We have to take our responsibility as human beings by educating our boys and girls in a way that they respect each other as human beings, regardless of sex.


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[1] Edited by Veronica Salcero and Alicia Rojas
[2] Exact amount is not available IMF (2005)
[3] We have 5523 female-headed families on the island (CBS, 2005)
[4] Landsverordening AB 2009 no. GT 60 (AB 2009 Ordinance No. 1960 GT) (AB: Afkondigings Blad (Publication journal)
[5] Status Aparte: Aruba received its  “Status Aparte” in 1986 (Status Aparte: The status of an autonomous entity within the Kingdom of The Netherlands
[6] Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Konikrijksrelaties (Ministry of the Interior and Relations of State within the Kingdom)
[7] CEDEMH: Centro pa Desaroyo de Hende Muher (Centre for Women Development)
[8] TWBG: The World Bank Group
[9] Millennium Developmental report 2010: The purpose of Millennium Development Goal Reports (MDGRs) is to raise public awareness; promote study, scholarship, and debate around the great development challenges; forge stronger alliances; renew political commitment; and help poor countries and donors create the deep, better financed and trusted partnerships that will be needed for success (MDGs, 2010)
[10] EPB: Educashon Profeshonal Basico (Lower Vocational Education) 
[11] EPI: Educashon Profeshonal Intermedio  (Middle Professional Education)
[12] DO: Directie Onderwijs (Department of Education)
[13] Higher Education: Hoge Opleidingen (Undergraduate)
[14] CGM: Centrum voor de Geschiedenis van Migranten (Centre of Migrant History)
[15] Colegio Arubano: High School
[16] A number of 245 respondents who were in their third year of studies in the Netherlands
[17] IOA: Inspectie Onderwijs Aruba (Department of School Inspection)
[18] Glass Ceiling: Invisible but real barrier through which the next stage or level of advancement can be seen, but cannot be reached by a section of qualified employees. Such barriers exist due to implicit prejudice on the basis of age, ethnicity, political or religious affiliation, and/or gender  (Lockwood, 2004)
[19] The results from census 2010 will be launched on mid 2011 
[20] SCP: Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (Social and Cultural Planning Office)
[21] Married women and widows will be registered under the family name of their husbands or their deceased husband
[22] Name and Rights. (Loeb,1990). Naam en Recht. Praktische beschrijving van het naamrecht in Nederland. VUGA.


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