On one hand, women in the Virgin Islands  are ahead of their sisters in more “developed” countries. Because racist laws limited the rights of black men and women for centuries, women were never banned from voting, owning property, or obtaining an education because of their sex. During slavery, black women were expected to carry the same load as a man, and they did. After the end of slavery, women continued to work—and not just around the house. Women were farmers, laborers, fishers, and more.
When secondary education was introduced, girls were just as likely to go to school as boys. As a result, the first generation of educated local leaders included both men and women. Today, women are legislators, ministers, commissioners, judges, teachers, principals, and religious leaders. Although women have been elected to both territories’ legislatures, a woman has not yet achieved the highest elected office of governor or premier.
In recent years, women and girls have out-achieved boys in secondary and tertiary education in the Virgin Islands , leading to concern that the education system unfairly favors girls. Indeed, boys are much more likely to drop out of school, fail, or be unemployed than girls. These trends have led some—men and women—to believe that women have actually gained the “upper hand” in Virgin Island society.
Despite the trappings of gender equality that abound in the public sphere, women still face inequality, particularly in their private lives. In the home, men and women often follow traditional male-female roles. Indeed, most men and women would probably agree that the man is the head of the household. Many men have not embraced the notion of shared housework or, to a large extent, coparenting. Neither have some men adopted the concept of monogamy.
Many couples live together and have children but do not marry. Having children out of wedlock is widespread and widely accepted (statistics in both territories show that between 60 and 65 percent of births occur out of wedlock). Indeed, many married men have “inside children,” born to their wife, and “outside children,” born to their girlfriends.
Inequality between men and women is about more than heartache or jealousy, however. Campaigns against domestic violence are only starting to gain traction in the islands—women who choose to leave abusive relationships still face an uphill battle for acceptance and support. The spread of HIV also makes marital infidelity a serious health issue for many women, for whom it is difficult to insist on condom use by their husbands.