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Historical aspects of the household in Jamaica

The question of household classification is an extremely complex one within the Caribbean region, not least because of the historical effects of slavery. The institution of slavery was based, in large part, on the systematic destruction of the family as a unit. Men and women were prevented from forming long-term, stable unions and children were separated from their mothers at an early age. Male slaves were essentially treated as breeding stock and were not expected by their owners to have any on-going role in parenting. Marriage which was rare among slaves prior to emancipation, has never, since that time, been considered a prerequisite for child-bearing among the low-income population.

While gender played an important role in determining the role that a given individual would have in Jamaican slave society, class and race factors played an equally important part. The differences in life experiences between female members of the white plantocracy, free women of colour and black slave women were probably as extreme, if not more extreme, than the differences between men and women within the same racial and class group. Many of the race/class/gender complexities that arose with slavery have persisted to the present day, albeit in varied forms, and it is therefore difficult to speak validly of women in general within the society.