Innovative strategies and partnerships urgently needed to arrest women’s economic slide as a result of COVID-19UN Women Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean made the call on her three-country Caribbean mission to Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago
With the glaring gap in financing for women-owned enterprises (only 22% of impact investing in Latin America and the Caribbean for women-founded businesses), burgeoning responsibilities of care for children and the elderly because of COVID-19 school closures and movement restriction, forcing women out of the formal economy, UN Women is focused on working with its development partners to prevent women and their families from falling into poverty.
On her inaugural mission to the Caribbean, UN Women Regional Director for the Americas and Caribbean Maria Noel Vaeza, accompanied by the Representative - UN Women Multi-Country Office–Caribbean, Tonni Brodber, met with Governments and development partners in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. The Caribbean mission was focused on sharing on UN Women’s new 4-year strategic plan, particularly strategies towards building forward from COVID-19 in a gender-responsive way.
Regional research has shown since COVID-19, women are forced to balance, and in some cases choose between, caring for their children and pursuing livelihoods to feed them. The Regional Director highlighted that whereas women’s participation in the labour force pre-COVID-19 impact had reached to 53% for the Americas and the Caribbean, this figure had now been rolled back to 42%; the participation rate 10 years ago. Pre-pandemic, unpaid care work constituted almost half of total global work time and women spent about three times as many hours on unpaid domestic work and care work as men. According to a 2020 World Food Programme and CARICOM: Caribbean Community survey, 54% of women and 47% of men experienced an increase in unpaid domestic work, while 46% of women and 35% of men increased their childcare duties.
There was consensus on the need for greater social protection measures designed to reduce people falling into poverty including long term housing for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), which would be a means of immediate support but would also arrest the longer-term loss of income. The UN Women team highlighted that supporting public private partnerships for the care economy especially for care of children and the elderly is an investment in a nation’s growth. The better practice of Barbados’ government subsidised, and private childcare services were highlighted as steps towards a care system.
Innovative financing for women-owned businesses was also on the table as UN Women highlighted that after women small business owners and entrepreneurs successfully access and apply micro credit and small business loans, they are not granted access to the next level of financing to upscale their businesses and offer more jobs.
“The Financial lending sector is still very masculine and does not understand the advantages of lending to women who are more efficient at repayments. When women are on Executive Boards, the evidence is there of better profit performance”, Ms. Vaeza said. She highlighted the Investors for Equality initiative launched in Latin America which bring together investors and other players in the financial ecosystem as a better practice for introducing Innovative Financing for Gender Equality mechanisms in the Caribbean. This builds on the implementation of the Win-Win: “Gender Equality Means Good Business” programme in one Caribbean island – Jamaica. This programme was created in a partnership with UN Women, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the European Union (EU) to promote gender equality through the private sector.
The Joint project approach which harnesses the technical expertise of UN Women and all of the UN agencies in joint programming to “Deliver as One” was hailed as one of the key benefits of UN reform. Discussions focused on building on the joint programming groundwork laid through the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, and the Government of Canada, UKFCDO-funded EnGenDER joint project which is UNDP Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean-led with co-implementation by UN Women Caribbean, World Food Programme and CDEMA - Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.
UN Women launched a global black women’s programme in this UN Decade for People of African Descent and the MCO Caribbean and UNESCO Caribbean offices in response, have partnered to strengthen women- and youth-led enterprises in the cultural and creative industries in the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa. To this end, the schedule also included a meeting with Kingston Creative in Jamaica, a non-profit organisation with a vision to develop “a vibrant, inclusive Art District and a Creative Hub for training and development” that will contribute to sustainable national development through the creative economy. Opportunities for not only economic growth but also two-way communications between UN Women and communities through the creative and cultural industries continues to be an important avenue of work for UN Women.
The visits included meetings with Honourable Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport; Senator the Honourable, Aubyn Hill, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and Mrs Sharon Coburn-Robinson, Principal Director, Bureau of Gender Affairs on the Jamaica visit. In Barbados, she met with Minister of People’s Empowerment and Elder Affairs with responsibility for Gender Affairs, the Honourable Cynthia Forde and in Trinidad and Tobago with the Honourable Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, responsible for Gender and Child Affairs, and the Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, Senator the Honourable Dr. Amery Browne.
The UN Women team at each stage reminded of the importance of women’s voices being included in policy development and reiterated the need for deeper dialogue and engagement between government, civil society and the private sector.
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