Monday, 20 November 2023 (CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown): Ministers responsible for gender affairs and equality from CARICOM Member States and Associate Members are currently reviewing the draft CARICOM Gender Equality Strategy, “Stepping It Up: A Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality in the Caribbean Community”, during the Forty-Sixth Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) – Gender. The Meeting, which is being convened on 20-21 November 2023 in Barbados, reaffirms Member States’ commitment to gender equality with the overarching goal of providing a strategy that holistically addresses the issue.
UN partners under the Regional Spotlight Caribbean Programme, including UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), are also participating in the COHSOD.
In opening remarks, Ms Alison Drayton, Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development, CARICOM Secretariat, stated that the participation of Ministers is indicative of Member States’ strong commitment to gender equality and their partnership to advance common regional aspirations for a resilient, thriving Community.
She reminded the meeting that the process to review the Strategy commenced with the Thirty-First Special Meeting of the COHSOD – Gender held virtually in October. “This Forty-sixth COHSOD is being held under the theme “Inclusive and Equitable Futures: A Gender-Responsive Approach Post COVID”, stated Ms Drayton, “the theme could not have been timelier for the Region as we acknowledge the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic”.
She noted that it is a critical opportunity to take stock of the Region’s progress in achieving regional and international commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “It underscores our Region’s commitment to gender equality, recovery, and resilience while promoting the health and well-being of our citizens, particularly women and marginalised populations,” stated Ms Drayton.
The Assistant Secretary-General underscored that the meeting is not being held in a vacuum and explained that it builds on the decisions of the Fortieth Meeting of the Council on Gender held in June 2021, when Member States agreed to support the national consultations across the Region on the draft CARICOM Gender Equality Strategy.
She noted that after widespread meetings, consultations, and validations, both virtual and in-person, across the Region over seventeen (17) months, including a two-week extension, this COHSOD will seek approval of the Strategy. Ms Drayton explained that the Strategy is a roadmap for Member States to “mainstream” gender and provides a regional coordinated approach to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, which aligns with SDG Goal 5. She emphasised that while no nation has achieved gender equality, the Strategy will be an excellent coordination and implementation tool.
“Let us all remember that equality is not just a goal; it’s the foundation of an inclusive, thriving, just, and resilient society,” stated Ms Drayton, “as we embark on this historic journey towards first approving, launching and implementing the CARICOM Gender Equality Strategy, let us envision a Region where every woman and girl stands as a beacon of empowerment.”
Hon. Gloria Thomas, Minister with responsibility for Social Development and Gender Affairs, Grenada, served as Chair. She emphasised that the discussion around the Strategy and the Region’s future must not only be inclusive and equitable but profoundly responsive to the needs of all genders in the post-COVID world. “As we reflect on the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and confront the extraordinary challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must recognise that the time has come for us to weave these two profoundly different events together into a unified tapestry of progress,” stated Minister Thomas.
Ms Thomas also referred to the escalating incidents of gender-based violence during the height of the pandemic when women were forced to shelter in place with their abusers. She noted reported rates as high as 125% in some Member States. She also stated that the Region continues to experience the economic fallout from inflationary prices, the loss of jobs and household incomes, all of which fall disproportionately on women, many of whom are heads of single-parent households, which accounts for 40% in the Region according to UN Women data.
Minister Thomas stated that the timing of the Strategy could not be more opportune. Only seven (7) years remain for the target date for achieving the SDGs, and it is evident that the global community has encountered setbacks mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that no country is within reach of eradicating Intimate Partner Violence. She highlighted that despite the scale of the problem and the unacceptable trends globally and in the Region, the financial commitments to prevent and eradicate gender-based violence remain limited at best.
Ms Thomas also acknowledged the initiative of the European Union in funding the groundbreaking Spotlight Initiative Programme. The Programme invested 500 million Euros in eradicating violence and harmful practices worldwide, 50 million of which has been invested in the Caribbean.
She underscored that the draft CARICOM Gender Equality Strategy is a commitment to equality, justice, and sustainable development. Ms Thomas explained that it acknowledges the progress made over the past 25 years since the Beijing Declaration, the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the urgency to accelerate efforts towards the SDGs. She emphasised that by embracing the Strategy, all 20 CARICOM Member States, 15 full members and 5 Associates are taking a monumental step towards a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous future where the rights and dignity of all, regardless of gender, are upheld and celebrated.
What is the draft CARICOM Gender Equality Strategy?
The draft CARICOM Regional Gender Equality Strategy provides the framework for targeted interventions sensitive to the unique challenges faced by our Caribbean nations, accelerating progress toward the SDGs. The Region is rich in diversity, culture, and resilience. However, gender disparities persist in economic participation, political representation, education, governance, the environment and social inclusion. The draft Gender Equality Strategy for CARICOM is anchored with all the issues highlighted in regional consultations and validations, both virtual and in-person, paying particular attention to regional nuances and challenges and ensuring its implementation will be contextually relevant.
The Strategy prioritises the economic empowerment of women, equitable access to education and lifelong learning and healthcare for all, as well as the elimination of violence against women and girls who are disproportionately affected by the scourge.
Furthermore, the Strategy promotes a multi-stakeholder approach involving governments, civil society, the private sector, and international organisations. Collaboration and partnerships are central to addressing the multifaceted nature of gender inequality effectively.
The central goal is the implementation of a Strategy that provides a roadmap for achieving the Region’s vision of a violence-free and peaceful existence for every Caribbean citizen.
What is the 1995 Beijing Declaration and platform for action?
What is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?
What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?