The economic contraction in the 1930s, propelled by the collapse of the economies in industrialised states, had a ripple effect on the small vulnerable economies of the Caribbean. During the 1930s, the region started to experience economic recessions due to a decline in exports. The repercussions were even greater for those countries locked into monocrop production and dependent on the trade relations that existed between them and the developed countries of Europe and the U.S. The Caribbean countries had become so dependent on the foreign markets that from the onset of the Depression they suffered many of the symptoms experienced by industrialised countries. Between 1928 and 1933 the prices of West Indian exports were on average almost halved, which contributed to; forced wage reductions, increased taxation and unemployment. A general understanding of the severity of the impact of the Great Depression on Caribbean territories may be illustrated through a description of the conditions in Jamaica. During the 1930s Jamaica was undoubtedly the most economically developed of all the English-speaking Caribbean countries. Its geographical layout covered 4,450 square miles, and a comparative assessment with other countries in the region placed Jamaica among the largest and most affluent with its bountiful resources. While other territories depended exclusively on sugar, cocoa or citrus, whose prices had dwindled considerably during the late 1920s, Jamaica could count also on her bananas. Arthur Lewis states that bananas accounted for 55 per cent of the value of domestic exports, while sugar accounted for 18 per cent. Jamaica was able to combat the impact of falling sugar prices due to the cushioning effect the export of bananas had on the economy. Nonetheless, the sugar industry, though not the highest earner, was the greatest employer, and the problems of the industry affected the entire country. The general consensus is that the Great Depression was very pronounced and affected every member of the Jamaican society. A considerable amount of literature about the 1930s has consistently shown that the decade was a defining period in the history of Jamaica. However, most scholars, including Richard Hart and Arthur Lewis have only focused on the labour rebellions and their impact on the social and political transformations in Jamaica, with little reference to women. Furthermore, they have tended to over-generalize, and the social disequilibrium in the country shows that the experiences of various groups were not uniform. There were great variations. Those who belonged in the upper echelon of society continued to engage in their ‘high society’ activities while the middle and lower-classes struggled to achieve bargaining rights along with political and economic enfranchisement. The situation of the lower-class remained constant and deteriorated as the government did little to remedy their situation. Limited access to social mobility, restricted emigration along with unemployment and underemployment, which resulted in widespread poverty, further exacerbated the plight of the lower-class. According to the Royal Commission Report, “The position of women [however, was] more unfortunate.” They were no doubt the first to be targeted once the economy started to feel the strain of the Depression. Moreover, women’s roles continued to depend on the Victorian ideals which restricted them to certain types of occupations such as domestic servant or agricultural labourer, which Barry Chevannes classifies as “female work.” So far, little attention has been paid to women’s experiences and their responses during this period in Jamaica. In fact, no single study exists which adequately covers the experience of women in Jamaica during that period. To date, scholars who have conducted studies on women (and have taken this time period into their study) often refer to them as one group and their diverse experiences are not...
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