IRRATIONAL? Common Misconceptions about poverty in Jamaica: Part 2

We’re back with Part 2 of our “Irrational” blog series!

We started this series with the statement that it’s easy for those of us who are not poor  to make pretty big assumptions about people who live in poverty.

*To be clear, the behaviors we present are not the actions of every poor Jamaican person. Plus, the factors we discuss do not, by any means, provide a full explanation behind such behaviors. They are simply some possible answers for us to consider when confronted with conduct we may not comprehend.*

The first “irrational” behavior we examined was this: Why ‘Waste’ Their Very Limited Money? Click here to read that blog.

Now, on to our second question:  

Why Have So Many Children They Can’t Afford?

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While this is often characterized in popular culture, somewhat comically, as “having baby-father drama”, it leaves one seriously wondering: Why would a woman agree to have babies with a series of partners who may abandon her? Why, when, ultimately, she will be left alone with several children, very limited resources, and no emotional support?  

Prove Their Worth

Renown anthropologist, Edith Clarke, helps us understand why this makes perfect sense to those who get caught in this unfortunate situation. Child bearing is very important within certain segments of the Jamaican society. It proves that an individual has reached the heights of womanhood or manhood. Childless women are seen as having something wrong with them, as it is only “natural” for women to become mothers. They may be called “mules” or even be deserted by their partners if they cannot bear children. Likewise, men also feel pressure to have a “yout” since this proves their virility and value as men. We all, rich and poor, feel a need to be valued. However, poor individuals who already feel undervalued by society often feel a need to prove their self worth - and childbearing becomes one way to do this.

Once a child is born, some men, having proven ‘their worth’, may leave the newly formed family. In many cases, these men are also not able to provide financial support for their ‘baby mother’.

Need for Support

This leaves the mother alone with a child to support. One should note that Jamaican women are twice as likely to be unemployed than men. Without adequate resources to care for the child, these women sometimes choose another partner to get the financial support they need or to simply provide a father figure for her child. The new partner may only agree to support the woman and her child if she bears him a child as well. Later, now with more children, the struggling, downcast mother may again be abandoned by her partner, causing the very difficult and heart breaking cycle to continue.

Unwanted Pregnancies

Finally, many women may tragically get pregnant due to rape. Perhaps the most under-reported violent crime, rape is unfortunately a reality for hundreds of women in the island. What may even be more tragic is the fact that many women are victims of sexual violence at the hands of persons they know. It should be made clear that this issue is not limited to social class! Rape happens regardless of class, age or race. In any case, we must consider it as a possible factor before we judge women for having what may actually be an unwanted pregnancy.

Yes. We need to consider all of these factors and the context before pointing a finger at women who we see as having children they “can’t afford”.

What do You think?

Do you agree with these answers? Anything you’d like to add?

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Want more answers to these kinds of common questions?

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series!

Part 3 will be the final blog in this series and will examine the question:  “Why Risk Your Life to Join a Gang?”